The 1986 murder of 20-year-old Cara Knott by on-duty California Highway Patrol officer Craig Peyer was a case that shook San Diego like an earthquake. It frightened female drivers, horrified parents who wanted to believe their daughters were safe in the community and engendered a gut-level distrust of police. The killing still evokes a visceral reaction from San Diegans; it was every bit as shocking back in 1986 as was the Chelsea King murder that brought the region to its knees in 2009.
One tangible manifestation of the Knott tragedy is the San Diego Crime Victims Oak Garden, located near the site where Knott's body was dumped, just northeast of the intersection of Interstate 15 and Mercy Road.
The creative force behind the oak garden concept was Knott's grieving father, Sam, who lobbied for the better part of a decade to have the area dedicated to his daughter. His work reached fruition in 1996 when the site was dedicated as the Cara Knott Memorial Oak Garden. It was re-dedicated in 1999 as the San Diego Crime Victims Memorial Garden. That year, Sam Knott transplanted scores of oak saplings that the family had grown from acorns in their back yard.
Since its dedication, the park has grown into an oasis where the lives of dozens of victims of violent crimes are commemorated. Family and friends of victims gather here to process their thoughts.
People have left all sorts of memorials to victims of senseless violence. There are colorfully decorated rocks and stones that bear the names of lost loved ones, some painted with birth dates or other remembrances. Some of the oak trees have bronze nameplates, also engraved with memorialized notes. It's a solemn place that evokes a rush of feelings. Some people have reported paranormal experiences here.
To reach the park, exit I-15 at the Mercy Road/Scripps Poway Parkway exit. Go east and make a U-turn at Scripps Highland Drive (300 yards from the freeway), and take the first right into Cara Way and proceed north to the park.
To see more off-the-beaten-path places in San Diego, go to hiddensandiego.net.