Nov. 12—When Rossy Nguyen was growing up in Saco, her grandmother walked her to the school bus stop every day, even in the rain and snow.
"I remember being a little embarrassed about it as I got older. But if I could turn back the clock, I would let her walk me to the bus stop forever," said Nguyen, 22.
Nguyen's grandmother, Li Zhen Wu, was hit by a car while she was in a crosswalk near her home on Nov. 1 and died that night at a hospital. She was 73.
Wu was hit by a Jeep Cherokee driven by 44-year-old Michael T. Provencher, of Waterboro, as she crossed Bradley Street (Route 5) near the intersection with Spring Street, according to police. Provencher was turning left from Spring Street onto Bradley. Police continue to investigate and have not determined if charges will be filed.
Wu's death came as a shock to loved ones, Nguyen said on behalf of her family.
Wu, who was from China, was with her husband, Song Li, for 54 years and had a daughter, Yan Li. The family immigrated to the United States when Nguyen was 4 to help take care of her while her mother worked.
Nguyen said her grandmother — or "Po Po," as she was called in the Chinese dialect the family speaks — was a "traditional Chinese granny."
"She was strict and old-fashioned, but she loved me in her own way," she said.
Known as "Ms. Li" to neighbors, she was a fixture in Saco who was known for collecting returnable bottles and cans with her husband.
It was common to see her walking around the Bradley Street area, usually pushing a cart. Chelsea Hill, who lives in the neighborhood, said people would often bundle bottles together and leave them out for Wu and her husband to pick up on trash days.
Though Wu didn't stop to talk with neighbors because of the language barrier, "she would nod and smile," Hill said.
After neighbors found out Wu had died, they got together to set up a GoFundMe to help her family. Within days, it raised more than $13,000. Hill said she and other neighbors feel an obligation to help Wu's family and to speak up to protect others.
"As a community, so many are devastated at this news. We hope that whatever amount we are able to collect is a symbol of the kindness and love of strangers in our little corner of Maine," organizers wrote on the fundraising page.
On Monday, Hill went to a City Council meeting to speak to officials about pedestrian safety, an issue she has been advocating for in the city for the past few years. She said people in her neighborhood have many concerns about the safety of pedestrians and cyclists and want to see the city implement changes to avoid other injuries and deaths.
In 2022, Wu was injured in what was initially reported as a hit-and-run crash. Police say they later determined that Wu fell and was not hit by a car.
"The fabric of our community is strongest when we stick up for each other," Hill said.
The support of the community has been overwhelming and unexpected for Wu's family.
"I never, ever, ever thought that there were so many kind people in the community," Nguyen said. "I am shocked and amazed at how many people knew of my grandparents and especially my grandma. I can't say thank you enough to every single person who shared their kind words and even donated."
Nguyen and her family are also finding comfort in the memories that people have shared with them. She is focusing on pushing for justice for her grandmother.
"I wish I could have talked to her one last time, to tell her I love her, too," she said.