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Heartbroken Manhattan Beach Family Launches #ChewieStrong Campaign

Sep 07, 2020 08:21AM ● By Jeanne Fratello
The traumatic death of a beloved family pet in Manhattan Beach has inspired that family to launch what they call the "ChewieStrong" campaign to get cars to slow down.

Monika O'Deegan, whose 2-year-old dog, Chewie, was killed on their street by an apparent hit-and-run driver on 1st Street in East Manhattan Beach, says that the community needs more vigilance and more care on the streets, especially now that more drivers are out and about. 

She has launched a campaign to spread signs around town that implore drivers to "Slow Down, Save Lives" with the hashtag "ChewieStrong."

"Chewie running in the street could have easily been a child visually blocked by a parked car stepping out into the street," said O'Deegan. "This town has five elementary schools and probably a dog in well over 50% of homes, tons of new bike riders due to COVID, and many elderly walking the streets too... What I do want is to bring people's attention back on the road. To bring their attention to the present, what is in front of them. To slow them down."

O'Deegan continued, "The #chewiestrong movement is to bring awareness to people. A lot of people argue that signs won't slow people down,  but it is the most immediate change we can make. If we don't try, it is 100% guaranteed to not make a difference. All we can do is try. If one life is saved because someone sees the sign and slows down, it's worth it. The signs are a collective energy, a community, a display of 'we're in this together.'"

A Tragic Moment, And A Family's Loss

O'Deegan described the painful evening episode: "It was dinner time. I was inside cooking. A neighbor came in to say hello. Two different neighbors were outside chatting, while kids were playing. One of Chewie's furry friends was running outside. It was a friendly, happy and social summer afternoon. Chewie got so excited, he squeezed out the open door to play with his buddy. I'm positive he was running with a smile on his face from ear to ear. I've never met a happier, more playful puppy in my life.

"Then I heard the screams and shrieks as Chewie was slammed at high speeds and left lying in the road, limp, for everyone to see. He was not killed on impact. The woman driver never slowed, never stopped, and kept on driving as she left our shattered lives behind her. She could be a mom, a grandma - who knows? But she didn't stop. She didn't check to see if it was a child. She didn't check to see if everything was OK. Chewie weighed 40 pounds. She felt AND heard the impact as we all did.

"We rushed him to the animal hospital. They discovered that he had internal bleeding and shattered his pelvis, hips, and legs. We optimistically thought he had a chance. He was a puppy. Of course he would live! We fought so hard and maxed out two credit cards in the process. Eventually it was just too much, and he died shortly after.

"My kids - ages 5, 7, and 11 - and seven other neighborhood kids all had to witness Chewie getting hit. No one will ever forget the sounds of Chewie's screams of pain and anguish. To my kids, Chewie was the best thing to ever happen to him, their favorite brother, and best friend. To the neighbor kids- he was a fluff ball that made you smile and laugh with joy. He always looked out our Dutch door and said hello to everyone walking by."

Police have not yet identified the driver of the car that hit Chewie. The car, visible in neighbors' security camera footage, was identified as a maroon Lexus RX300 SUV from 2008 or 2009 that was heading East on 1st Street toward Aviation.

#ChewieStrong Campaign

Following the heartbreak of Chewie's death, O'Deegan wanted to take action. She decided to launch what she calls the #ChewieStrong campaign, with yard signs imploring drivers to slow down. 

The signs say "Slow Down, Save Lives" followed by "#ChewieStrong." She is selling them for $20 (For a sign, Venmo Monika-odeegan) and so far has sold more than 100 signs. 

She said she is hoping to donate the proceeds to the city towards an effort to promote slowing down drivers in Manhattan Beach. 

City Will Evaluate Traffic Conditions

In fact, the city has a process for looking at a potentially dangerous traffic condition. When a complaint comes in, the city of Manhattan Beach has a specific procedure that it follows, said Manhattan Beach traffic engineer Erik Zandvliet.

The city begins by collecting data about the traffic conditions. It then evaluates the traffic with a volume and speed study to determine the percentage of drivers exceeding safe speeds. From there, a city representative meets with the neighborhood to go over the study results and consider a plan of action. 

The city has a Neighborhood Traffic Management Program "toolbox" that includes three possible actions: engineering, education, and enforcement, Zandvliet said.

If certain traffic calming measures are approved  by City Council, he added, it is possible that the neighborhood could contribute funds towards those measures. 

Currently there is a trailer with a speed monitor parked on Chewie's block, the 1700 block of 1st Street.

The effort to slow down drivers is a "marathon," O'Deegan said. "So many things have to pass through many hands."

But O'Deegan is heartened by the progress so far, and she believes that the campaign has momentum. "I'm excited to start seeing the signs everywhere and feel the energy," she said.

To follow her efforts, visit chewie_dude on Instagram.

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