SOUTHINGTON — Local resident Lydia Sobkiewicz is spreading awareness of Tristan’s Law to commemorate the life of her friend.
A member of Leadership Martial Arts in Plantsville on the cusp of getting her black belt, Sobkiewicz, 16, had to commit to a service project to give back to the community. While she thought of doing a food drive, or a toy drive, she ultimately chose to spread awareness of Tristan’s Law. Passed in 2021, the law requires ice cream trucks to equip their vehicles with safety devices and forbids them from selling in high-traffic areas.
The law is named after Wallingford resident Tristan Barhorst, 10, who was struck and killed by a vehicle after buying ice cream from a truck on June 12, 2020. He was a member of Leadership Martial Arts alongside Sobkiewicz. Both were part of the studio’s Special Winning Attitude Team, also known as SWAT, teaching classes to the younger children and acting as role models to the rest of the dojo.
With summer fast approaching and ice cream trucks back on the roads, Sobkiewicz wanted to inform younger drivers about the law and remind everyone about the need to be cautious around all trucks — not just ice cream trucks — for the safety of those who might be crossing the road.
Her advocacy efforts got Tristan’s Law officially adopted as part of the curriculum of The Next Street driving school, which has 80 locations across the state. Sobkiewicz finds it important to educate younger drivers especially, as the incident involved a teenage driver. The response from those in the community she’s reached out to about the law has been positive.
“People are interested, and they agree that this law needs to be better represented and more people need to know about it because it's so important,” Sobkiewicz said. She and Tristan’s mother, Christi Carrano, worked together to make the brochures they distributed around town. For both of them, working on the project has been an emotional experience.
“It was very emotional. I've tried my hardest to stay in contact with Mrs. Carrano, she's just an amazing person and their family is just perfect. I originally just messaged her about it and she said how she's speechless,” Sobkiewicz said. “After I found out that I got the law into the curriculum for Next Street, the driver's education business, I asked her if we could meet up in person because I wanted to tell her the news, that way is more personal. Obviously, I got to hug it out and cry.”
“I'm overwhelmed,” Carrano said. “She's such a sincere young lady, and her love for Tristan, to see that love and to see that pour over in her wanting to make a difference, just fills our hearts, so, so very much.”
Sobkiewicz and Barhorst saw each other often, being a part of the same team at their dojo and joining on the same day. Sobkiewicz has now been a part of the dojo for seven years, and Tristan has left a mark on the studio. In his honor, LMA named their demonstration team Team Tsunami after Barhorst’s nickname and gives out the Tsunami Award of Excellence every year, which Carrano presents. Sobkiewicz was the first ever to receive the accolade. There even is an honorary black belt with Tristan’s name on it inside the studio.
Leadership Martial Arts tries to teach its students more than just self-defense, but also being members of the community and leaders for tomorrow — as such they require a community service project as part of the process of getting a black belt. When hearing about Sobkiewicz’s project, Sensei and owner Rick Griffin was moved.
“I think it's great. I think it shows the love that they had for each other as classmates and teammates. I think it shows that, especially being on the SWAT team, being classmates have really brought them together and it's more than just someone you see once a week, twice a week. They really became very tight-knit,” Griffin said. “I think Lydia has always had a very special trait about her … She's going to go on to do anything that she wants to do. She's that type of kid that is really going to be successful.”
For everyone who knew Barhorst, they are positively moved by his memory and continue to do work to honor him. Carrano continues to advocate for the law and for driver safety around all parked vehicles. In 2021, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal introduced a federal version of the legislation as a bill in Congress.
“I wouldn't say it's my work. I would say it's our son's work from Heaven and he's doing great things, and hopefully he's educating drivers, not only just to slow down and cautiously pass an ice cream truck, but hopefully he's reminding all drivers to slow down and cautiously pass any stopped vehicle,” Carrano said. “We are just so thankful our hearts are full of gratitude to Lydia for creating such a beautiful, concise, and informative brochure.”
After dedicating so much of her life to karate, Sobkiewicz said she is looking to carry forward the values she learned at Leadership Martial Arts and from Barhorst forward through her career at Southington High School and beyond.
“I just think that karate and Tristan have had such a big impact on my life with learning how to deal with things and looking at things in such a different way,” she said. “Right now in karate, I feel like Tristan is someone that's driving me to do my best and just keep going, keep persevering.”