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Santa Rosa boy hit by car in crosswalk remembered as compassionate, caring


A Santa Rosa family struggling to deal with the death of their young son killed by a hit-and-run driver last week have returned to the crosswalk crash site several times, drawing strength from the growing memorial being tended by neighborhood children.

"The parents and the sisters just felt a sense of relief that all those sweet little neighborhood kids were so actively, essentially holding vigil, really tending to the memorial, taking flowers, making sure the balloons stayed up, that no one took anything," said Patrick Shandrick, uncle of 4-year-old Christopher "Buddy" Rowe.

"That has just been a source of just astonishing support," Shandrick said.

Jim and Michelle Rowe lost Buddy on Friday following surgery. He was hit Thursday evening while crossing West Ninth Street and Rockwell Place with his mother and two sisters as they were headed to soccer practice at a nearby field.

Monday afternoon the couple tearfully walked into the Sonoma County Courthouse to see the young man suspected of hitting their son.

Marcos Lopez Garcia, 22, postponed entering a plea to three charges — felony hit and run causing a death, misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, and driving without a license.

He was arrested within hours of the collision Friday after the car suspected in the collision was spotted and police were ultimately led to Garcia.

The Rowes did not comment at the courthouse but issued their first statement Monday on the crash.

Buddy Rowe had struggled to stay alive during hours of surgery Friday. "But his heart finally gave way," they wrote in the statement.

"Little Buddy will be remembered as an energetic, curious, active young boy who was also kind, compassionate and caring especially with his twin sister," they wrote.

"We will always remember his ever-present smile, beautiful steel blue eyes and peace-loving nature. The man who stole Buddy's life from us will be one day free, but we will always carry the burden of losing him forever."

In a newly established website, christopherbuddyrowe.com, the wine industry family also offered photos of their son and his sisters, twin Julia, 4, and Mimi, 6.

They wrote in support of teenagers who live in the area who are gathering signatures for a traffic light or some safety feature to be installed following the boy's death.

"A fantastic, ambitious group of teens has been hanging out at the accident site memorial location at the crosswalk nearly 24/7 to advise any onlookers of the story and also complain about the high speed cars and multiple accidents that keep happening there," the family wrote.

The Rowes are members of the Rowe winery family. The little boy's grandfather started Pezzi King Vineyards in Healdsburg's Dry Creek Valley in 1993.

On Thursday Michelle Rowe took her three children to the west Santa Rosa neighborhood for daughter Mimi's soccer practice.

Several teams play on the large field near Lincoln Elementary School and there were many children and families arriving in the area.

The four-year-old boy had been lagging behind as his mother and the three children were crossing the intersection in the crosswalk.

One car stopped for them but a second car continued through the intersection and struck the boy, sending him about 30 feet.

The crosswalk connects Lincoln School and the practice field with a lower-income neighborhood of many apartments and rental homes. Other than a place for soccer practice, the Rowe's had no personal connection to the area, said Shandrick.

The mourning family hadn't intended to return to the site of the collision. But as word of the boy's death spread in the neighborhoods, children and families began bringing flowers, balloons and stuffed animals to the site.

A newspaper story Friday about the memorial site and the neighborhood's reaction to the death drew in Shandrick, another brother-in-law and a close friend who all decided: "We need to see this," he said.

They took photos and told the grieving parents, "&‘If you guys can, you should really stop by. It's really tremendous," he said.

Moved by what they found, the Rowe family has gone back repeatedly.

Saturday Michelle Rowe spoke to several children there.

"They saw a lot of it," Shandrick said. "It was one of them, another kid. She talked with them and let everyone know what happened. It helped them too," Shandrick said.

Shandrick said the outpouring of concern by strangers, including so many children and teens, has bolstered their faith in people.

"This is like kids supporting kids," he said. "They didn't know Christopher directly. That was kind of the amazing and lovely and just hopeful part."

Garcia remained in the Sonoma County Jail Monday, held on a $500,000 bail and a federal immigration hold.

In court the young man choked up when he was asked by Judge Ken Gnoss if he had a job and could afford his own lawyer. Garcia said through an interpreter that he worked at Joey's Pizza where he makes $10 an hour.

The owner of Joey's Original Pizza, Stephen Felando, confirmed that Garcia was an employee. He would not say how long he worked at the restaurant nor would he describe his duties. He did say, however, that Garcia was not a delivery driver.

"I can't tell you how heartbreaking it is," Felando said.

Gnoss agreed to postpone entry of plea to Aug. 30 at the request of Deputy Public Defender Lynne Stark-Slater.

According to court records, Garcia was convicted in 2010 of driving without a license. He was fined and put on probation for a year, which ended in July. His current immigration status was not known.

Christopher is survived by his parents James Peter Rowe Jr. and Michelle Suzanne Freeman Rowe, as well as his older sister Mimi and twin sister Julia; grandparents James and Cynthia Rowe and Marcelline Freeman; uncles Thomas Rowe, Philip Prassass, Donald Freeman and Patrick Shandrick; as well as cousins.

A viewing will be held at Daniels Chapel of the Roses in Santa Rosa from 4-8 p.m. Saturday.

A memorial service will be at 3 p.m. on Sunday at St. Eugene's Catholic Church in Santa Rosa. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Christopher Rowe Memorial Fund at any Wells Fargo Bank branch.

Staff Writer Paul Payne contributed to this story.