Friends and coworkers of a young father killed in a road rage shooting Saturday on state Highway 4 in unincorporated Pittsburg are reeling from the loss of their cook, who had essentially grown up in their restaurants, coworkers said.
Pittsburg resident Tomas Mendez, 20, worked as a cook at Katy's Korner in San Ramon and Katy's Kreek in Walnut Creek, according to the restaurants' co-owner Benedikta Gisladottir.
"It's been absolutely devastating for us," Gisladottir said. "This is a family-owned and operated restaurant, so we all got to be very close ... It's just been extremely hard on all of us."
Mendez started coming into work with his father, who is also a chef at Katy's Korner, when he was just a young boy, according to co-owner Ari Georgsson. When he was old enough, Mendez started to work there as well, Georgsson said.
"He was a jokester," Georgsson said. "He was a fun guy, a hard worker. He always showed up and worked hard."
The tight-knit family of restaurateurs is "devastated," Gisladottir said.
"It's just heartbreaking, absolutely heartbreaking for all of us," she said.
Mendez was always cracking jokes and laughing at work, said Gisladottir's son Anton Axelsson, a manager at Katy's Kreek. Axelsson said he has known Mendez since he was 7 years old.
Despite his "tough boy" image, Mendez was "soft on the inside" and "very kind-hearted," Axelsson said.
The father of a 2-year-old girl and a stepfather to a 5-year-old daughter, Mendez always wanted to be a good father to them, he said.
"He would bring them into the restaurant on his days off," Axelsson said. "He was an excellent father."
Just last week, Axelsson said Mendez was contemplating going back to school and getting a degree in nursing.
"He was really big on talking about life, where he wanted to go and where he wanted to be," Axelsson said.
Axelsson said he "can't fathom" why anyone would shoot at Mendez.
Mendez was on his way home from work on Saturday, according to Gisladottir, when someone shot at his car as he was driving east on Highway 4 near Bailey Road.
According to Contra Costa County sheriff's deputies, someone in another vehicle, thought to be a Honda, shot at Mendez's Dodge Stratus, which then crashed into the center divider. He was pronounced deceased at the scene.
Gisladottir said Mendez would usually drive home with his father from work.
"That day they drove in separate cars and then this happened on the way home," Gisladottir said. "They all drive home on the same route and they were all texting Tomas, 'Do you know what's going on' because there was a lot of traffic. He wasn't answering."
Axelsson said his family set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to cover funeral costs, with the remaining funds going to Mendez's daughter.
"He cherished them and spoke of being a father, the love children bring to your heart and how he wanted to be the best father to them, provide for them and be there to comfort them as they grow," the GoFundMe page reads.
Authorities have not yet released a possible motive for the shooting and sheriff's spokesman Jimmy Lee said no suspects had been identified as of this morning.
Lee said coroner's deputies were conducting an autopsy Monday morning and would be determining the official cause of death.
For more information on the GoFundMe campaign, which had raised $1,661 as of early this afternoon, people can visit http://www.gofundme.com/x5nk5wuk.
Anyone with information about the shooting is encouraged to call the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office at 925-646-2441. Tips can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or can by left anonymously by calling 866-846-3592.