When Mariela Lara flew from southern California to New Orleans for the American Traffic Safety Services Association’s 50th Annual Convention & Traffic Expo, she had no idea she would meet someone who had worked with her late father.
Mariela was one of nine recipients of the Roadway Worker Memorial Scholarship for the 2019-2020 academic year and attended the 29th Annual Foundation Golf Classic Tournament that was one of three ATSS Foundation events held in conjunction with the convention. Proceeds from the events support the foundation's Toward Zero Deaths efforts including the Roadway Worker Memorial Scholarship, the Experience Camps Travel Scholarship, the Marty Weed Engineering Scholarship, and the National Work Zone Memorial.
Mariela addressed the crowd of golfers before they headed out in their carts, sharing that her father, Adan Lara, emphasized education and had been active in her schooling. He was killed in October 2015 at age 57 while working with a Ventura County (California) Public Works crew clearing debris from a winding road ahead of an El Nino storm.
“The scholarship really allowed me to pursue his dream and follow my dreams,” she told them. “I think he would have been proud that I am here.”
Mariela attends Santa Barbara City College and is interested in environmental science.
She was introduced at the Convention’s Opening General Session, which aired an emotional video of the 61 people whose names were added to the foundation’s National Work Zone Memorial. The Memorial travels the country to encourage safe driving around work zones by helping raise awareness of the high price of work zone crashes.
The convention events, including a sporting clays contest and a fun run, are the foundation’s primary fundraisers.
Foundation President Dave Krahulec said the events “are great fun, a great opportunity to network and a wonderful way to support the important work of the foundation.”
Erick Gustafson took part in the golf event and when he heard Mariela speak, realized he knew her father. He was eager to meet her and got his chance at the 15th hole. Mariela had been greeting golfers and got a surprise when Gustafson approached. Gustafson works for Zumar Industries and said his company was the sign vendor for Ventura County. He said he found it hard to control his emotions when he met Adan Lara’s daughter.
“Adan was in the sign shop,” Gustafson said. “I knew him well.”
Mariela had not expected to meet someone who knew her father more than 2,000 miles from home.
Lara had been named Citizen of the Year by the local Chamber of Commerce in 1999, founded the nonprofit Latinos Unidos Por Educacion (LUPE) in 1997 to help Latino parents engage in their children’s education, and started a reading program at his community’s library, the Ventura County Star reported. In addition, a segment of the road on which he was killed was later named the Adan Lara Memorial Roadway and urges people to “please drive safely.”
“He was such a member of the community,” Mariela said. “It’s not that surprising [at home] but it is surprising here.”