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Pedestrian Killed in Hit-and-Run ‘Loved by Community’

Friends remember Henry Rodriguez, 40, who was killed in a hit-and-run accident Sunday morning.

Henry Rodriguez, Jr. usually didn’t go to work on Sunday mornings until 8 or 9 a.m.

On Jan. 22, he left his brother’s Union City home near Mann Avenue early. His niece’s first birthday celebration was that day, so was the 49ers NFC Conference Championship match. The warm-hearted 40-year-old sports fan didn’t want to miss either event, friends said.

But in the short amount of time it takes for Rodriguez, who was mentally disabled, to walk to the nearby in the , something tragic happened.

According to police, near the intersection of Alvarado-Niles Road and Union Square Drive shortly after 6 a.m. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The driver fled the area and has not been identified, police said.

A LOCAL CELEBRITY

Friends and relatives described Rodriguez as a fun-loving man with a young heart who was well known in the Decoto district.

A growing memorial of flowers, balloons and other items is placed in front of the local bakery where Rodriguez worked for more than 20 years.

“This was his home away from home,” said Gustavo Zuniga, Jr., who helps run Bakery La Mejor.

Zuniga said the support for Rodriguez has been overwhelming.

“It’s a non-stop pouring in,” Zuniga said. “We can’t even work. It’s like, ‘Henry, how many people did you know?’”

A donation box was placed Sunday afternoon to collect money to help with Rodriguez’ funeral services and has since yielded more than $200, Zuniga said.

“Nobody second-guesses it. They see it’s for Henry and right away, if there’s a $20 bill in their pocket, they put it in,” he said.

Zuniga said a 14-year-old boy visited Sunday and offered a $10 bill, hoping it would cover Rodriguez’s funeral expenses. He isn’t sure how the boy knew Rodriguez.

“He was a lovable guy,” Zuniga, 28, said of the man he considered an older brother.

“He wasn’t ‘special’ to us, he was just one of the fellas,” he said. “He was just like us, if not better.”

According to Zuniga, Rodriguez was asking for change near the bakery some 20 years ago when Zuniga’s grandfather, who passed away seven years ago, told Rodriguez that if he performed various tasks at the store, he’d pay him. He’s been there ever since.

According to those who frequent the shopping center regularly, Rodriguez was a known fixture.

“He always came in and said ‘Hi’ to everyone,” said Sue Marinucci, an employee at the nearby Safeway. On Tuesday afternoon, she paid respect to Rodriguez, leaving flowers at the memorial.

Rodriguez was also a ladies man who loved to flirt and joke, friends said.

Doug Laverne, a 67-year-old Union City resident who frequented the area said Rodriguez would flirt with his daughters and joke, “You’re going to be my father-in-law.”

“You just had to know him,” Laverne said with a smile. “He’s going to be very missed.”

“It makes me feel good that Henry was loved by this community,” Zuniga said. “I can’t even cry anymore. He’s in a better place.”

LIKE A BROTHER

Isabel Maria Najera said it felt “like the ground opened up” when she heard the news of Rodriguez’s death Sunday morning.

“I didn’t want to believe it,” Najera, 34, said. “It’s still not sinking in. It’s not real. Not Henry.”

“I feel like a piece of me is gone. He was like my son, even though he’s older than me,” she added.

According to Najera, Rodriguez was born in East L.A. but moved to Union City shortly after his birth. Their mothers were neighbors and best friends, she said. He bounced around the Union City, Hayward and Newark area with his family and graduated from Newark Memorial High School in 1989, Najera said.

He was the oldest of four children and lived with his brother Jessie’s girlfriend. Jessie is currently incarcerated, Najera said.

Rodriguez visited Najera’s home every day, she said. He was supposed to watch the football game at Najera’s home that Sunday.

She also treated him like a regular family member.

“You wouldn’t think he was mentally challenged because he’s a very smart guy,” Najera said.

Najera’s 17-year-old son, Mario, considered Rodriguez to be an older brother.

“We had a really good bond,” Mario said.

Mario said Rodriguez was saving money so he could contribute to his graduation party this June.

He just wants whoever took Rodriguez’s life to “have a heart.”

COMMUNITY SEEKING CLOSURE

Police have released very few details about the accident. A large, blinking traffic sign is placed near the scene, urging anyone with information to contact Union City police.

According to Zuniga, Rodriguez often walked slowly with a slight hunchback. And though police said Rodriguez was jaywalking at the time of the accident, he knew the area well.

“He’s crossed that street millions of times,” Zuniga said.

Beyond that, Alvarado-Niles Road is empty at 6 a.m. on Sunday mornings. A car passes the intersection maybe every 20 minutes, Zuniga said. “It’s really quiet,” he said.

His friends hope someone will come forward so that they can have closure.

“Whoever did this is being selfish,” Najera said. “It’s not fair.”

“If you have a conscience, please come forward,” Mario pleaded.

DONATIONS NEEDED

According to Najera, Rodriguez’s family is seeking assistance to help with funeral arrangements.

Though no date has been set for a funeral, donations may be made to the Chapel of the Roses, located at 1940 Peralta Blvd. in Fremont, which is open from 8 to 5 p.m.

Write “Henry Rodriguez” in the memo line or make donations in person, Najera said.

Donations may also be left at , located at 34572 Alvarado-Niles Rd.

Did you know Henry Rodriguez, Jr.? Share memories in the comments section.

Maila Pereyra January 25, 2012 at 06:29 PM
Henry will truly be missed by so many. Henry has been attending our day program, Green Oak Developmental Center daily for 2 years. He has so many friends here especially his closeness with the staff. He would always care for other before caring for himself. His friend here even wrote in his journal "When we would visit Costco, Henry would give me $2 to buy a frozen yogurt since my home only gave me enough for a hot dog meal" Henry was our little jokester here. You have a bay day, Henry will always make you laugh or buy you something to feel better like a soda or a piece of candy. You have a cough, Henry would give you cough drops. Any help we needed at our day program, Henry would assist willingly. He loved to help others in any way possible. Henry always told us he wanted to save his money to take care of himself and to buy things for the people he cared about. He was a true Raiders fan and the Friday before the tragic incident, all he would joke about is how the NY Giants will beat the Niners. He even told us he will do all his daily tasks early that day just so he wouldn't miss that game. Work doesn't feel the same when Henry is not here. He had perfect attendance so seeing him not walking through that door is very sad. The staff and his peers are deeply saddened. We are still so devastated. The halls are empty,the air is quiet, many hearts are heavy, we love you Henry! Maila Pereyra Green Oak Developmental Center
Jaime January 25, 2012 at 06:29 PM
Rest In Peace Henry. You were loved by many in Decoto. I hope UCPD catches the person that did this or this persons conscience make them turn themselves in. It is just plain wrong that someone could hit another person like that and just leave them lying there dying. Especially such a nice, harmless person like Henry. I will go by the bakery today and donate what I can
KPerez January 25, 2012 at 08:36 PM
Henry, I will miss seeing you around the shopping center looking forward to your hello. Zuniga says you're in a better place, but you're actually in the best place. My thoughts and prayers go out to Henrys family and co-workers. RIP Henry.
myron lee January 25, 2012 at 09:20 PM
Man words can't explain how I feel now! I did security at the shopping center where henry as I called him hen-rock lol! Worked at. We will joke all the time and loved the ladies! I can be mad at the world and seeing him will make me smile! He was that kind of person who no matter his disability he did not let that get in his way, he was bright and loved to crack jokes! U will be missed hen-rock! R.I.P. GOD HAS YOU! MYAVELI...
Fatso January 25, 2012 at 11:28 PM
My condolences to the family. He sounds like a great guy that will be missed by many. The person that did this is a coward and needs to turn himself in ASAP. It's not fair to Henry, or his family, that this guy is still out there.
Christina January 26, 2012 at 01:46 AM
I can't believe that Henry is gone....a bright light in a dark place. Henry was a true representation of the love of Christ. Henry was definitely a flirt, with a great sense of humor, he was a caring loving person who will be dearly missed by this community. Rest in Peace Henry
Letty Ramirez January 26, 2012 at 03:34 AM
Henny I'm going to miss you so much. You watch me grew up since I was a little girl I remember every time you will see me you will say "ayyeee sexy mamasita " and you will ask how my brother n the kids are doing. Letty Ramirez
Gilbert Martinez January 26, 2012 at 05:22 AM
I've known Henry for many years he's become a part of my Family we've had fun together we worked together we ate together and we've even cried together my dad was Jesus Martinez the owner of the bakery He and I worked at Henry also called my dad his dad that is why we're brothers I'll never forget Henry for the caring loving person he was he would never think twice to Lend a hand to help someone anyone at no cost I love seeing how many peoples lives he's touched, he's blessed so many people have come into the bakery to give their condolences an to give a little donation because they knew him an loved him a very good man my family and I will miss him forever and love him even longer my children tell me that Henry's okay he's with grandpa now dad and that is what i belive hes now in heaven with his mother and my father Henry thank you for blessing us and choosing us as your second family I'm Gonna Miss you manito I love you HEN-DOG. Your lil manito
Isabel January 26, 2012 at 07:28 AM
Henry, we've known eachother a decade,and you have been a big part of my life and my son Mario (aka lil manito) I will always have nothing but the best memories of you,we have been through alot together,you were the most beautiful person i have ever known,you were so full of life always brought my spirits up when i was down,you knew the true meaning of love,respect,loyalty and uncondtional love,there is know one like you,you were my lil baby...i'm going to miss your phone calls every morning hearing you say "mami i'm going to school,your son loves you,see you at grandmas"Who's going to give me those sloppy wet kisses on the cheek lol,only you knew you and Mario were allowed to do that..That's why i treasured every moment you spent in life with me.I hoped to have you longer,but i guess it’s not meant to be.You left this world so suddenly.We feel lost and lonely without you..The best thing of all, you're in a better place and i know you"re happy and rejocing in heaven and having a blast with all your loved ones..One day i will see you again..You will never be forgotten and you will Always be in my thoughts and my heart,I love you my lil baby,love mami rest in peace.
Esther January 26, 2012 at 05:52 PM
Don't let your conscience eat you alive! Who ever you are and if you are reading this; stop hiding, come froward, people who cared about Henry need closure. People will forgive you; but importantly GOD will forgive you!
Andrea brown January 26, 2012 at 05:54 PM
R.I.P Mr.Henry, I met Mr. Henry thru the Martinez Family. I best remember him alway's smiling, & being @ all of the family celebrations. My prayers go out to his family. God didn't promise days without pain,laughter without sorrow or sun without rain. But god did promise strength for the day,comfort for the tears and a light for the way. For all who believe. This person or persons who did this will be brought to justice.
Linda Newell January 27, 2012 at 12:16 AM
I just want to Thank everyone who has commented on this post on here. I'am friends with his family. He is a part of my extended family through his Cousins. We are all devastated by this. We all want closure also. So if you see a car recently that has severe damage to the front. I heard the car can either be Nissian Sentra or Nissian Maxima Car. In the color of beige or green color. Because the hit was so hard the car left car parts at the scene. That's how it was made out. Any tips would help out a lot. We would appreciate any information leading to an arrest. Contact Union City Police Department at 510-471-1365. Donations: The family is struggling with getting the money together and we need your help.You could make out a check,money order or cash to (Chapel of the Roses 1940 Peralta Blvd,Fremont ca 94536)If you make checks out in the memo part Put "Henry Rodrigues"Please pass this information on...We need to gather up the money first before we will be able to put Henry to rest and have a service for him,Once we get that done we will be able to set a date.. Or at Bakery La Mejor 34572 Alvarado Niles Rd, Union City, CA 94587. Once again please try your best to donate anything you could Henry deserves the best.Thank you very much and bless everyone hearts.. Thank You for all the love from you XOXO, Linda Newell
walter mendez January 27, 2012 at 01:29 AM
My family has known henry ever since my dad introduced him to all of us....my kids where children back then and now they are all grown up with families of there own which henry has been apart of them in family get tofethers....we are all hurting and will miss him....henry was the boss at the bakery were he called home....we love you henry....
Adriana Fuentes January 27, 2012 at 03:12 AM
Elda Adriana Fuentes I knew Henry for a long time, he was family to some of my family members..he was so full of life, he's been through so much suffering throughout his life, however that never stopped him from being alive. He was always so happy and full of joy, I ran in to him a lot by the bakery and he always came running to me asking me, "where's Mario?(mario is my brother) no matter where I saw him he asked, "where's Mario? Henry was a sweetheart and he would never ever hurt anyone, yes he is in a better place, but he left too soon, and in such a tragic, unfair, cold blooded way, it's horrible and so sad, it breaks my heart that the person who commited this horrible crime is still out there walking around..There is a God and justice will be served sooner then later, let's hope for Mr. Henry's sake. Henry I know you're looking down and you see how you are loved and what a special man you were to so many, you will never ever be forgotten..May You rest in Peace.. You are now a beautiful Angel in heaven. *Always, Adriana Fuentes
Regina Gonzales January 27, 2012 at 06:42 AM
This is such a tragic blow to our family. How this could happen to such a great guy? Henry was such a happy and kindhearted person. If you needed help there he was. He overcame so many things in this world. He never let his disability get the best of him. My only comfort is to know that you are with Tia Rosie in Heaven. I don't know who you are that did this to my cousin but I plead with you! Have a heart. Turn yourself in. Please do the right thing! Henry deserves better than this. Tio Jr and Pia Linda love you. So do I. You will be missed always. Until I see you again.....
Maila Pereyra January 27, 2012 at 05:03 PM
I went to three public places yesterday and not one of them knew about the incident. The community should really get together in finding out who is responsible for this as days are passing by. Henry deserves nothing but the best and we would like to seek closure as well. Everyone all should get together to spread the word more since it was not in the media the day it happened due to the football game. Henry is truly missed and loved. We hope the word is spread more.

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