OSHTEMO TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Five or six times a day, Heidi Vallier drives through the intersection of Stadium Drive and 4th Street in Kalamazoo County’s Oshtemo Township.
“I see Zelena’s memorial right at this corner,” she said of the daily drive.
The intersection is where tragedy struck in 2012. Zelena Amaro, 18, was killed after a truck collided with the car she was riding in.
In the years since, her friends and family built up a makeshift memorial — an impressive one with painted rocks, decorations and a cross standing about 5 or 6 feet tall.
Vallier didn’t know Amaro, but she lost her own son in 2011 and says the memorial means something to her.
“People drive by here and see this. And it reminds them of something close to them,” she said.
But just last week, Vallier said, “I noticed it was completely gone.”
Photos she took show the memorial site. The damage was obvious. It appears the memorial was run over by something.
“Every hand-painted rock, every personal thing was left here out of love and compassion,” Vallier said of the original memorial.
“And they (the family) spent so much time and it means so much to them that it broke my heart knowing that someone’s going to have to come up on this,” she continued.
Zelena Amaro’s younger brother, Matias Amaro, found out Monday about what happened and has seen pictures of the damage. 24 Hour News 8 spoke to him over the phone.
“All that work we put into it and all the sentimental value, it was just crazy,” he said of seeing the photos. “This is a person, and we are celebrating her life. This is where she ended up. Have some respect.”
Vallier said she noticed a tree removal service working at the site before the memorial was destroyed.
A representative for that service told 24 Hour News 8 over the phone on Tuesday that the company is looking into what happened and talking with a worker on the job.
“He said, ‘Yes, I did drive the bobcat through there,’ he says. ‘But that cross was not there. I did not just run across it, I did not disregard it.’ He says, ‘To be honest with you, I don’t even remember seeing those rocks down there,’” the company official recalled of his conversation with the employee.
Vallier has also been in touch with the tree service and said she’s frustrated with how it handled the situation.
The company insists it is working to get to the bottom of what happened.
“We are more than willing to do anything and whatever we can do to make this right for these people,” the company official said.
24 Hour News 8 is not naming the company as this point because it says there were other subcontractors in the area doing work, as well.
In the meantime, Vallier has started to rebuild the memorial.
The land where the memorial sits is owned by both Oshtemo Township and the Kalamazoo County Road Commission. Both the Michigan Department of Transportation and Oshtemo Township officials told 24 Hour News 8 that roadside memorials are technically not allowed but that, out of respect for grieving families, they generally are not taken down as long as they don’t interfere with traffic safety.