Sayana Chhe had just gotten home from taking her mother to a cancer treatment appointment when police suddenly knocked at her door.
She didn’t think of it much at the time, as her family’s home in Bixby Knolls is on a busy street corner where accidents aren’t rare.
But when the officer started asking her questions like, “Do you know a Felix Castro? Are you his wife?” she immediately sensed something was wrong, she said.
The officers explained to her that there was a crash down the street from her house.
Castro, Chhe’s husband, was crossing the southbound lane of Orange Avenue near Banner Drive on the evening of Oct. 6 when the driver of a vehicle struck him and fled the scene, police said.
The impact of the crash was so strong that Castro was thrown several feet before he landed under another vehicle, Chhe said. Authorities declared him dead at the scene. He was 51.
Just over a month later, police have yet to announce whether they’ve identified any suspects or made an arrest in the case. Though Chhe says she understands it may take longer to get answers, she hopes that speaking about the impact Castro’s death has had on their family will encourage someone who has more information to come forward.
“We’re just kind of sitting here waiting for an answer,” Chhe said. “I’m begging the public to give us any information if they have it.”
A budding romance
Castro, or “Tony,” as his family called him, was born on May 5, 1972, in El Salvador. There, Castro, his two brothers and his sister were raised by a single mother.
His family often struggled to make ends meet, Chhe said.
Though he didn’t really like to talk about his childhood, the little bits of pieces that he shared helped connect him with Chhe, whose parents are Cambodian refugees.
“It was the fact that we really had to learn to survive here in America,” Chhe said. “We came with nothing but the clothes on our body.”
Castro and Chhe met while they were both attending Cal State Dominguez Hills around 2001. By this time, Castro, wanting to protect and serve the United States, enrolled in the Navy Reserves while studying business and accounting at the university. Chhe, meanwhile, majored in education.
The two would often walk past each other near their classes but never stopped to chat, Chhe said. This continued for a while until one day, Chhe said, Castro waited for her outside of her English class and struck up a conversation.
Soon after, they began dating.
“He had a casual look to him, … and he was so good-looking,” Chhe recalls of her late husband, adding that she was attracted to how well-mannered and dedicated to his studies he was.
Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Castro was stationed in Egypt and then in San Francisco where he was assigned to help protect bridges, Chhe recalls.
When he returned, Castro and Chhe continued dating until they eventually married in 2003. The couple had a Cambodian ceremony at her parent’s behest. Castro, more than happy to oblige, just wanted to be a part of his wife’s culture.
“It’s always about everybody else first,” Chhe said. “He’s just a wonderful person to know.”
Before his death, Castro had established himself as an important and beloved member of his community.
His home was often a destination for neighborhood parties where families and neighbors mingled. During these parties, Castro would block off the street so that kids could play safely in the area.
He also diligently attended to his guests, making sure they were entertained and had eaten.
“Our household is basically the fun house,” Chhe said. “We are the corner house, where our door is open to everybody.”
When he wasn’t serving as an irreplaceable cornerstone to his neighborhood, he was spending as much time as possible with his children, encouraging their hobbies.
When his 8-year-old son, Atticus, expressed interest in becoming a pilot, Castro started taking him every weekend to watch planes fly over LAX.
Chhe recalls Castro telling her: “I want to live long enough to see my son become a pilot.”
Though Castro worked in accounting, he was a true horticulturist at heart. His ability to grow plants left the 51-year-old wondering if he had chosen the right career, Chhe said.
Their backyard is lush with several gardens and trees yielding persimmons, guavas and mangos, she said.
Castro was making his way back home from his daily evening walk when a driver of the vehicle struck him and left him for dead, Chhe said.
A shrine honoring his memory now stands in his home, Chhe said.
Each day, his children talk to him. At the end of the day, they wish him goodnight, Chhe said. His son Atticus, meanwhile, wears his father’s hat every day.
“It’s wonderful to see, yet it hurts to know that he’s gone in such a hideous way and we don’t have any closure,” Chhe said. “This has been very difficult.”
Since Castro’s death, Chhe has been trying to balance her grief while making sure her children get the support they need. But her own mother’s death on Oct. 27 from cancer has only added to the family’s hurt.
Chhe says her mother neglected her own health while trying to make sure Castro was able to have the send-off he deserved. But she never got to see her own planning come to fruition, Chhe said.
Now the family is left planning a second ceremony while continuing to search for answers to Castro’s death.
In the meantime, Castro’s family will honor him for Veteran’s Day by visiting the memorial they’ve set up for him at the crash site and watching planes with Atticus at LAX.
“Tony is always about protecting and everybody comes first so tomorrow is a special day for a lot of us,” Chhe said on Friday. “We have our freedom because of these men and women and he was part of it.”
With Castro now cremated, the family hopes to one day travel back to where they fostered his favorite family vacation memory in Bellows, Hawaii to spread his ashes in the ocean.
Castro is survived by his wife Sayana Chhe and his four children; Makayla, Leilany, Victoria, and Atticus, along with his mother and sister.
Anyone with information is asked to detectives at 562-570-7355. Anonymous tips may be submitted through Crime Stoppers by calling 1-800-222-TIPS or visiting LACrimeStoppers.org.