Four years ago Sergio Mendoza should have been hailed a hero.
But maybe it's not too late, even though no hero came to Mendoza's aid on the night of his death earlier this month.
First, let's go back to January 2014. Mendoza, who Bakersfield police described at the time as an unidentified homeless man, was walking across the Wilson Road overpass at Highway 99 in the wee hours of the morning when he saw a woman who had climbed in desperation over the security fence. It appeared she intended to take her own life by jumping off the overpass and into oncoming traffic.
According to Bakersfield police, the drama began unfolding sometime after 3 a.m. Mendoza, who happened to be walking by, pleaded with the woman in an attempt to convince her not to jump. She apparently had second thoughts and began climbing back over the fence toward safety, but she slipped and was left dangling above traffic, desperately grasping the chain link.
Mendoza sprang into action, scrambled to the top of the fence and held onto the woman. He kept her from falling until another passer-by arrived. That man called police and then helped Mendoza hold onto the woman.
When police arrived, they used bolt cutters to open a gap in the chain link, which enabled them to pull the woman to safety.
After speaking briefly with officers, Mendoza disappeared into the night.
Although the story was told Jan. 30, 2014 in a short article in The Californian, the one-time East Bakersfield High School quarterback was never credited by name for his act of heroism.
It's a wrong the family would like to see made right.
"We want Bakersfield to know what kind of person he was," Sergio's younger brother, Rene Mendoza, told The Californian.
So late last week, several members of the family gathered around the kitchen table at the northwest Bakersfield home of Sylvia Mendoza, Sergio's sister. The entire family is in mourning -- and many tears were shed around that table.
Less than three weeks ago, their son, brother and uncle was attacked by three men on 19th Street, near Mill Creek. Mendoza was beaten with fists, kicked and fatally stabbed. He was 34.
His family is devastated. But they want his story told.
"My son watched out for others, but after he was attacked by those men, no one bothered to help him," said Sandra Mora, Sergio's mom, tears rolling down her face.
Born in Bakersfield, Sergio Mendoza attended Highland High School before transferring to EBHS in his freshman year. He was good looking, a natural athlete, popular, his family recalls. Memories are fuzzy, but his siblings believe Sergio played the quarterback position on the JV team in his freshman and sophomore year.
"He was the kid everyone wanted on their team," Rene Mendoza said.
He excelled in youth sports for years, but academically he wasn't as focused, and dropped out of high school during his junior or senior year, the family remembered.
"We were both good students, but then we started shifting," his brother said.
Partying, girls, drugs, and eventually addiction issues would derail the young man from his ideal path. Mental illness may have been a factor as well. He spent some time under the care of Kern County Mental Heath -- but they always cut him loose because he was not considered a threat to himself or others, Mora said.
On the contrary. Sergio seemed to have a natural empathy for others, an impulse to help when crisis arose.
He was in his late teens, the family recalled, when his penchant for nighttime walks provided an earlier chance to save lives. The family lived on Jefferson Street in east Bakersfield, and during one of his walks, Sergio spotted an apartment fire.
"He started banging on doors, yelling, 'Fire!'" Rene recalled. "He saved a family."
But he wasn't the type to make a big deal of it, and it was quickly forgotten.
"No one knows about that," Sylvia Mendoza said. "We forgot about it for a long time, but when we learned he had saved the woman at the freeway overpass, we looked at each other and said, "Wow, he did it again.'"
But the family remains unclear about why Sergio slowly stopped coming to family gatherings. When he would show up, and they would offer help or a place to stay, their brother always said he was OK.
But he wasn't. And his violent death July 11 has the family wondering why he was there and why no one came to his aid, not only as he was being attacked, but after, when it appears he may have lived for at least an hour, lying mortally wounded in the street, before finally succumbing to his injuries.
On July 20, BPD detectives arrested three suspects in Mendoza's murder, Nathaniel Mayfield, 24, Steven Buckner, 19, and Timon Everidge, 18, all of Bakersfield.
The BPD investigation determined the three suspects carried out an unprovoked attack on Mendoza in the 400 block of 19th Street, assaulting him with hands and feet until he ran away. All three men pursued Mendoza for more than a block, then caught him again, where they beat Mendoza again as he tried to shield himself from the blows with his hands and arms. Everidge then stabbed Mendoza repeatedly, inflicting major injuries, police said.
The suspects left Sergio bleeding in the street. Mayfield returned about an hour later but made no attempt to summon aid for Sergio, who died at the scene.
All three suspects were arrested on charges of conspiracy and murder. Police are attempting to identify several additional potential witnesses.
And this is where Sergio's family can only wonder at the inhumanity.
"Why didn't someone call for help," Sergio's mom asked.
If indeed he was still alive when Mayfield returned, why didn't one person act during that hour? If he was feeling some remorse, why didn't Mayfield call 911?
"Why was he left there dying?" Sandra Mora asked again, sobbing.
Sergio would have helped had he witnessed such an incident, the family believes.
Now all they have left are their memories of Sergio and the story of a Good Samaritan whose life was troubled, but whose humanity remained intact.
The story is now told.
It’s about time.