Shelley Medeiros and Sue Fontana-Moniz have been friends since their daughters played softball together as children.
“We spent basically every weekend together,” Medeiros said. “Softball, travel ball.”
And while their girls were on the field, the mothers’ sons seized the moment.
“The boys hung out,” Medeiros said. “The minute we hit the ballpark, they were gone.”
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Off playing, off doing things little boys did when their moms were busy coaching, umpiring or rooting. In that way, Maurice Moniz Jr. and Zachariah Goni became best buddies. Their friendship lasted throughout their elementary and high school years, and all the way to their graves.
Moniz died in a motorcycle accident near Turlock on Nov. 8, 2013. Nov. 8 was Goni’s 19th birthday. Goni died in a motorcycle accident in Washington on Nov. 2, 2014. Two young men and best friends, taken just shy of a year apart and 19 years old when they died.
Now, their mothers want to honor them and help others honor their children as well. They’ve decided to collect toys to take to needy and ailing children, making the collections and deliveries in their sons’ names. They don’t want it to turn into a nonprofit corporation with a board, budget and fundraising needs. They want their effort to remain personal for themselves and any other grieving parents who participate. They’ve created a Facebook grief support page they call “Our Angels,” where people can post about the ones they’ve loved and lost, and to coordinate the toy collection and delivery efforts.
Junior Moniz was a three-sport athlete at Ceres High. While in high school, he also worked for the tallow company owned by his father, Maurice Moniz Sr. A broken foot, Sue said, cost Junior his senior season in football. He graduated and got his Class A license to drive trucks, and he moved in with his girlfriend, Morgan Ogden.
“He’d started his life,” Fontana-Moniz said. “They had dogs. He was a responsible kid.”
The license plate on his Chevy Duramax pickup read, “Nice Boy.”
“People would always say to him, ‘You’re a nice boy, eh’” she said.
He’d ridden dirt bikes as a kid and decided to upgrade to a Harley-Davidson Dyna. He and several other young men went for a ride one night that November day in 2013. They drove down West Main in the industrial area west of Highway 99.
“When they left the last signal light, a cop in a fast-food drive-thru saw them, and some of them were hauling ass,” Fontana-Moniz said. “He thought, ‘This can’t be good.’ A few seconds later, he heard the call for the motorcycle accident.”
They came upon a truck turning into one of the plants in the industrial area. There was a car stopped behind it. The other riders veered off. Moniz went 400 feet trying to regain balance and control, she said. Then his chest hit the rear of the car that was waiting for the truck to turn. Junior died instantly.
His funeral drew scores of people but came with an added tragedy: Tyler Daniel Anderson, 34, was killed when he stopped near Hughson to help direct traffic for Moniz’s procession.
Zachariah Goni, meanwhile, was angry and frustrated that he couldn’t attend Moniz’s funeral. Goni attended Turlock High as a freshman and Enochs as a sophomore. During his junior year, sister Stephanie got married to a young man who had joined the Army and was stationed in Kentucky. The husband deployed overseas.
“(Zachariah) didn’t want her to be alone, so he uprooted himself to go live with his sister,”Shelley Medeiros said.
After a year, he returned and graduated from Enochs High before himself joining the Army. He was stationed in Fort Lewis, Wash., when Moniz died. When he got out, he visited his sister for a month in Kentucky again before returning to Tacoma, where she and her husband also moved. Zach worked in a plant that made imitation crab.
“He was the youngest guy in the plant,” mom Shelley said.
One night, realizing he’d forgotten to fill out his timecard, Goni decided to ride over to the plant and do the paperwork. Stephanie offered to drive him over and back, but he wanted to ride. A woman turned directly in front of him, and his motorcycle slammed into her car. He, too, died instantly.
“I’d just gotten home, and I get a phone call,” Medeiros said. “They asked, ‘Do you know a Zachariah Goni?’ Yes. ‘How are you related?’ I’m his mother. Why?’”
After an uncomfortable moment of silence, the woman on the other end the line said, “At this point I have to inform you there’s been a fatal accident. Your son’s been killed.”
“I felt like I’d been hit by a ton of bricks,” Medeiros said. “Then, I barely hang up the phone and it rings again.”
It was from the donor network. Zach was a donor. Had the network called a minute earlier, that is how she would have found out her son had died, she said.
She then had to call Stephanie, who hadn’t been contacted even though she lived within a couple of miles from where he died. She was angry with Zachariah for not coming home or calling.
It took weeks to get a copy of the accident report, she said. The driver had a suspended license, three kids in the car and had been out looking for a fourth who ran away from home, Medeiros said.
“She was cited for failure to yield,” Medeiros said. “That’s it. She never got out to check on my son. She’ll never take responsibility. I have to live with that. And within 24 hours, she’s on Facebook blaming my son for the accident.”
They brought Zachariah home for burial. Like Junior Moniz’s funeral, Zachariah Goni’s also drew a large crowd.
They are buried just feet apart at Lakewood Memorial Park in Hughson, friends for life and now in death. And their grieving mothers hope to honor the sons they call “Our Angels.”