OAKLAND -- Lana Battagello said her son, Anthony, was a helper, the kind of man who would, and did, give the coat off his back to someone who needed it more than he did. It was entirely in his nature, she said, to stop and help stranded motorists.
That was what he was doing on the old eastern span of the Bay Bridge on Feb. 27, 2008, when he was struck by a vehicle and launched into the back windshield of the disabled car whose owner he was trying to assist. Nicko Georgatos, an Oakland paramedic-fireman working out of Station 3, responded to the call. Anthony Battagello, 36, died in Georgatos' arms on the way to Highland Hospital.
Saturday morning, Lana Battagello met Georgatos at the spot of the tragedy as part of a California Highway Patrol-sponsored event in which families who lost loved ones on the soon-to-be-demolished old eastern span could visit the site of their tragic circumstance and experience a personal memorial.
Ten families took advantage of the unique opportunity. They were escorted onto the upper and lower decks of the old span, where it was eerily quiet and surprisingly peaceful. Some people left flowers. Others wrote messages in chalk on the roadway that used to accommodate 200,000 cars a day.
Anthony Battagello's accident was unlike anything Georgatos had experienced.
"He also had his fiancee and his little girl who actually witnessed him getting hit," Georgatos said. "The whole thing was very traumatic, and I felt a drive and a need to reach out to the family. I actually went to the funeral, and that's when I bonded with this family."
Lana Battagello, a Danville resident, had since driven past the accident site, approximately 100 yards east of the Yerba Buena tunnel. But she was grateful for the chance to stand at the spot and reflect.
"It's awesome what the CHP is doing," she said. "They're not forgetting him. This is a good day. A completion day."
The event was inspired by Carol Leister, whose son, Scott, was killed on the lower deck of the old eastern span on Aug. 17, 2008, when the car in which he was riding was rear-ended by a drunken driver going 100 mph.
"When I got the news that he was killed on the Bay Bridge, my first instinct was to go there and be with him, to hug him," she said. "I've never been able to go to that spot and stand there. That, for me, was really difficult. But I wanted to get a whole picture of what happened to him."
The closing of the old eastern span to traffic gave her that chance. Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the CHP helped make it happen Sept. 19.
"It meant the world to us, to see where he took his last breath," said Leister, a Castro Valley resident who described her son as being community service-oriented, someone who aspired to help people with needs in other countries. "I hugged him the best way I could, I put my hands on the pavement. It completed the part of the horror of that place."
Leister advocated for other families to have the same opportunity for closure.
"So many people I talked to today," she said, "it meant the world to them to just be able to stand there and remember in whatever way they needed to do it, and say goodbye to their loved ones."
Men who worked on the old eastern span said it could be a hazardous place to drive. Georgatos has been at Station 3 for 12 years.
"People don't pay as much attention as they should, driving on the bridge," he said. "There's a lot of quick lane changes. During commute times we see a lot of accidents, especially Friday and Saturday nights."
Doug Drexler came to the event out of curiosity. As a tow-truck driver for Caltrans, he worked the bridge from the mid-1980s until 2004.
"Yes and no," he said when asked if the span was especially hazardous. "Yes because there's no place to really pull off, and no because everybody's going in the same direction. You don't have to worry about somebody coming through the center divide."
Leister said she would be glad to see the old span come down. Battagello was just happy to feel near her son.
"I feel like he orchestrated this whole thing," she said. "I promise you, he doesn't go away. He's not going away.
Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him at Twitter.com/garyscribe.