“He pushed every single day”: Friends and family mourn the loss of a 24-year-old youth counselor from East San Jose

“He pushed every single day”: Friends and family mourn the loss of a 24-year-old youth counselor from East San Jose

Friends and family are mourning the loss of a 24-year-old youth counselor who was killed Saturday in a hit-and-run accident in San Jose.

Jose Esparza is being remembered as a young man who overcame being abandoned as a child and homelessness to win a scholarship to UCLA and get a job in his San Jose community where his mission was to help young people in Santa Clara County. Vigils for Esparza began every night starting 8 p.m. and ending Thursday at the corner of McKee Road and 33rd Street, where the incident occurred.

Jose Esparza
Jose Esparza, 24, died in a fatal hit-and-run accident. He was struck by a car that ran a red light, according to San Jose police. (Photo courtesy of the Esparza family) 

“Everything that happened – it feels surreal, because we would talk almost every day,” said Prashant Kumar, Esparza’s best friend since high school. “It just feels like he’s going to text me or call me, and ask me if we want to grab lunch or if we want to hang out.”

Loved ones recall him as resilient and determined – someone who believed in giving back to the community.

“The path he chose, his career, to helping young kids that are troubled, that’s all he lived for,” Kumar said. On the day of the accident, Esparza called apartments in Oakland to move closer to some of the foster children he was working with. “That just shows the type of person he was. He wanted to get closer to those kids just so he can have a bigger impact on them,” Kumar said.

Vito Chiala, the principal at Overfelt High School – where Esparza attended and played football – described him as a “great student” who earned remarkable grades but also a “consistent performer” on the field. He was also “always willing to help others,” Chiala said.

Despite the constant smile on his face and his fierce determination, Esparza persevered through tremendous personal challenges. He grew up with domestic violence, and both of his parents left him when he was still young. At the start of his senior year, Esparza was evicted from his home and became homeless. His then high school football coach, who was newly appointed that year, offered Esparza to live with him for as long as he needed.

“A normal person probably would’ve given up,” said Carlo Maningo, a football coach at Overfelt High School, who then lived in a mountain home in Tracy. Maningo said Esparza woke up at 4:30 a.m. to commute to school every day and came back home at 8:30 p.m. after football practice. He then went “right to the books” to make sure he completed his assignments.

After graduating from Overfelt High School, Esparza attended University of California, Los Angeles – his dream school – with an academic scholarship.

“He had every reason to quit on his life…but he used all of that as motivation, and he pushed every single day,” Kumar said. “In his 24 years of life, he did more than some people do with all of their lives.”

Esparza was determined to give back to the East San Jose community that he grew up in, an area that is often perceived as “ghetto,” according to Kumar.

“Nobody expects us to do anything,” Kumar said. “That’s what makes him more special. He overcame those odds.”

Until the accident, Esparza had worked a little less than a year as a counselor at Seneca Family of Agencies, a foster care agency, for children in Santa Clara County. Leticia Galyean, the CEO of Seneca Family of Agencies, described him as being the “first to sign up to help support any youth.”

“It was so clear from the beginning. I met him in our new employee orientation and was really struck by his passion and commitment,” said Galyean. “He was deeply loved by our team. This is just a horrific tragedy.”

Esparza was just a few blocks away from home when the hit-and-run accident occurred. The suspect in a black 2015 Infiniti sedan sped through a red light and struck Esparza’s car around 2:30 am, according to the police. Esparza was thrown out of the car and pronounced dead immediately.

The suspect drove away from the scene and was last seen fleeing on foot toward Anne Darling Elementary School in San Jose. The police are asking the public who may have any information about the suspect to reach out to Detective O’Brien at 408-277-4654, with the extension #3527.

Alberto Esparza, the late Esparza’s brother, put up a GoFundMe page and as of Thursday the donations exceeded more than $38,000 of the $40,000 goal for the funeral. He did not feel ready to comment.

“It’s really incredible how hard he worked, how dedicated he was, how bright and inquisitive he was,” Chiala said. “It would’ve been really great to see what he did with his life.”

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Hi, my name is Ankita Dixit. I started writing from young age and most of my writing skills and knowledge are self taught. Currently, I am working as a professional writer at Paisa.co. I have write on various topics including travel, motivation, finance, technology, credit cards, insurance and entrepreneurship etc.