A lonely death on a Fort Worth street

Posted Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013  Print Reprints
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How you can help Police are trying to identify the drivers of two vehicles involved in an auto-pedestrian wreck that killed 20-year-old Elio Mena-Lopez on June 16. The first vehicle is described as a white, four-door car with a sunroof , possibly a Nissan. The second vehicle appeared to be a red 2002 Chevy double cab pickup. Anyone with information about the drivers’ identities is asked to call Detective Lisa Sorrels at 817-392-4891 or Crime Stoppers at 817-469-TIPS (8477). Crime Stoppers offers reward money for information leading to an arrest.

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Elio Mena-Lopez lay injured on Race Street with no one willing to help.

Minutes earlier, police say the 20-year-old waiter was highly intoxicated when he tried to flag down a white, four-door car with a sunroof while walking in the 2700 block of Race Street about 4 a.m. June 16. His actions were caught on a video surveillance camera from a nearby bar.

“You can see him wave his arms, and he literally runs into the side of the passenger side of the vehicle, probably around the door frame,” said traffic investigation Detective Lisa Sorrels.

The driver of the car, possibly a Nissan, swerved after the collision but never stopped.

Nor did at least four vehicles that passed by Mena-Lopez as he lay in the middle of the eastbound lane, just in front of Fuzzy’s Taco Shop.

“He is moving. He tried to get up a couple of times and fell back down,” Sorrels said. “I think the intoxication and some minor injuries he received in the contact with the first vehicle caused him to not have his faculties and not be able to get up and get out of the roadway.”

Three minutes later, the video shows a red pickup — believed to be a 2002 Chevy double cab — running over Mena-Lopez, Sorrels said.

Like the others, that pickup driver kept going.

Mena-Lopez was pronounced dead at the scene. Now, police are releasing images of the two vehicles involved in hopes that someone will help identify the drivers, who could face charges of failing to stop and render aid.

Sorrels said had the first driver simply called 911 after the collision, Mena-Lopez might still be alive.

“We may have gotten there in time; the ambulance may have gotten there in time to give him some protection,” Sorrels said.

‘He’s not breathing anymore’

Mena-Lopez was a waiter at La Playa Maya on Fort Worth’s north side and had planned to return to college to become a nurse.

“There was no way not to get along with him once you got to know him,” said his boyfriend, Cesar Tapia. “You just connected with him.”

But the couple, who lived together on Race Street, had fought that Father’s Day weekend, leaving Mena-Lopez in a highly emotional state. Tapia said he had picked up Mena-Lopez, who was drunk, from a downtown bar late Saturday, then called 911 when Mena-Lopez jumped from his slow-moving car and scaled the Weatherford Street bridge as if he were going to jump.

Tapia said he had talked Mena-Lopez back into the car, and the two returned to their apartment off Race Street. They grabbed something to eat but later fought again with both men eventually leaving the apartment on foot.

Mena-Lopez ended up near Fuzzy’s.

Bernice Barajas, 19, was returning home after an outing with friends when she heard a woman screaming for help and saw a man lying in the street.

“As I got closer, I recognized Elio. I live on Race Street. I recognized him because he was a neighbor,” Barajas said.

Barajas called 911 and talked to dispatchers as another woman tried to offer aid to Mena-Lopez.

“She was like, ‘I can barely feel his pulse,’” Barajas said. “The lady on the phone told her to start doing compressions. She began to do compressions, then she just started crying, ‘He’s gone. He’s not breathing anymore. There’s no pulse.’”

‘Someone ran over him’

Tapia, meanwhile, had decided to drive to his mother’s house to spend the night. As he walked to his car at the apartment, he noticed an ambulance driving by, but thought nothing of it.

But after reaching his mother’s house, a friend sent him a message via Facebook telling him it was an emergency and that he needed to call her.

He called the friend, who quickly asked him where he was and if his boyfriend was with him. When he said no, his friend asked, “By any chance was he wearing white and gray Vans?’ I’m like yeah, ‘Why, What’s wrong?’ Then she started crying.”

Barajas took the phone from her friend and delivered the tragic news to Tapia.

“Someone ran him over, and he just passed,” she told him.

Though neither driver stopped, Sorrels said both vehicles did drive back by the scene, indicating they knew they had hit someone.

On the video, the white car can been seen slowly driving past the ambulance and onlookers, before turning south on Grace Street.

Barajas said she was still on the scene when the red pickup sped past, prompting a paramedic to shout at the driver to slow down.

“They stepped on the brakes, then they took off even faster,” Barajas said.

A short time later, a woman came to the scene and told officials she had seen the same pickup run over Mena-Lopez. Police put out a broadcast and tracked the pickup, pulling the driver over at a gas station at Interstate 35W and Northeast 28th Street.

Though the driver was arrested on an outstanding aggravated robbery warrant and his truck impounded, Sorrels said both he and a passenger who had been in the truck denied hitting anyone — or even driving down Race Street that night.

“At this point, it’s his word against mine,” Sorrels said. “ I suspect he did it but I can’t prove it yet.”

‘Follow me home’

Mena-Lopez essentially had two families, both of which now mourn his loss.

Though they were not related, Bettie Lykes loved Mena-Lopez as if he were her own son.

Once the manager of the Cleburne mobile home park where Mena-Lopez had lived for a few years with his mother and stepfather, Lykes said she later took him into her home after he told her that his decision to come out as gay cost him his home.

“I said, ‘Follow me home. You’ve got your own bedroom. Your own bathroom. Life is good. You’re coming home with me,’” Lykes recalled.

Lykes said she made sure Mena-Lopez finished high school.

He lived with her until December when, then 20, he moved in with his boyfriend in an apartment less than two blocks from where he would later be killed.

Lykes has taken in “sons” before.

In 1972, the then-divorced mother with a 4-year-old son and 9-month-old daughter spotted a malnourished young boy doing small jobs at the Rockyfeller Hamburgers stand on North Main Street in Fort Worth. She took in the 11-year-old boy, Andy Foster, tried to get help for his alcoholic mother, and then later legally adopted the boy after his mother died of sclerosis of the liver when he was 15.

Foster, a retired Air Force master sergeant, now works for Lockheed.

“You see, this is the way it is, honey. I only have to answer to one person in my life and when he asks me what did you do that night at the Rockyfeller Hamburger stand when that little boy was sitting there, I’m not going to say I got in my car and went home. The God I know, that dog won’t hunt with him,” Lykes said.

Foster said had Lykes not taken him in, he is certain that he would be in prison today.

“I ran the streets as I wanted, when I wanted,” Foster said. “She came along in my life at a very good time. She kicked me in the butt when I needed it and showed me determination and initiative, that you can’t sit around and wait for the world to hand you something.”

That all those years later Lykes would open up her home to Mena-Lopez wasn’t surprising, he said.

“She’d say, ‘You weren’t born under my heart, you were born in my heart,’” Foster recalled. “I could say the same thing about her and Elio. He was born in her heart as well.”

‘How could that be?’

Mena-Lopez’s family said he was not kicked out of their house and that he left home on his accord.

“Family is family. We were here for him. He decided to go his own way without us, and we respected that,” said his older sister, Mara Zamora.

Aurora Juarez said her son’s lifestyle had no bearing on her feelings about him.

“He’s my son. I loved him no matter what,” Juarez said speaking in Spanish and crying as she spoke about her son. “When he moved to Fort Worth, we helped him. He would call and ask for money for books, and I’d send him the money.”

Aurora Juarez said that even though he lived in Fort Worth, he would still drive down to Mexia and go shopping or out to eat with family members.

“He was my baby,” Juarez said. “There’s no pain greater than losing a son at such a young age.”

Mena-Lopez’s family chose to have his funeral for immediate family only.

Lykes hosted her own memorial for Mena-Lopez in Cleburne. She also raised money for a mausoleum monument in his name at the Green Acres Cemetery in Cleburne.

“I have to have a place to go,” Lykes said.

Both wonder how anyone could leave Mena-Lopez on the street to die.

“You see people stopping when they hit a dog or animal,” Juarez said. “But they didn’t stop to check on my son. How could that be?”

Staff writer Domingo Ramirez Jr. contributed to this report.

Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655

Twitter: @deannaboyd