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‘ACT LIKE ZACH, SMILE LIKE ZACH’

Friends remember teen killed by distracted driver

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‘ACT LIKE ZACH, SMILE LIKE ZACH’

Zachariah Gomez Hernandez, left, in a Facebook posting of a photo taken in the Manteca High JROTC classroom. Hernandez, a Manteca High freshman, was killed early Saturday morning when a distracted ...

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POSTED April 22, 2014 12:58 a.m.

Zachariah Gomez Hernandez smiled. 

A lot. 

He smiled so much that it infected nearly everybody that he came into contact with – whether it was those who shared the same Manteca High School JROTC uniform or people that he knew through his time at the Manteca Christian Worship Center. 

So when the 14-year-old was struck and killed by a distracted motorist on East Highway 120 early Saturday morning while walking along the shoulder, a lot of those smiles turned. All of the people that Gomez had touched during his brief time were suddenly without their jester. 

They were without their friend. 

“He was such a happy-go-lucky guy that always had that smile that just seemed to spread whenever he was around,” said Manteca High sophomore and friend Janet Gomez. “He didn’t care who you were or where you came from or what your story was – Zach was the kind of person that accepted you for who you were and appreciated you for who you were. 

“I tell people now to ‘Think like Zach, Act like Zach and Smile like Zach’ – he was the best type of person, and there wasn’t anybody that he didn’t make better while he was here.”

Just after 1 a.m. on Saturday Gomez Hernandez was walking with three friends along the shoulder of East Highway 120 near Comconex Road east of Manteca. A vehicle traveling westbound veered off of the road and struck all four of the teens from behind. 

According to the report issued by the California Highway Patrol, 19-year-old Mia Sara Aguiar, a Stockton resident, had reached for her cell phone. She was taken into custody and is being charged with vehicular manslaughter as a result of the incident. 

But a sense of justice isn’t what Gomez Hernandez’ classmates or church friends or even random people were looking for on Monday afternoon when they held a charity carwash behind the Dollar General store on East Yosemite Avenue. They turned not to the outside world but one another for support. 

When there was no car present the music that would blare from the speakers stopped. The mood drastically changed from one of skeptical exuberance to one of complete sorrow and emotional devastation. It was clear that the collective group – totaling more than three dozen – had lost somebody that they deeply cared about. 

And then another car would come and they would turn on the music and put on the smile that Gomez Hernandez would have flashed and they got to work. There was money to be made to help the family offset the costs of the funeral, and when something like this happens – even to a group of young people that are seldom equipped to handle such an event – they stick together. 

“He was the best – the guy that always had a smile on this face. A token grin,” said Adriana Castaneda. “He was a great student – he loved math – and he was a great friend and somebody that you could confide in. 

“I can’t believe this – I don’t want to believe this. It’s great how people come together and show how much they care about a single person. I think that says a lot when you stop and look around.”

Gomez Hernandez was a rifleman in Manteca High’s JROTC Color Guard. Friends say that they never saw him angry or mad and that regardless of the situation, he could always be called on to be the mediator – the level-headed guy that never found faults and was always willing to love and trust everybody the same. 

He liked video games. He liked the Oakland Raiders and Los Angeles Lakers and looked forward to fellowshipping with his youth group friends from the Christian Worship Center. His last Facebook quote showed the way that he lived his life – “be free and have no one tell you what is good for you because only you know what’s best, just not right now but sometime in life.”   

He was the kind of person, according to Manny Moreno, that people wanted to be around. He was the kind of person that people gravitated towards without even knowing it. And even when it was just the two of them – away from the confines of Manteca High School and his fellow freshman classmates and even his JROTC brethren – he was always the same person. 

Kind. Generous. Loving. Funny. Caring. 

“He was the first friend that I ever had in high school, and he had this way of keeping everybody happy,” Moreno said. “He was the nicest person that you’d ever meet. He was somebody that you could talk to about anything and he’d listen and be there for you. 

“You can’t ask for friends like him. And you can’t believe it when they’re gone.”

The Manteca High School JROTC will be holding a Raider competition on Saturday, April 26 to help raise money for the family. Donations can be made at Milan’s Pizza – located at 1150 W. Yosemite Avenue near the intersection of Yosemite Ave. and Union Road – or by calling Moreno at 209.640.9187 or emailing him at manuelmorenom204@yahoo.com.

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