On a Saturday afternoon in June, Paty Juarez had an urge to go to her best friend, Sela Ruth Araujo de Henriquez. But she didn’t want to bother her and knew the two would see one another the next day, or while working as nannies in Noe Valley.
That time wouldn’t come.
Just after 1 a.m. that night on June 23, Henriquez was killed in a hit-and-run by the speeding driver of a Mercedes who ran a red light. She was in a Lyft on her way home from babysitting when the driver crashed into the car on Third Street and Paul Avenue, killing both her and 26-year-old Lyft driver Waseem Ali before fleeing. The 49-year-old grandmother died less than a mile from the Bayview house she bought a few years ago.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Juarez told SF Weekly through a translator, of receiving the call from Henriquez’s son. “I didn’t think it was true. She didn’t deserve to go like that. I don’t think anyone does.”
Henriquez is far from the only one. With Saturday’s death of 79-year-old Hui Jun Yang on Fifth and Market streets, 2019 so far has seen 23 deaths — the same amount in all of 2018. It’s a long road to San Francisco’s Vision Zero goal of preventing all traffic fatalities on city streets by 2024.
But for family and friends of those who died, the memory of their loved one is hard to shake long after the news cycle moves on. That’s the case for Juarez, who met Henriquez six years ago at the Upper Noe Valley Rec Center. There, the two saw each other nearly every day while working as nannies.
“She was like my sister,” says Juarez, who still frequents the rec center with her charges. “She was a very hardworking, humble woman. We shared happy times, sad times, we shared everything. She was a really good person.”
Juarez and Henriquez first started talking at the park about the children they looked after and soon got to sharing life stories. They realized they were both avid churchgoers and from El Salvador, which Henriquez left up to 15 years ago. But she would still call her mother every day to tell her she loved her, which she also often told Juarez.
“Sela was at the heart of a tight-knit community of caregivers who gather at Upper Noe Valley Rec Center with their young charges,” says Rec and Park spokesperson Tamara Aparton. “Her loss is felt acutely by her many friends, who took up a collection to help contribute to her funeral. She was part of what makes this place special and always friendly to our Rec and Park staff.”
Henriquez made friends with other nannies who frequent the Upper Noe Valley Rec Center as well, but was closest with Juarez. The two would have coffee dates, cook food together, have their families spend time with one another, and were often asked if they were sisters. Henriquez leaves behind three children and two grandkids (with one more on the way), all of whom live in San Francisco.
Juarez is still coping with the loss of a friend who she misses dearly, and some days are harder than others without Henriquez by her side at the park. One moment of sadness last week had her wanting to ask her why she left.
“She left a lot of emptiness behind — her mom, her husband, the little girl on the way who will never meet her,” Juarez says. “Sometimes I feel like I’m going to be walking down the street and see her.”