Thursday was the first day of school for 11-year-old Hector Evangelista Jr. of Oakdale. He was conflicted about going, though, if it meant his mother would be home alone.
Assured by visiting family members they’d be with her, Hector Jr. headed to class with his father’s words in his head. Some time ago, when Hector Sr. was battling cancer, “He would tell him, ‘You’re going to be the man of the house if something ever happens to me with my cancer. You’re the man,’” Hector Jr.’s mom, Luz Ruiz, said in Spanish Thursday morning, with family member and neighbor Susana Ortiz translating.
Cancer didn’t take Hector Evangelista’s life, though. He’d gotten a little better in recent months, his blood work was good, Ruiz said. He’d been feeling some pain recently, however, and a biopsy was to be done on his liver to see if the cancer had spread there.
What might have come of that won’t be known, because Hector, 44, and the couple’s 16-year-old daughter, Giselle, died in a crash Tuesday evening on Patterson Road on their way home from Riverbank.
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Hector was a carpenter, and he and Giselle had dropped off some remodeling materials. She was behind the wheel at least on the way back to Oakdale, and the California Highway Patrol reported that, for unknown reasons, she veered into the oncoming lane twice — the second time hitting another vehicle head-on.
The occupants of the 2014 Dodge she hit, Oakdale resident Marisela Wilkinson, 32, and her children Kylie, 11, Michael, 9, and Alexa, 6, all suffered minor injures. “Scrapes and bruises. We were extremely lucky,” she commented on the Oakdale Area Incident Feed page on Facebook.
The Evangelistas, whose Toyota Echo overturned into a ditch filled with cattle waste runoff, were pronounced dead at the scene.
In Ortiz’s living room Thursday, Ruiz spoke tearfully of her lost husband and daughter. Asked to share what made Hector special, she said, “Everything.” He was a really good father, always concerned about his children, wanting them to have everything. He was excited about the baptism of the couple’s youngest child, 9-month-old Valeria, which was to be this weekend.
Instead, the family is planning funerals, and working to get Hector’s mother, sister and a few other relatives up from Mexico to attend.
Hector and Giselle were almost inseparable, Ruiz said. Whether it was a trip like Tuesday’s or a run to the dollar store or grocery store, the teen wanted to tag along.
Ortiz said the girl always was smiling, and would light up a room. “Everybody would turn when she would walk in.”
Giselle , who would have been a junior at Oakdale High this school year, loved soccer and also ran track. As her soccer teammates start their season, they’ll be wearing black armbands in her honor. Some of the girls shared with The Bee their thoughts on Giselle.
“I remember being nervous to play and Giselle was always there to pick me up and tell me I could do it, and play amazing. She always made everything so fun, and she was so sweet to everyone,” Jordyn Elting said.
Alyssa Stott said she took her best friend on her first airplane trip — to Hawaii, no less. And Giselle made even getting lost on the streets of the Aloha State fun. “Giselle was an extraordinary girl, nothing about her was boring,” Alyssa said. “She was always ‘extra’ in the best ways. She was always happy around others, even when she felt sad ... Even when it came to just laying around doing nothing, she would start singing and it turned into a party.”
And Daniela Carranza shared, “There was never a time when she was around me and didn’t make me smile or laugh.”
Giselle was a true student athlete, who didn’t lose sight of what was important in school, her mom said. She strove to improve academically. “She wanted to become someone. She would get bothered if her grades would go down. She wanted to be a lawyer. “
She was a wonderful daughter who loved her family, Ruiz added. “She was telling her baby sister how when she’d grow up, she’d be playing soccer with her and would show her about things.” Valeria was almost like her own baby to Giselle, her mother said.
Perhaps because of Hector’s cancer, death was on Giselle’s mind of late, Ruiz said. Not long ago, she expressed a fear that she would die alone. And on the Friday before her death, while on a family trip to Los Angeles, she posed for a photo before a wall painted to make it look as though she had angel wings and said that someday “she was going to fly with those really big wings.”
It’s an understatement to say Hector’s and Giselle’s deaths have hit their surviving family hard. Hector Jr. says he can’t miss school because he wants to work hard, help his mom through her grieving and support his family, Ortiz said. “He’s very, very worried about that, how they’re going to get through, but he’s being very strong.”
Asked what they need, Ruiz said any help with funeral costs is appreciated. She added, “Nobody can help remove the pain we have.”
A gofundme.com account has been established to help the Evangelistas. Car wash benefits also are being held, as well as a benefit Tuesday at Cocina Michoacana restaurant.
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