Montrealers march in honour of 7-year-old Ukrainian refugee killed in hit-and-run

Maria Legenkovska was a refugee who fled the war-torn country with her family. She arrived in Canada two months ago with her mother, brother and sister, and her father remains in Ukraine.

A march was held Friday morning in Montreal to honour a little girl, a Ukrainian refugee, who was killed in a hit-and-run while on her way to school on Tuesday.

The idea of the march was to walk to school en masse, parents with their children, demanding that the streets of Montreal be made safer for kids and pedestrians, especially in school zones.

Mayor Valérie Plante, local residents and Montrealers from across the city followed the same route that seven-year-old Maria Legenkovska walked on her way to class Tuesday morning before she was struck and killed by a driver who fled the scene.

She was hit by a vehicle in the City’s Ville Marie borough at 8 a.m. while walking on Parthenais Street near the de Rouen Street intersection — a school zone.

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“There were other kids there, witnessing the collision,” said Sandrine Cabana-Degan, executive director of Piétons Québec. “It’s really devastating.”

READ MORE: 7-year-old Ukrainian girl victim in suspected hit-and-run in Montreal

The driver who fled turned himself in later that day. He was identified by authorities as Juan Manuel Becerra Garcia, 45, and he appeared in court by video conference Wednesday in connection with her death.

Maria was a refugee who fled the war-torn country with her family. The young girl had arrived in Canada two months ago with her mother, brother and sister. Michael Shwec, the president of the Quebec chapter of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, confirmed the girl’s father remains in Ukraine. He is fighting against the Russian invasion, which began last winter.

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Friday’s demonstrators paused for a moment of silence at the spot where Maria was struck, less than 200 meters from her school.

“The death of Maria has not only marked the community in the Centre-Sud, but everyone across Montreal.  And I think it’s finally time that the population says car fluidity is not a priority. What is the priority, is the safety of pedestrians and cyclists,” said Mathieu Murphy-Perron from the non-profit organization Vélorution Montréal.

Montreal crossing guard Daniel Lebrun says he remembers the child well, and told Global News he is heartbroken about what happened. He added that her death is every crossing guard’s worst nightmare and that it was only a matter of time before a child was hit by a car in that area.

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READ MORE: Girl, 7, dies after hit and run in Montreal’s Ville-Marie borough

Lebrun was not stationed at that intersection that day, but was further down the street. He says a crossing guard should have been there too, given the amount of traffic during rush hour.

Since the tragedy, the city has installed traffic control measures at the intersection, including traffic bollards narrowing the street to force drivers to slow down.

“Those measures were too late. It’s great that they’re being put in place, but its probably not enough,” said Murphy-Perron. “This is one school. There are many schools across the (city) that need to be more secure.”

Mayor Plante says the city already had safety plans for that intersection, as well as others.

“We (took) action and put the measures in (sooner) to move even faster than our original plan,” she said. “Every death on our streets is one too many,” Plante wrote in a statement on Tuesday, adding the city will evaluate all additional security measures to make the area safer.

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Quebec’s public prosecutor’s office confirmed Becerra Garcia, the driver, was charged with failing to stop after an accident resulting in death. The Longueuil, Que., resident does not have a criminal record.

Crown prosecutor Alexandre Gautier opposed the man’s release in order to ensure he will be present at the next court date, “to protect the public as well and to ensure public confidence in the justice system.”

Becerra’s lawyer did not offer comment after the brief arraignment.

The Montreal Ombudsman confirmed Friday that it was opening an investigation into the intersection.

–with files from Phil Carpenter and Kalina Laframboise, Global News

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