A tall tree with cascading purple flowers stands amid growing mounds of memorial candles, colorful balloons, signs of love, and fluffy stuffed animals, all in tribute to Mara Steves.
However, this is no ordinary tree, this is "Mara's Tree," dubbed so by Orange County Fire Authority firefighters from Fire Station No. 39 in Laguna Niguel. The 6-foot Chinese orchid tree was placed near the site where Steves, 48, lost her life in a fatal accident Feb. 13. A tag on its wooden planter box reads: 'Mara's Tree.'
"We want 'Mara's Tree,' to grow big and tall," said 26-year-firefighter veteran Jim Gorski. "The family can plant it anywhere they want or we will do it for them ... maybe at a school or a place where people can visit, come and sit near the tree and remember Mara."
Gorski, a paramedic, crew member and engineer who was driving the fire engine to the scene that day, said he felt moved by the incident and thought that a tree was a good way to memorialize the woman who died there.
"I went with another crew member to Home Depot and was going to buy a plant," he said. "But when I was walking out, I saw this beautiful tree with purple flowers. I knew that was it."
Gorski and the other firefighters dropped the plant off at the accident site near the intersection of Moulton Parkway and Nueva Vista Drive and near the Rancho Niguel entry sign where Steves was killed.
"Mara was clearly a special person," Gorski said. "We all cope with things like this differently. As firefighters, we are like a big family and we were all affected by the accident. We went back to the firehouse and talked about it. It helps us to do that. My job was to treat Mara that morning."
The Orange County Sheriff's Department said the accident is still under investigation. Steves was killed by two colliding SUVs as she knelt at the curb with a dog she had rescued from traffic lanes.