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Family, friends, strangers mourn homeless men killed in Escondido

Posted at 4:28 PM, Feb 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-17 00:07:21-05

ESCONDIDO, Calif. (KGTV) — Family, friends, and strangers are mourning the deaths of two homeless men killed while sleeping in the bushes Friday night in Escondido.

According to police, the two men were sleeping near a wall on Ash Street near Mission Avenue when an underage driver lost control of an SUV and plowed into them.

Police say a 13-year-old girl and her juvenile companion fled from officers after a traffic stop. The two men who died as Mateo Salvador, 33, and Sofio Sotelo Torres, 51.

Friends say Torres was a beloved uncle. Relatives offered him a place to stay, but he chose to live on the street.

Ayari Lopez Bazan told ABC 10News Torres also has family in Mexico.

"He had such a big heart and was so kind to everyone. He was the type of man that even though he didn't have much he would give his last dollar or piece of food to you so you could be okay," said Bazan, adding that Torres loved to dance and play cards in nearby Washington Park. "He will be missed dearly and I hope justice will be served because even though he was homeless he had family here and in Mexico that loved him so much."

Torres and Salvador were friends. Tuesday morning, a growing collection of flowers, cards, and candles sat at the spot where the men were killed.

Kimberly Bloodgood is an Escondido kindergarten teacher. She didn't know the men, but she started the memorial with a single flower, then encouraged others to do the same.

"I just couldn't take it anymore, I felt I needed to do something so I thought well you know, if I could just start this with one flower, maybe other people will join in," said Bloodgood.

Bloodgood said she felt compelled to honor their memory.

"It's not just a real simple, oh, they were homeless, it doesn't mean they were nothing just because they were homeless," said Bloodgood.

She hopes the tragedy serves as an important lesson.

"I want the children to see, you don't always know, why somebody is homeless, but we need to treat them with respect, they're still human beings," said Bloodgood.

The thirteen-year-old driver and her juvenile companion were released to their parents.

Under California law, a 13-year-old cannot be charged as an adult. Only juveniles age 14 and above can be charged as an adult, but only after a fitness hearing is conducted and a judge determines that the minor should be transferred to adult court.

"Thirteen-year-old is obviously a pretty tender age, and they make stupid, impulsive, idiotic decisions because they're 13, their brains aren't fully developed. The judge has to determine whether this person, if released to family, would be a threat to the public," said former San Diego district attorney Paul Pfingst.

Pfingst said the juvenile justice system is designed for rehabilitation, not punishment.

"No matter what happens in juvenile court, the maximum sentence you can get is to your 25th birthday, this particular juvenile will probably be unlikely to get that, because the basic crime is a reckless behavior, not an intentional behavior," said Pfingst.