SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — Investigators say a driver hit and killed a 12-year-old girl who was running across the northbound lanes of Business 80 near the Watt Avenue exit in Sacramento.
The tragic accident shut down the freeway Wednesday just before 10 p.m.
“It was nighttime, there was no overhead lighting in that particular spot. So, they were just not able to see someone running from the right shoulder in front of them,” CHP Officer Greg Zumstein said.
Zumstein says the victim was chasing after a 16-year-old girl who ran away from the Children’s Receiving Home, a foster care facility that backs up to the Watt Avenue ramp.
“From what I understand, one girl was distraught but we’re still trying to figure out exactly why she was on the roadway,” he said.
The coroner has since identified the 12-year-old girl as Kendra Czekaj.
Both girls were staying at the group home, which serves as an emergency shelter for kids with nowhere else to go.
The CEO of the privately-owned facility, David Ballard, sent a statement to FOX40 Thursday:
The entire Children’s Receiving Home of Sacramento community is devastated by the tragic death on I-80 last night of a youth placed in our temporary shelter care facility. By law, CRH (as well as other residential facilities for foster children/youth), is not permitted to lock children onto campus to prevent them from leaving. Staff is required to follow youth when they leave campus to try to persuade them to return, and CRH did so last night.
Because the youth we serve are protected by confidentiality laws, we cannot make further comment at this time. If we are able to make a later statement, we will alert you.
Since 1944, CRH has been dedicated to positively impacting the lives of children, youth and families affected by abuse, neglect, behavioral health issues and trauma in California. We are committed to this mandate to provide sanctuary, hope and healing to vulnerable youth with nowhere else to turn.
A Sacramento County spokesperson said the Department of Social Services is now investigating the situation to see if protocols were followed.
The facility already has a long history of troubles. According to reports from the Department of Social Services, the home was cited more than 120 times between 2012 and 2017 — more than any other individual foster care facility in Sacramento County.
In a special report in 2017, FOX40 dug into some of the complaints, which included “failing to report multiple allegations of sexual and other inappropriate conduct by staff toward clients” and “failing to call 911 when a child nearly drowned in the facility’s pool.”
At the time, Ballard said they were working hard to make corrections.
“This is really an organization to be supported and assisted in getting done what is done. And there needs to be an understanding of how intense and often difficult this work is,” he said.
The organization is now under new leadership but seems to still be facing problems.
The victim in Wednesday’s crash was not identified. Investigators say the driver in the case is cooperating and that drugs and alcohol do not appear to be factors.