Jose De Jesus Hernandez III was a natural. As a child, he motorized his LEGOs. As an adult, he rebuilt cars, tuned them and made them faster. He built drones and took videos from “beautiful viewpoints.”
“He was brilliant, could build or fix anything,” said Sarah Hernandez, his former wife.
And, Sarah said, the 35-year-old Dublin man was a romantic, leaving notes on her car and house to express his love.
“Constant flowers and even asked security at my work to let him in overnight to decorate my desk for Valentine’s Day,” Sarah said, recalling the man she called her husband for 11 years. “He would leave bouquets on my car. He was selfless. Always protected me and was always there.”
A mechanic at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority in San Jose, Jose lost his life May 26 when a fellow transit worker opened fire on the morning shift at the light rail yard, killing him and eight others in another mass shooting that shocked the country. Jose had worked there since 2012.
“Never did we think he’d take his last breath there,” Sarah said.
Jose began his career at VTA as a bus mechanic, became an electro train mechanic and eventually worked as a substation maintainer. The positions were tough on his back, and the early morning and late night hours made it difficult to maintain a marriage, Sarah said.
Along the way, Jose invented some of the tools that the VTA still uses, she continued.
“We had bought a 2007 Honda Civic Si brand-new, and he poured blood, sweat and tears into it, making it 800 horsepower to the wheels,” she said.
She recalled that Jose spent more money on that car — possibly double — than what it cost to buy it new.
“He could basically fix anything he put his hands on,” Sarah said. “If I wanted a shelf made out of recycled wood from the fences, gray and textured, he made it. If I wanted a fan in the living room that the brand-new condo wasn’t even wired for, with 14-foot ceilings, no attic or wiring near it, he and his dad figured it out and ran it all. He remodeled his dad’s entire house with him; fixed anyone’s cars and (lent) a helping hand to all.”
Sarah said she would like to know more about what happened inside the VTA yard on the day of the shooting. Why did Sam Cassidy do what he did? Sarah said Jose knew him as a co-worker and occasionally came home from work frustrated about his assignments with “Sam.”
“(Jose) had strong opinions and (implemented) policy changes for fairness and the better, and unfortunately, that may have led to the suspect not liking him,” Sarah said. “But everyone stood up for what was right there.”
The Santa Clara coroner’s office identified the other victims as Paul Delacruz Megia, 42; Taptejdeep Singh, 36; Adrian Balleza, 29; Timothy Michael Romo, 49; Michael Joseph Rudometkin, 40; Abdolvahab Alaghmandan, 63; Lars Kepler Lane, 63; and Alex Ward Fritch, 49.
Cassidy, 57, died in an apparent suicide.
Jose, whose father also worked for and retired from the VTA, grew up in Fairfield and eventually moved to Dublin. He graduated from Valley Christian High School in 2004. In church, he led worship through his high school years and later played guitar during his marriage. He could listen to a song and play it without looking at notes, his former wife said.
“He was a huge soccer fan, played and watched for years,” she said. “Anything he really tried, he was good at — bowling, baseball, basketball, tennis. He loved the movie, Top Gun and Tom Cruise. It was his favorite.”
On a Gofundme.com site, where many people expressed their condolences, Jose’s family called him “an extraordinary son, brother and friend full of life.”
“His love for adventure showed through riding his motorcycle and playing soccer,” the family wrote. “He was an avid skier, boater and master mechanic.”
Through Friday June 4, the site had raised more than $26,000 from more than 180 people, many of whom sent condolence messages to Jose’s family. To view the page, visit http://bit.ly/Indy_JoseGoFundMe.
“He had a big heart and great sense of humor,” wrote Laurie Moy, who knew him at church. “A beautiful life cut short.”
“Sending all my love to the Hernandez family” wrote Karli Spence. “I have such wonderful memories of Jose from high school. He is a bright light who will be terribly missed.”
Sarah said that despite their breakup and divorce last year, she and Jose wished the best for each other in their new lives. She said that she has had moments of anger since the shooting, but “mainly just pain, sadness and a hurt in my heart that will never go away.”
“(The gunman) took away a man who could do literally anything he put his mind to,” she said. “He took away a vibrant light from this world, someone who wanted to play soccer with kids in less fortunate countries and bring clean water to Africa and so many other underserved countries. And he took away what (Jose) wanted the most recently — children, the possibility of his parents ever having a grandchild by him.”
Despite those feelings, Sarah said, she prays for the shooter’s family in addition to all the victims’ families.
“People hear of these shootings and are heartbroken, but move on a few days later,” Sarah said. “Never until you’re the one grieving do you feel the true pain and lack the ability to move forward for a while. But I know Jose would want me to not only survive, but to thrive, to get up and execute my dreams.”