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City Lights: It can all change in an instant

August 17, 2011|By Michael Miller
  • Oriana Millan was killed by hit-and-run driver.
Oriana Millan was killed by hit-and-run driver.

When Oriana Millan went home from work July 21, she left three cardboard boxes next to her desk. The receiving clerk at Westside Building Material Corporation had just been promoted, and she planned to move the contents of her desk upstairs.

The next morning, those boxes remained empty. And the office where Millan had worked for four years had a void of a different kind.

The 24-year-old Huntington Beach resident died shortly before 2 a.m. July 22 when she was struck crossing Brookhurst Street in a hit-and-run crash. Police arrested San Juan Capistrano resident Jason Roberts on suspicion of the hit-and-run and are awaiting a toxicology report before submitting the case to the Orange County district attorney.

It's easy to get blasé when covering the public safety beat. Press releases land rapidly in the inbox, deadlines loom, and victims' names often get no more than a cursory glance to check them for spelling. But behind each of those names is a life story — one that ended abruptly, with loved ones, friends and unfinished responsibilities left behind.

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Friday afternoon, I met with half a dozen of Millan's coworkers at their Anaheim office, which has established a memorial fund for Millan's 5-year-old daughter and vowed to match the first $25,000 that employees raise.

More than once during our discussion, the Westside staff described their office as a family. In that context, Millan was the overachieving daughter — or, to some, the mischievous younger sister. Colleagues talked about her work ethic and can-do spirit, her ever-growing gallery of tattoos, her love of country and salsa music and her habit of rescuing spiders and freeing them outside.

Pete Daspit, who co-supervises the company's warehouse, could only remember Millan looking stumped once, for a few seconds, in the years they worked together. She always embraced challenges, he said, a quality that helped her get promoted from receptionist to receiving clerk.

"There wasn't a problem she couldn't solve," Daspit said.

The staff got the news of Millan's death from her brother a few hours after she was hit in the crosswalk. Customer service representative Kristee Gremer screamed when she heard it. During the viewing of her body days later, even the company janitor attended.

Now, at least five of Millan's coworkers plan to honor her memory another way: by getting spider tattoos like the one Millan sported on the side of her neck.

"I'm going to put mine behind the ear," said Leticia Valdes, another customer service representative. "I don't want it hidden."

I count myself lucky that I've never lost a close friend of family member overnight. It is naïve to think it can't happen. There are people I grow so used to seeing on a daily or weekly basis that they feel like cogs in a well-oiled machine. If any of them made an abrupt exit, it might feel like the machine clattering to a halt.

In any case, it would feel like a greater loss than a name on a page.

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at michael.miller@latimes.com.

How To Help

Send donations to the Ori Millan Memorial Trust Fund, Attn. Arlynn Avendano, H.R. Director, Westside Building Material Corporation, 1111 E. Howel Ave., Anaheim, CA. Check should be made payable to Westside Building Material. The note section should read Ori Millan Memorial Trust Fund. For more information, call (714) 385-1644.

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