On this heavily-traveled stretch of rural road, amid thorny bushes, broken glass and snake holes, lays a memorial for Brian Niederbrach.
Red brick frames a large square of green turf carpeting. Bouquets of silk flowers create a cascading bush, and more than 15 ornate porcelain statues collect on the carpet.
Garland, ornaments and a bell hang from a tree that has been planted. And there’s a stump, too, presumably for long visits.
A cross with wood-burned lettering rises from the ground, dedicating this plot of hard country earth to the 18-year-old boy who lost his life here.
“In loving memory,” it reads. “Brian Niederbrach. May 25, 1984 to Oct. 2, 2002.”
There’s also a solar lamp, tilting to one side, which is ironic because Niederbrach and his girlfriend, Cristine Bettencourt, probably could have used the lighting the night he died.
The two were walking along Airport Way, between Lathrop and Lovelace roads, after reportedly drinking with friends in a nearby field.
A fight developed between the two teen-aged lovers, and Niederbrach, a 2002 graduate of Lindbergh School and freshman at Delta College, allegedly threatened to jump in front of an oncoming car if she didn’t go home.
So he leapt into the path of a hard-charging Toyota Corolla, according to a story that appeared in The Manteca Bulletin on Oct. 5, 2002.
The driver didn’t see him until he was 10 feet in front of her car.
Niederbrach died on impact.
Nearly 11 years later, this sad story has found another gray cloud.
Niederbrach’s memorial is in jeopardy of being flushed. The City of Manteca needs to trench Airport Way for sewer and plumbing lines for the CenterPoint Intermodal Center project.
Their dig-line passes through Niederbrach’s space, stretching from Roth Road to a manhole north of Daisywood Drive.
Construction looms, yet all city inspector Glen Emerick has worried about for the last few days is the memorial that blocks his path.
“Somebody cared about this kid,” he said.
Count Emerick among those with a soft spot in their heart for Niederbrach. He’s gone to great lengths to locate his family and friends.
So far, nothing.
“Hopefully, we can get a response,” he said, “so somebody can take stuff as a memento or put it back when we’re done.”
Emerick has checked with the Manteca Police Department and scoured the Internet for clues. He pulled names of kin off an obituary that ran in The Stockton Record next. He discovered that there were 25 Cristine Bettencourts living in California, but the website wanted $75 to unlock all of their information.
Emerick flipped through old phone books. He found a listing in Lathrop for Niederbrach’s mother, Diane, but the line had been disconnected. A number for a Diane Niederbrach in Manteca was also disconnected.
At his wit’s end, Emerick visited The Manteca Bulletin on Friday afternoon. “You’re my last hope,” he said.
“This definitely isn’t protocol, but it’s something I felt should be done because it’s obvious someone cared about this guy.”
In all his years, Emerick has never encountered a memorial quite like this. He’s approaching his 22nd anniversary with the City of Manteca.
“Normally, there is a cross and some plastic flowers. After a year or two, it’s gone and forgotten; blown away in the wind,” he said. “This thing has been here for almost 11 years, and you can tell people have added stuff.”
Emerick doesn’t want family and friends to return in October for the anniversary of Niederbrach’s death to find nothing more than churned dirt.
Digging will begin at the end of August, Emerick said, so family and friends have a few weeks to safe-keep the memorial.
If no leads surface, the City will be forced to demolish it.
“What if we tear through here in September and they show up in October and it’s all gone?” he asked. “We’re just a little concerned because that would be emotional for the family to find. So I said, ‘Maybe we’ll try to find a family member or friend.’ ”