One of two men hit and killed in San Diego’s North County last week by a 13-year-old girl accused of stealing her mother’s car will be remembered by his family as a man filled with joy – even through his struggles.
“He was a happy person; he was filled with joy,” said San Diego resident Ricardo Aguilar, speaking of his relative, Sofio Sotelo Torres, 51. “He loved music and Mexican films.”
The Deadly Crash
Sotelo Torres was killed on the night of Feb. 12 at Mission Avenue and Ash Street in Escondido, along with his friend, Mateo Salvador, 33. The men had been sleeping near some bushes in the area when a driver – a 13-year-old girl from Vista – plowed into them while behind the wheel of her mother's SUV.
The crash happened at around 11:20 p.m. A security camera in the area captured the horrific moments. (Warning: footage below may be graphic for some.)
Escondido Police Department Lt. Kevin Toth said the underage driver had allegedly stolen her mother’s SUV. The teen was driving with a friend in the passenger’s seat.
Toth said an officer had stopped the SUV near Mission Avenue and Gamble Street for a traffic violation just before the deadly crash. The officer had no idea the person behind the wheel was a 13-year-old girl.
As the officer got closer to the SUV, the teen took off.
As the teen drove east on Mission Avenue and tried to turn left onto Ash Street, Toth said she lost control of the SUV and plowed into a planter near an SDG&E transfer facility.
Once officers detained the girls, they saw the SUV had hit two men who had been sleeping in the bushes – Sotelo Torres and Salvador. Both men died.
Toth said the men appeared to be homeless.
Remembering Sofio Sotelo Torres, AKA 'El Gallo'
Aguilar told Telemundo 20 and NBC 7 that he had last seen Sotelo Torres on the evening of Feb. 12 – just hours before the deadly crash.
Aguilar said Sotelo Torres had been living on the streets and often hung around the Ash Street area. Aguilar had driven by the area on his way home from work and spotted him there.
He never imagined that would be the last time he’d see him.
Aguilar said Sotelo Torres was known around the neighborhood by his nickname, “El Gallo,” because he was brave.
In the last few years, the immigrant from Mexico had struggled to make ends meet. Aguilar said Sotelo Torres had also been battling alcoholism.
The hardships led to Sotelo Torres living on the streets, though he would often stay with Aguilar and his family – or pop in for a meal from time to time.
“He was a good man,” Aguilar said, remembering the times Sotelo Torres had been a kind, involved uncle to Aguilar’s children.
Aguilar said Sotelo Torres owned a tree trimming company in the North County but a few years ago, the company began to struggle and he had to close the business. Sotelo Torres’ wife and son moved to Texas and he stayed in Escondido.
Aguilar said his family gave Sotelo Torres a place to stay temporarily. They shared many moments as a family, including Christmas memories and meals.
But Aguilar said Sotelo Torres “lived in his own world,” so he lived on the streets, also staying in motels from time to time.
Aguilar said Sotelo Torres, at one point, had immigration documents but, as he lost his business and struggled on the streets, he lost his status. Aguilar said Sotelo Torres would pick up landscaping jobs with Salvador sometimes, but the gigs were inconsistent.
Still, despite the hardships, Aguilar said Sotelo Torres was a kind man who will be missed.
Sotelo Torres was from Morelos, Mexico. The Mexican consulate is working with the family to take his remains back to his homeland.
A homeless outreach volunteer who knew the men and spoke with NBC 7 on Monday said Salvador was from Guatemala.
The investigation is ongoing and anyone with information on this deadly crash can reach out to EPD Officer Adan Martinez at (760) 839-4465 or the EPD tip line at (760) 743-8477. Investigators are also working with the juvenile branch of the District Attorney’s office to figure out potential charges for the underage driver.