A 10-year-old Wallingford boy died getting ice cream. Tristan's Law will protect other kids.

Photo of Paul Schott

WALLINGFORD — Tristan Barhorst, the boy who could light up a room with his smile and laughter, still makes an illuminating impact.

He beams in the photos of him throughout his family’s home in Wallingford. His memory brightens many other places including his school, church and karate studio.

In recent months, he has also become a beacon for pedestrian safety. Last week, Gov. Ned Lamont signed into law Public Act No. 21-20, which institutes a number of new safety requirements for ice cream trucks.

Better known as Tristan’s Law, the measure secured the governor’s signature nearly a year after 10-year-old Tristan was struck and killed by a car after buying ice cream. Its passage culminated a devastating and grueling year for his parents, Christi Carrano and Tyler Barhorst, who worked tirelessly with a bipartisan group of state legislators to advance legislation that they hope will help prevent other Connecticut families from suffering similar tragedies.

“He was this bright light,” Carrano said during an interview last week at the family’s home, where she was joined by Barhorst. “I have to keep telling myself now that if I thought Tristan was different and special and too good for this world before we lost him, there has to be a reason why we lost him. We have to carry that purpose on and make a positive change in his honor and on his behalf.”

A tragic loss

Tristan always looked forward to June 12: It is his father’s birthday.

On the evening of that date last year, Tristan joined his family for a short trip to Cheshire for a backyard celebration of his father’s 44th birthday hosted by family friends.

Tristan was also jubilant because the day marked the end of the school year. He had just completed the fourth grade at St. Bridget School in Cheshire, where he was a straight-A student.

Desserts abounded at the party, but an approaching ice cream truck’s jingle still proved irresistible.

After persuading their parents to give them a few dollars for treats, Tristan; his then-12-year-old sister, Sienna; and several other children at the party went to meet the truck. It parked on the other side of the road.

“It never occurred to me at any moment that Tristan would have been crossing the street to get the ice cream,” Carrano said.

Meanwhile, Barhorst and several of the other parents walked to the front of the house to watch the kids buy the ice cream.

After purchasing a SpongeBob SquarePants popsicle, Tristan rounded the front of the ice cream truck and started to cross the road. At the same time, a Jeep Wrangler was approaching.

From yards away, Barhorst called Tristan’s name to alert him. Another of the adults at the party shouted for him to stop. But there was not enough time for him to respond.

When Tristan was near the road’s double-yellow center line, he was struck by the Jeep, which “was in the process of passing the ice cream truck,” according to a report completed last December by the Naugatuck Valley Collision Investigation Team.

“The next thing I knew, Sienna had come to the backyard and said ‘Tristan’s been hit by a car. Call 911,’” Carrano said. “The next thing I remember is holding him and our friend screaming at the ice cream truck driver ‘Why did you park there? Why are you across the street? Why are you there?’”

First responders were dispatched around 8 p.m., and provided aid on the scene, according to the report. Tristan was then transported to Yale New Haven Hospital and later pronounced deceased. He was about two months away from his 11th birthday.

‘There has to be a law’

A bench honoring the late Tristan Barhorst is in the backyard of his family's home in Wallingford, Conn. Wednesday, June 2, 2021. Tristan, 10, was struck and killed by a car on June 12, 2020, while crossing the street after purchasing a popsicle from an ice cream truck. His parents have made a major impact through their advocacy for Public Act 21-20, also known as Tristan's Law, which institutes a number of new safety requirements for ice cream trucks.

A bench honoring the late Tristan Barhorst is in the backyard of his family’s home in Wallingford, Conn. Wednesday, June 2, 2021. Tristan, 10, was struck and killed by a car on June 12, 2020, while crossing the street after purchasing a popsicle from an ice cream truck. His parents have made a major impact through their advocacy for Public Act 21-20, also known as Tristan's Law, which institutes a number of new safety requirements for ice cream trucks.

Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media

Tristan’s death devastated his family and friends. It also shocked many others who did not know him, but learned about the tragedy through news reports.

“A constituent in our community asked the question in an online forum ‘Why isn’t there a (related safety) law?’ and we jumped on that question,” Carrano said. “We said there has to be a law. This became my new mission.”

The constituent’s comments highlighted ongoing concerns about roadway dangers faced by children. Between 2015 and 2020 in Connecticut, there were 41 children between the ages of 1 and 17 who were pedestrians involved in motor-vehicle crashes, according to the University of Connecticut’s Crash Data Repository. Eighteen of those children died as a result of those collisions, and the other 23 survived their injuries. Those numbers do not include crashes that occurred on private properties such as driveways and parking lots.

Soon after, Carrano and Barhorst started their outreach to lawmakers to garner support for a bill focused on the safety of ice cream trucks — eventually contacting more than 100 state legislators.

Carrano, 45, played a leading role in drafting the bill, which was based on similar legislation in other states. She also drew on her professional experience: She and Barhorst are personal-injury attorneys, and they are partners in The Carrano Law Firm.

“There’s a New Jersey law, and I also took from California because that had some important provisions. And there was a Hartford ordinance,” Carrano said. “I took from various existing laws to create what I thought the model Connecticut law should be.”

State Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, and state Sen. Paul Cicarella, R-North Haven, were instrumental in building bipartisan backing for the legislation. Eventually, the bill accumulated 56 co-sponsors.

“Tristan’s tragic death was an eye-opening experience for me. Learning the facts of what happened and working together with Tristan’s parents to look at what other states and municipalities have done in similar matters became a mission,” Fishbein said. “I am quite humbled to have been such an active part of the process of bringing some level of solace to Tristan's family.”

Carrano and Barhorst also enlisted the help of the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association, of which they are members. They praised the support of Jeff Zyjeski, an attorney at Gaffney, Bennett and Associates who serves as the CTLA’s lobbyist.

“When we heard about Tristan, it broke our hearts,” Zyjeski said. “When Christi reached out to the association, it immediately became a priority for us to help Christi navigate what we knew was going to be a tricky legislative session given the pandemic has the (legislative) building closed.”

Those collective efforts produced legislation whose safety-equipment requirements are comparable to those for school buses. The bill mandates that ice cream trucks be equipped with and use signal lamps, a stop-signal arm, a convex mirror and a front crossing arm. Among other provisions, it generally requires drivers to stop at least 10 feet away when the trucks are flashing their signal lights and extending their signal and crossing arms. Fines can be imposed on truck operators and drivers who violate those regulations.

‘This is not about blaming anyone’

Tyler Barhorst and Christi Carrano, parents of the late Tristan Barhorst, stand with their daughter, Sienna, 13, outside their home in Wallingford, Conn., on Wednesday, June 2, 2021. Tristan, 10, was struck and killed by a car on June 12, 2020, while crossing the street after purchasing a popsicle from an ice cream truck. His parents have made a major impact through their advocacy for Public Act 21-20, also known as Tristan's Law, which institutes a number of new safety requirements for ice cream trucks.

Tyler Barhorst and Christi Carrano, parents of the late Tristan Barhorst, stand with their daughter, Sienna, 13, outside their home in Wallingford, Conn., on Wednesday, June 2, 2021. Tristan, 10, was struck and killed by a car on June 12, 2020, while crossing the street after purchasing a popsicle from an ice cream truck. His parents have made a major impact through their advocacy for Public Act 21-20, also known as Tristan's Law, which institutes a number of new safety requirements for ice cream trucks.

Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media

Carrano and Barhorst did not want to pursue punishment of the then-17-year-old driver of the Jeep that struck Tristan. He stayed at the scene of the crash and cooperated with police.

“From video surveillance footage approximately 0.12 miles south of the collision scene, the Jeep was traveling within a speed range of 37.70 mph to 41.15 mph as it traveled north through the (nearby) intersection,” said the Naugatuck Valley Collision Investigation Team report.

The posted speed limit is 25 miles per hour on the road where Tristan was struck.

“I was not traveling over 25 when I saw the truck, and I slowed down. I’m not sure what I slowed down to,” the driver told responding officers, according to the report.

Due to several factors including “no roadway evidence (such as tire or skid marks),” the report concluded that “the speed at the time of the collision was unknown.”

The driver was “not under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, not using a handheld electronic device or otherwise distracted and not operating the Jeep in a reckless manner,” the report also said.

A post-crash inspection of the Jeep “found no abnormalities or mechanical defects” that would have caused or contributed to the collision, according to the report.

No charges were filed in the case — and Carrano and Barhorst asked that the driver not face any charges.

Within a few days of the death of Tristan, Carrano reached out to the driver’s mother. During that conversation, she expressed her and Barhorst’s desire for the driver to live a long and good life.

“We requested that charges not be brought because the fact that a child’s life was lost was enough of a sentence on anyone,” Carrano said. “We realized that this was suffering enough. We didn’t want his life to be over as well.”

The ice cream truck operator was legally doing business in Cheshire and legally parked his truck to sell the ice cream, according to the report.

“I did not activate the yellow warning sign that says ‘Watch for Children’ because it was still daytime and my right signal light was on,” the ice cream truck operator told an officer on the scene, according to the report. “On the back of my truck, there is a red stop sign along with a yellow/red ‘Watch Children Crossing’ decal.”

At the time of the crash, there was “no law in Connecticut that requires caution signs to be installed and/or deployed on ice cream trucks that are actively engaging in selling ice cream,” the report said.

Carrano and Barhorst have not spoken with the ice cream truck operator.

“This is not about blaming anyone,” Carrano said. “We’re focused on trying to promote awareness so that we can all do better for the safety of our kids.”

A bill becomes law

Tyler Barhorst, father of the late Tristan Barhorst, speaks about his son at his home in Wallingford, Conn., on Wednesday, June 2, 2021. Tristan, 10, was struck and killed by a car on June 12, 2020, while crossing the street after purchasing a popsicle from an ice cream truck. His parents have made a major impact through their advocacy for Public Act 21-20, also known as Tristan's Law, which institutes a number of new safety requirements for ice cream trucks.

Tyler Barhorst, father of the late Tristan Barhorst, speaks about his son at his home in Wallingford, Conn., on Wednesday, June 2, 2021. Tristan, 10, was struck and killed by a car on June 12, 2020, while crossing the street after purchasing a popsicle from an ice cream truck. His parents have made a major impact through their advocacy for Public Act 21-20, also known as Tristan's Law, which institutes a number of new safety requirements for ice cream trucks.

Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media

After it was drafted, the legislation then known as Senate Bill No. 608 advanced quickly through the state General Assembly.

On March 8, Carrano and Barhorst appeared during a virtual hearing of the Transportation Committee. During tearful testimony, they remembered their son as a “perfect soul” and said that passing the legislation could help prevent similar tragedies.

“What’s really at stake here is that you have an opportunity to make sure that no other parent has to end each night sitting on an empty bed that no longer says good night back,” Barhorst told the committee. “You have an opportunity to make sure that no other parent has to replay the image of losing their child every time they see an ice cream truck or the front end of a Jeep on the road.”

Legislators on both sides of the aisle were moved by the testimony, and the committee unanimously approved the bill.

At the same time, grassroots support was building. More than 67,000 people have signed an online petition supporting the bill that was launched in late March by Cheshire resident Brooke Stanziale, a friend of Carrano and Barhorst.

The bill went on to gain unanimous approval from the full state Senate on April 14 and the full state House on May 19.

Carrano and Barhorst are generally satisfied with the bill’s final version. They would have preferred, however, that a provision — modeled after language in Hartford’s related ordinance — that prohibits ice cream trucks from stopping or parking on the opposite side of the street from the children they are serving had been made a permanent part of the legislation, without exceptions.

Instead, the prohibition on trucks operating on the opposite side of the street will be in place from Sept. 1, 2021 to April 30, 2022 — but it makes exemptions for children who are escorted by adults and for trucks that have already installed the required safety apparatus. On May 1, 2022, ice cream trucks will have to start complying with the bill’s equipment requirements.

“I’m extremely grateful for the final version. The legislature got a lot done in a very short period under very difficult circumstances,” Carrano said.

Barhorst gave a similar assessment.

“Everyone was unbelievable, and we are so grateful,” he said. “We recognize that sometimes, in order to get things passed, there has to be some give-and-take.”

On June 2, Lamont signed the bill into law.

“My decision to sign Tristan’s Law was based on one key factor — that government has an obligation to protect the safety of the most vulnerable among us, particularly children,” Lamont said in a statement. “It is my hope that its enactment means that vendors will always be mindful of safety as their top priority, as that needs to be at the forefront of their consciousness anytime they park their vehicles to conduct business.”

After she learned that Lamont had signed the bill, Carrano said that “I felt overwhelming gratitude and relief — and fire to go to the next level and advocate for this to be a federal law. More work needs to be done.”

Remembering Tristan’s spirit

Christi Carrano, mother of the late Tristan Barhorst, speaks about her son at her home in Wallingford, Conn., on Wednesday, June 2, 2021. Tristan, 10, was struck and killed by a car on June 12, 2020, while crossing the street after purchasing a popsicle from an ice cream truck. His parents have made a major impact through their advocacy for Public Act 21-20, also known as Tristan's Law, which institutes a number of new safety requirements for ice cream trucks.

Christi Carrano, mother of the late Tristan Barhorst, speaks about her son at her home in Wallingford, Conn., on Wednesday, June 2, 2021. Tristan, 10, was struck and killed by a car on June 12, 2020, while crossing the street after purchasing a popsicle from an ice cream truck. His parents have made a major impact through their advocacy for Public Act 21-20, also known as Tristan's Law, which institutes a number of new safety requirements for ice cream trucks.

Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media

While Carrano and Barhorst are heartened by the passage of Tristan’s Law, no legislative triumph can fill the massive, aching void left by their departed son.

They remember his compassion, seen through his acute concern for people experiencing homelessness and others facing hardship.

They recall his faith — one of the pictures in their dining room shows him smiling after receiving his first communion at the family’s church, Cheshire-based St. Bridget of Sweden Parish.

They think about his many talents, including the martial-arts skills that earned him a junior black belt in karate and his knack for making big catches while on fishing trips.

They still laugh when reminiscing about his jokes and his ability to rattle off lines from movies such as “Dodgeball,” “Spaceballs,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Dumb and Dumber.” And they still chuckle at the times he would “eat like a pig.”

Sienna, who spent a great deal of time with Tristan, said that “I miss playing with my brother.”

In addition to Tristan’s Law, the family has honored his memory through initiatives such as the launch of scholarship funds at St. Bridget’s School and his karate studio.

“I don’t think I would make it through this if I didn’t think I was going to see him again (in the afterlife),” Barhorst said. “Every day, I think about that.”

Even strangers have reached out. A man sent a card with “Dragonfly Story,” a reflection on life and death by the late Presbyterian minister and U.S. Army chaplain Walter Dudley Cavert. He and Carrano have since become pen pals.

“From our very best friends and family, to our church and school, to strangers, the support and love has been overwhelming,” Carrano said. “I think that Tristan’s spirit shines so bright that people can’t help but feel his love and kindness and be motivated to make a difference.”

pschott@stamfordadvocate.com; twitter: @paulschott