Tenderloin mourns life cut short

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Art teacher says boy, 4, killed when hit by car, had strong area support network

Broken glass twinkled in the gutter at the corner of Leavenworth and O’Farrell streets Friday, the last remnants of the car crash that took the life of 4-year-old Juan Mendoza Jr.

On the sidewalk, just feet from where Juan was hit, toys, flowers, candles and poetry jockeyed for position around a tree that served as an impromptu memorial for the young life that was cut short.

On July 27, according to police, an Acura heading north on Leavenworth Street allegedly ran a red light, smashing into a Volvo heading east on O’Farrell Street. Juan was standing with his father on the sidewalk at the northeast corner of the intersection when the Volvo spun into him. He died the next day at San Francisco General Hospital.

“It was terrible,” said Farah Massis, who owns the Right Way Market, on the corner where the crash occurred. “By the time I got out and saw what happened he [Juan’s father] was running back with the boy. He came into the store and laid the kid on the floor. I called 911.”

Police and paramedics arrived and rushed Juan to the hospital, but his injuries were too great. “It was hard, seeing this kid lying on the floor, his dad crying. It was horrible,” Massis said.

Although Juan’s family immigrated from Mexico just a few years ago, they had a strong support network in the Tenderloin, said Kate Gibson, who taught Juan art for two years at the Glide Family, Youth and Childcare Center, run by Glide Memorial United Methodist Church.

A chubby kid with a hearing aid, Juan was nevertheless full of energy and confidence, Gibson said. “He knew what he wanted to do and he did it. He was never afraid,” she said.

Juan’s father enrolled him in the child care center when he was 18 months old, the center’s managing director, David Carrillo, wrote in a letter to the Tenderloin community.

“He had so much love from his family and people around him that I would always hear teachers say ‘this is the one we weren’t worried about. He’ll have support,’” Gibson said.

Juan was an only child, but his mother is eight months pregnant with another boy, Gibson said.

Glide’s president and executive director, Janice Mirikitani, said the church and youth center have been inundated with calls asking how community members can support Juan’s family. In response, Glide has set up a fund that will go directly to his family to cover Juan’s burial and other costs associated with his death.

“There’s a need on both parts — a need to give and a need for support,” Mirikitani said.

Checks for Juan Mendoza Jr.’s memorial fund should be made out to Glide, with Juan Mendoza’s name written in the memo section of the check.

amartin@examiner.com

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