HAZLETON, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Hazleton Police arrested 38-year-old Gabriel Hernandez Mendez in connection with a June hit-and-run.
A memorial was set up to honor 15-year-old Hector Padilla, the teenager who was hit while riding his bicycle on South Poplar Street.
According to arrest papers, Hernandez Mendez struck Padilla just after 9 p.m. on the night of June 12 and fled the scene. Padilla died days later on June 18.
The criminal complaint says investigators were in the process of tracking down the driver of A 2013 Chevy truck involved in the hit-and-run, who police believed was Hernandez Mendez. He turned himself in this past Tuesday and allegedly admitted to hitting Padilla.
Hernandez Mendez turned himself in with the assistance of former Hazleton Police Chief Frank DeAndrea and former state trooper Sandy DeAndrea. Both have more than 30 years of law enforcement experience and now run a private investigation firm.
They knew Hector Padilla from their involvement at the Hazleton Integration Project a community center in the city and wanted to help.
“If you knew the boy he touched your life,“ the former police chief said.
The DeAndreas say they just wanted to help bring closure to the Padilla family. They say they worked several leads and tracked down Hernandez Mendez.
“We went to his house, Sandy and I, determined we are not saying a word. What do you want to talk to us about? And that’s when he confessed to Sandy and I.”
“I felt like we needed to bring them some peace and it turned out well,” said Sandy.
The arrest affidavit confirms that Hernandez Mendez went to the police station with the DeAndreas, where he confessed.
“There’s no easy way out of this, this is a crime there is no easy way but the best way out is for you to come with us and we go right to city hall you turn yourself into the police and you confess,” said Frank DeAndrea.
Eyewitness News spoke with Padilla’s mother and father who say all they wanted was some kind of closure and justice for their son.
“It hurts enough to lose our kid and it brings out the only son then now not having closure on it for such a long time. I was doubting we’d ever find the person who did it,” said Pedro Padilla, Hector’s father.
Pedro and Carmen Padilla say the arrest of Hernandez Mendez for the hit and run involving their 15-year-old son is the first step in the effort to heal.
“I mean, losing a son, I wouldn’t wish on anybody. I loved my son to death and he, I brought him here, he used to go to school here, after school. It’s painful every day. It’s painful every day. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t cry that I don’t miss him,” Pedro said.
“They no give me my son back but I’m happy the person confessed to his crime. But at the same time, I lose my son my life my reason to live. I work for him every day now I got no reason,” said Carmen.
The Padilla’s keep their son close. The father wears a necklace containing his son’s ashes.