The average person might know one or two people who left this world too soon due to some unfortunate incident such as a vehicle accident or illness.
But those of us who grew up in Hawaiian Gardens have had to deal with more than our share of untimely deaths that involved sometimes tragic, sometimes violent ends to a life cut way too short. I will try to place them in chronological order as best my memory serves me.
Gary Weyrick: Gary was a kid I met while attending Killingsworth Elementary in 1962-63. He and I became good friends and that friendship lasted through our first year of high school in 1963. We both signed up to play for the “C” football team. I really don’t recall the exact details, but recall that he got together with some other kids playing football at the park on the weekend and somehow he wound up getting hurt on a play that caused a medical emergency he would not recover from. His death was the first untimely death to touch me in a very personal way.
Mike Miller: The next time I encountered an untimely death was not too long out of high school (1966). Mike married Christine in 1968 in Downey. Mike was about 2 years ahead of me in school. I was not super close to him, but I was close to his brother Pat who I played a lot of ball with. He had a sister, Cindy, who always seemed to be around the same bunch of people we hung out with. I knew Mike had a future playing pro ball, he had been drafted by the Angels. I would run into Mike here and there and he was always cool around me. Since we didn’t run around in the same circles, I didn’t know too much about him. So it was a big shock with I heard his wife had over died from asphyxiation, in 1970, which is most likely tied to drugs. Not too long after that, Mike took his own life in 1970 at her gravesite at Forest Lawn Cypress, using drugs and alcohol to end his life. So now I am barely out of high school and I already know of 3 people that left this world too soon.
Rick Griego: Rick passed away from an accident, possibly around the early 70’s. All I think I can recall is that he was out climbing or hiking and he fell to his death. So long ago, but seems like we traveled to Bakersfield or Fresno for his services. He was a good guy and fun to be around.
Eddie Reza’s girlfriend – Eddie Reza was a guy I used to hang around a lot, he had an older brother, Mike, that hung around us a bunch and married on of the Hernandez girls. I can’t recall the name of his girl friend, only that she was either from Stanton or Crow. She was a good gal, but I didn’t get to know her really well. She and Eddie would be around for a party or at one of the dances. I don’t recall the circumstances, other than hearing that she died of an overdose at her house. This was sometime in the early 70’s.
VietNam: All of us had to register for the draft as soon as we turned 18. During high school we all heard about this place, VietNam, which no one had ever heard of before. Somehow the US got involved and all we knew was that a lot of soldiers were dying in some place in Asia and that none of us were looking forward to registering for the draft. If I recall correctly, two of the guys from the Gardens didn’t want anything to do with the chance of getting drafted and going to this new war so they took off. Henry Baca was one of the guys that we all used to hang around with and he was the first to go underground and hide. The other guy was named Gustavo, can’t recall his last name, but he took off for México and I don’t know if he ever came back. Quite a few of us got drafted and sent to Asia, most of us were lucky and didn’t come back in a body bag, but a couple guys from the neighborhood weren’t so lucky.
Danny Diaz: Killed in a helicopter crash, 1968. He and his team are buried in a mass grave out of state. He was one of my best buds in high school and might have been the first casualty from the hood.
Juanito Guzman: Was 3 years ahead of me in school, but I knew him and his family when we were all kids working on Tanaka’s farm picking string beans. He and Danny both died in 1968.
Marcello Barrios: Uncle to Chacho, Cissy and David Barrios. He died in combat in 1969. Marcello was a few years older than me and he ran with a different crowd so I didn’t know him real well. He would come by and hang out with us younger guys once in awhile.
James Fry: Was a school mate of mine, met him in Killingsworth in 6th grade and he was a good buddy all the way through high school. Supposedly he had an opportunity to play college football in Washington, or somewhere up north, but the draft took away his dream. He also perished in 1968
There were other casualties of the war, although not from combat, it was from Agent Orange, a chemical the military was using. We didn’t know we were being exposed to it’s harmful effects until years later when a lot of soldiers began to come down with various types of deadly illnesses. A few of the guys from the neighborhood that succumbed to Agent Orange later in life were Bobby Aparijo, Albert Martinez and David Manriquez. They all suffered from complications before passing away.
Hernandez Brothers, Rudy and Jessie: Rudy and Jessie were always around us, Rudy being good friends with older brother Buck and Jessie more like our age. Think he was about 2 years younger than me and Rudy was about 5 years older. Their sisters were close friends with my sisters, so family wise, we were close to them all. Don’t recall the exact year, maybe around the early 80’s, as I recall, Rudy had gone to his Dad’s house and found him dead of a heart attack. Apparently the shock of finding his father deceased was too much for Rudy and he wound up dying at the house too, also from a heart attack. When it came time for the services, Jessie was really distraught and could not bring himself to attend. It doesn’t seem like too long after the services, that Jessie decided to he could not live with his anguish and jumped into the swollen Coyote Creek river.
Butch Armijo: Seems like everyone liked Butch, his real name was James or Jimmy, he was always just Butch to all of us, all 5 feet of him. He could always be found hanging out with Lee Daniels, GG Holman and Mike Hagan. It was a funny group of friends as GG, Lee and Butch were 5 feet tall and Mike was about 6 feet tall. Butch was always around the Gardens, either walking or riding in someone’s car. Never knew him to have any issues, he was just a fun loving guy. Last I heard about him was he became devoutly Christian and sort of distanced himself. He had been renting a small place from Huero Hurtado, and that is where he took his life with a handgun, sometime in the late December of 1970.
Richard Magaña – Richard was part of great bunch of guys from Los Alamitos that we used to hang around with a lot, coming to our dances then hanging out in the hood with us. There was Richard Garcia, the Gomez brothers, then there was the Rocking Devil too, and Charlie, and Adam Ruelas. I don’t remember how or when, but it seems that I recall that Richard died in a auto accident on the road to Vegas, maybe late 70’s or early 80’s.
Eva Ruelas: Eva was sister to Adam Ruelas, they lived next to the old church in the barrio that Alex Castaneda named the Animal Hall. My brother Buck was her bitch for a long time. she really had him around her finger. I remember one time at the American Legion at one of our dances, she was having an argument with him when all of a sudden, wham, she smacked him in the face in front of a lot of people. She liked to party and was always at out dances, a very good looking lady. But guess she had her issues that finally overcame her and she died of an overdose at home, don’t know what year it was.
Mike Hagan: Mike was a wild kind of guy, but fun to be around, always good for laughs. I knew him fairly well, but I knew his Dad a lot better as he hung out with us at our house and came over to a few cookouts at our house. He just liked hanging out with us even though he was already way up in his years and we were all his son Mike’s age. Mike liked his booze and some drugs, no secret there, but he always seemed to be in control. I will never forget when he passed away from a drug overdose at his home he lived in by himself in the Gardens. His Dad came over to our house to break the news and he was really shaken up talking to us about his death. Mike was still a young guy, maybe around or close to 30 at the time of his passing.
Paul Hernandez: A few years back, I had visited Armando Muniz and it was then he related to me that Paul had overdosed on cocaine. I don’t recall the year this happened or about how old Paul was when he OD. Paul had always been with a band for as long as I knew him. He always seemed to enjoy himself playing percussion. I didn’t know him well enough though to realize he was into cocaine and who knows what else.
Santos from Artesia: Santos was one of the last of the hard core hoodlums from Artesia. I used to think we had a lot of good relations with many of the guys from Artesia as many of them we knew from high school or from the old days when a lot of their kids played ball with our kids at Artesia Park. Santos had a reputation as a bad ass, but the times we bumped into each other he was cool with me, but he did make some enemies along the way. I do recall one time when my brother Buck was having a brew with one of the guys at the bar next to Mike’s Chinese restaurant in the Gardens. I remember Buck telling me the Santos and another of his cronies walked into the bar with guns and began to rob the cash register. He spotted my brother Buck, whom he knew, and made the bartender gave them each a beer before he took off with the money. Again, do not recall the year, but all I heard was that someone that had it in for him caught up to him somewhere and he was found in a dumpster that had been set on fire with him inside. What a way to go, hope he was dead before they lit him up.
Dennis Kelley – Dennis married Silvia Wade, who grew up across the street from us. They wound up living next door to where Silvia grew up and directly across from my uncle’s house. Over time, Dennis would see us come back from our deer hunting trips and every now and then he would come over and ask about where we went and how we hunted. At the time he got married, all I knew about him was that he had been in the Navy and now as a civilian, he worked as an Engineer at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc. Eventually he asked my uncle if he could tag along and see what and how we went about hunting for deer. In time he bought a hunting rifle and became just one of the guys and developed into a very proficient hunter himself. Another thing he introduced himself to was boxing at the Grand Olympic Auditorium. Don’t remember how but he found out that we liked to go the weekly boxing matches in LA but he began to go with my brother Buck. He really liked the boxing and deer hunting. He always seemed to enjoy the times he spent with us and was a super mellow guy, never saw him get excited about anything. Over time his love of the outdoors led him to join the Montrose Search and Rescue squad. He spent time in the forest looking for injured and lost hikers. I began to hear about his deteriorating health from my uncle. Dennis had come by to visit from Newbury Park, where he now lived, but he no longer drove due to either dementia or alzheimers, don’t know which it was. I did manage to be at my Mom’s when Silvia brought him around, and while he did recognize me, he was no longer the same guy. Somewhere about 2005, he wound up using his deer hunting rifle to take his life in the backyard of his home in Newbury Park. Guessing maybe he sort of knew what was going on with himself and didn’t want to continue living like that, but no one really knew for sure. He was a great friend and neighbor.
Tommy Bomber: I never knew his last name, it was always just Tommy Bomber. I got to know Tommy in the 70’s when Mario Chavez and family moved next door to us. Mario’s daughter, Olivia, was born in Lakewood and Tommy Bomber was her God Father. Not too long after Mario and his family settled in they began to have get togethers and that is when I got meet Tommy and the rest of the bunch of Harley bikers. They weren’t a gang like the Hell’s Angels, just a bunch of guys that liked their beer and riding their Harleys. They were all hard core bikers, preferring the old style of motorcycles that used a “kick start” pedal instead of going for the push button ignition start. All of the bikers were pretty cool guys, never knew of any problems with them, they weren’t Angels, but they were all cool guys. And as far as Tommy, I always knew him the way he is in the picture, always in a T shirt and jeans. The only time I saw him not in his biker uniform was when Mario married his second wife, Adriene. Both Tommy and I were in the wedding and I heard him pull up to the church in his Harley. But when he came upstairs he had on the wedding attire. It was so weird seeing him without his T shirt and jeans. Over the years I was lucky to share a bunch of brews with Tommy and got to really like him a lot. But around 2018 I got word that Tommy took his life at his place in the desert near Palmdale. Supposedly he went outside and used a shotgun to take his life somewhere in the street outside his home. I never heard from anyone as to what was bothering him so much that forced him to do this to himself. He was a Navy veteran and I did manage to attend the burial service at the Arlington Veterans Cemetery in Riverside County.
Martin Castillo 1980-2015 – Martin was son of my cousin, Paco. I played plenty of baseball with Paco and his brothers. Many years ago, a few of the brothers lost children to untimely and unexpected deaths. But Martin’s suicide was something unexpected given his age. I had heard he was ill, perhaps it was terminal and he didn’t want to deal with the illness, but I don’t know for sure why he took his life. His parents brought him to CA from TX to be buried near his grandparents in Lakewood.
Yolanda Corona 1954-1983
Yolanda and her family used to live next to the old Azteca Market before moving behind our house, living in the same house the Whisman’s used to live in. She had one sister and maybe two. She always like to have fun and seemed to always be at our dances enjoying herself. I had heard from someone that she took her life but do not know why or where. By this time her family had moved away from the neighborhood and she had not been around for some time.