A growing memorial made of flowers and candles marks the intersection in Escondido, where two men were killed by a vehicle on February 12 when residents who did not know the victims came to show their respect.
Mateo Salvador, 33, and Sofio Sotelo Torres, 51, were sleeping in the bushes next to a wall near Mission Avenue and Ash Street when an SUV hit them late Friday night.
Police investigators said a 13-year-old girl was behind the wheel and took her mother’s vehicle without permission. She reportedly sped away when an officer tried to overtake her and lost control of the SUV.
Kimberly Bloodgood, an Oak Hill kindergarten teacher, said she knew the neighborhood well and knew about the accident. She was worried when she saw that no monument had been erected.
“After they published their names, I thought people who knew them would do something,” she said. “But it’s been three whole days and I always thought someone was going to put something there.”
Bloodgood said she decided to post something on the Escondido Friends Facebook page.
“No flowers, candles, cuddly toys,” she wrote. “Why? Because they were homeless. But these men were someone’s son, someone’s grandson. Someone’s friend.”
She wrote that she had planted the first flower, a red rose, and asked other people to do the same.
And the memorial began to grow, with hundreds of people leaving comments on the page, sharing their original post.
Mike Espinoza, a member of the Facebook group, said he knew Torres as the owner of a tree pruning company called S&M Tree Service, but he didn’t know Salvador. Local television reports of the crash identified Salvador as a Guatemalan immigrant.
Espinoza said his father introduced him to Torres, who hired him and kept him busy for four years.
“He was a pretty cool guy,” said Espinoza of Torres, who hired him in 2007. “When someone needed a job, he gave them an opportunity. If they knew someone who was in trouble, he would give them money. He was a pretty cool guy. He would get along with everyone.”
Espinoza said Torres would look after his workers and hold large barbecues for them at his home on the weekends.
A sign on a post near Ash Street and Mission Avenue in Escondido calls for justice in the fatal accident in which Mateo Salvador, 33, and Sofio Sotelo Torres, 51, were killed.
He hadn’t seen him regularly in recent years, but Espinoza said he heard Torres went through a rough patch when his wife left him with their 10-year-old son and moved to Texas. Espinoza said he heard Torres may have become homeless, but he wasn’t sure until he heard about the accident last week.
“He was a pretty good guy,” he said. “He wasn’t a troublemaker.”
Bloodgood said no matter what the men’s circumstances, she wanted her life to be remembered.
“I was very personally affected by the circumstances of her death, how tragic and terrible it was,” she said, pondering the incredible possibility that the runaway vehicle would crash in the one small spot where two men were sleeping.
“I thought not only was this terrible, but there was nothing here,” she said. “Our students will go through there on Tuesday morning and what will we tell them when they walk by and all they see is garbage and bushes? It’s a statement in the community that they meant nothing. “Oh, this accident happened, but they’re just homeless.”
“I couldn’t stand the fact that we would be sending this message to everyone who walked by, students, not to mention the rest of the community,” she said.
Since the victims were homeless, she said she wasn’t sure she would receive negative comments on her Facebook post. She didn’t and was amazed to see that her post had received 1,400 likes and loves and was copied and sent to other groups on social media.
She said she also turned the incident into a study lesson and had an online discussion with students about responsibility, safety and obedience to parents.
“When you are a teacher, you need to seize all of these teachable moments in life and share them ASAP,” she said.
Laura Groch contributed to this article.