The brothers of Stephanie Moreno, a single mother who fatally crashed into a light pole in East Long Beach on Saturday, could only share a few words about their sister during a candlelight vigil on Thursday near the crash site. They tried to hold their tears.
It’s still unclear why Moreno crashed but Long Beach police said earlier this week that her car grazed several other parked, unoccupied vehicles before finally stopping just short of the sidewalk in front of a home on Los Altos Avenue at Seventh Street. Moreno, 40, was pronounced dead at the scene.
“I fell apart,” said Andrew Mendoza, 56, a longtime friend of Moreno.
Police said one passenger in the car was treated at the scene by fire personnel for minor injuries. Mendoza said the passenger was a former boyfriend of Moreno who is currently incarcerated.
Mendoza learned of her death on Monday morning and recalled first meeting her as a 13-year-old coming into his pizza shop. She always offered to help fold pizza boxes at his business, and after she graduated from Cerritos High School, he hired her. They’ve been friends ever since.
“She was the sweetest person,” Mendoza said.
More than a mother to her five children she leaves behind, her brother, Ronnie Hering, 31, said she was “a mother figure” to him and some of his other siblings. Having had a rough upbringing with their parents, Moreno was the oldest and took care of them.
“She helped me want to be a family person,” Hering said. He and a sister put together an online fundraiser to help pay for funeral costs.
Moreno recently published a biography for her church, Garden Church, where she shared her life story, filled with personal hardships.
“Every child I had was homeless,” Moreno wrote. “That’s kind of sad to say. It’s embarrassing. And I didn’t ask for help.”
Eventually, she overcame drug addiction and survived homelessness, she wrote.
Moreno turned to religion, attending regular gatherings at Garden Church as well as Precious Lamb Preschool in Downtown Long Beach, according to Brigitte Piskura, a friend of five years.
Her honesty is one of the traits Piskura, 33, liked about Moreno.
“She kept it real,” Piskura said. “When I talk to her I can be completely myself and she would be honest in return.”
Piskura said while they hadn’t seen each other for months due to the pandemic, they’d still call each other to check in every month. Moreno liked street art as a hobby, she added, having painted three pieces for Piskura and her husband.
As a fellow mom friend, Piskura said that while they had different parenting styles, she respected the devotion she made to her children.
“She was willing to sacrifice a lot for her kids,” she said.
Hallie Yanez, 19, Moreno’s youngest sibling, is now helping take care of her children. Her brothers, too.
“She was just a very rare, very special person,” Jacob Moreno, 37, said of his sister. “She will be missed.”