It's been four years since Maya Hirsch was killed by a hit-and-run driver who struck the little girl, her mother and brother while they crossed the street in a crosswalk. In her honor, her family organized the Stop for Maya walk every year.
It was a sunny day in May 2006, and 4-year-old Maya Hirsch had just spent the afternoon at the Lincoln Park Zoo with her mother and older brother. The three were walking across Lincoln Park West in the quiet neighborhood when the unthinkable happened. A car failed to obey a stop sign and plowed into all three.
The family was rushed to a nearby hospital. Maya's mother and brother suffered cuts and bruises and were going to be OK. But little Maya had been caught underneath the car and dragged. She died a short time later.
Witnesses helped police find the driver, who was ultimately convicted and sentenced to 8 years in prison. But the tragedy changed the Hirsch family forever. Her parents are still mourning, more than four years after it happened. But each year, family, friends and supporters gather to remember the bright little girl who was taken from them too soon, and help make others more aware of pedestrian safety.
On Sunday, the Stop for Maya group held their fourth walk, starting and ending at Lincoln Park West and Belden, the very intersection where Maya lost her life.
This year was the first time Maya's father, David Hirsch, has felt comfortable enough to speak at the event.
"As of today, it's been four years, four months and four days since my sweet little girl has been taken from us. She has now been gone longer than she was alive. It is so hard for me to wrap my brain around how slowly and how quickly time has passed," Hirsch told the crowd.
Maya's two grandmothers were the original organizers of the event, and they were on hand again Sunday, to hold their "Stop for Maya" sign high as they led the walk.
"We feel that anything that keeps Maya's name and memory alive is very important," Renee Hirsch said.
The group also raised funds for a memorial bench in Lincoln Park that bears Maya's name.
Chicago Police Officer Steve Shoup, one of the officers who responded to the emergency call moments after the car hit the Hirsch family in 2006, was also on hand for Sunday's walk.
"What happened there just stuck with me a lot, and it was a thing that shouldn't have happened," Shoup said. "If somebody would have stopped for the stop sign or would have yielded for the people in the crosswalk, it wouldn't have happened."
Shoup now patrols that intersection regularly, and said he hopes the walk will remind drivers to be more careful, obey stop signs, and watch out for people walking in crosswalks.
When Shoup does issue a stop sign ticket, he includes a sticker with Maya's picture and a short description of what happened to her -- hoping to drive the point home, and, perhaps, save the life of someone else's child.