MODESTO -- Family members of a 23-year-old Modesto mother whose body was found down an embankment in Escalon on New Year's Day say she was a genuine, loyal, hardworking person.
"She was happy before she passed away," said Lynette Garza's older sister, Priscilla Balcorta. "She had a good life and good friends. I can't believe someone would do this to someone like her."
The San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department, which is investigating Garza's death as a homicide, isn't offering any potential motives either.
Deputy Les Garcia, a spokesman for the department, said California Highway Patrol officers responding to a report of an accident in the 25800 block of River Road at 3:40 a.m. on Jan. 1 found an abandoned vehicle.
While checking the area, they spotted Garza's body about 60 feet from the vehicle.
Garcia wouldn't say if Garza was involved in a wreck, if the abandoned car belonged to her, who reported the wreck or if there were any other vehicles involved.
Apart from Garza's body having "severe trauma," Garcia declined to explain what led investigators to believe she was the victim of a homicide and not a car accident. How she died is pending an autopsy and toxicology results.
Balcorta said her family doesn't know anything about the investigation and that detectives told them they were being kept in the dark for their "safety."
After her son Lucion was born in 2008, Garza worked full time as a security guard and studied criminal justice at Kaplan College. Her ability to juggle work and school as a young mother was a testament to how driven she was, Balcorta said.
"She had a lot going for herself," she said. "When she wanted to do something, she would find a way to do it."
Garza started attending classes at Humphreys College last year and eventually wanted to become a police officer, Balcorta said.
"She was a real good daughter, sister, mother and friend," she said.
Apart from Balcorta and Lucion, Garza left behind another older sister, Raynea Balcorta, and parents Celeste and Donato Garza.
Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at (209) 578-2366 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @ModestoBeeCrime.