When Melchor Leyva Fong — a Modesto father of four — found out his children wouldn’t be able to enjoy the same school carnival he enjoyed while attending El Vista Elementary, he was determined to bring it back.
So about five years ago, as the new PTO president at the east Modesto grade school, he did just that. The small carnival with games and prizes for the kids continues each year, with the most recent one this past May. Family and friends remembered Leyva Fong as a loving father and loyal friend Saturday morning at a car wash fundraiser at the site he died a week ago.
The 31-year-old was one of two bystanders killed when suspects in an allegedly stolen vehicle crashed into the Tacos Vallarta food stand in the early hours of June 15 following a high-speed police pursuit where they shot at authorities. The two men, Leyva Fong and Pedro Gil, were waiting for food at the popular taco truck at 14th and D streets.
Both fathers of four, the men are commemorated at the site with makeshift memorials including candles, pictures, balloons, flowers and signs reading “World’s Best Dad” and “Greatest Dad Ever.” The taco truck, which was not damaged in the crash, has resumed business. But the adjacent covered dining area, which the white Toyota crashed into, remains closed.
Two Bay Area men, 24-year-old Rodney Quiros and 22-year-old Antonio Gazo, were arrested for the crash and charged with two counts of murder, four counts of attempted murder on a peace officer, and being felons in possession of firearms and ammunition.
Leyva Fong’s wife, Dulce Belmonte, and his older children attended the car wash where dozens of family and friends came together to gather donations. A steady stream of cars came in and out of the small corner lot Saturday morning and the family had plans to stay on site all day barbecuing and selling snacks, as well.
“Everybody has been so amazing. The lives he touched — people have told me they met him one time and he touched them in small ways,” said his widow. “Even the other family has reached out to us.”
The family of the other man killed in the crash, 31-year-old Gil, held their own car wash last week at the site. Both families have been gathering donations for the men’s funerals and families. Online fundraisers have so far raised more than $10,000 for each family.
Leyva Fong’s elder sister, Melina Carbajal, said he had gone out that night to get tacos for his children, ages 14, 12, 3 and 1. His normal taco truck was closed, so he went to Tacos Vallarta instead.
Beside serving for three years as the El Vista PTO president and another year as treasurer, Leyva Fong worked for his father’s framing and construction business. His longtime best friend Atishwar Singh, who lived next door to him while growing up in Modesto, said he loved playing good-natured pranks and being outdoors. His family and Singh’s had plans to go fishing and jet skiing for Father’s Day, the weekend he died.
But Leyva Fong would also go out of his way to help others, Singh said, like the time he took the ashes of a neighbor couple after they passed away. No other family members came to claim them, so he stepped up.
Still it was his children and family who always came first. When Carbajal’s first husband passed away her daughter was 6 years old and her brother promised to watch over his niece like his own daughter. That included doing the father-daughter dances with her at her quinceañera a few years ago and then attending her high school graduation this past spring.
His family said they’ve been comforted by the outpouring of support, from co-workers, local businesses and even strangers, who have pitched in to donate and help raise money.
“If it was somebody else in this situation, Mel would have done the exact same thing for them,” said his other sister Melissa Leyva. “He was such a good friend, always there for everybody. And he is going to be missed. Thank you to everybody that has helped out, everybody that has reached out to us, everybody who has donated. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
Both men will be laid to rest in separate private ceremonies this week. To donate to the families of Leyva Fong visit www.gofundme.com/melchor-leyva-fong. To donate to the family of Gil visit www.facebook.com/donate/862303247452597.