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Underpass for fatal crossing of Fresno's Sugar Pine Trail takes shape

The Sugar Pine Trail underpass on Shepherd Avenue in north Fresno began to take shape Wednesday when workers started placing pre-made slabs that form the walls and ceiling.

Last July 25, 7-year-old Donovan Maldonado was hit by a car while riding his bicycle across Shepherd. He died hours after the 9 p.m. crash.

Last month, former Central High School boys basketball coach Loren LeBeau pleaded no contest in the hit-and-run drunken-driving death. He accepted a 12-year prison term; sentencing is set for Aug. 29 -- the same day the underpass is scheduled to open.

Wednesday, Fresno city Public Works Director Patrick Wiemiller said that the pieces of a memorial to Donovan -- signs, pictures and a white bicycle -- that had rested near the intersection since soon after the crash were turned over to the Maldonado family per its request.

Wiemiller said the city has no current plans for a memorial or dedication to Donovan at the underpass.

Donovan's family is suing both LeBeau and the city. The lawsuit, filed last November by Fresno attorney Warren Paboojian, seeks unspecified damages in excess of $25,000. Last month, a judge dismissed the city from the lawsuit. The ruling was tentative and the judge didn't indicate when he'd make a final ruling.

The $1.48 million project is paid for with a grant from the federal-state Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program. Wiemiller said the city always planned for an underpass since the crossing was built 13 years ago, applied for the grant money four years ago and only recently was approved for it.

Wednesday, a crane lifted the concrete slabs off of a flatbed and lowered them one by one into a massive trench. Workers helped engineer a snug fit.

The underpass will replace a regular crossing that used to force Sugar Pine Trail users to navigate four lanes of traffic on Shepherd.

Shepherd between Perrin and Millbrook avenues has been closed since June 10. Wiemiller said the schedule was picked to avoid much conflict with local school schedules. Clovis Unified ended its school year June 7 and goes back to school Aug. 19.