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Remembering some of the Arizonans we lost to COVID-19 in 2020

As we continue to navigate these uncertain times, we remember the people who fought hard but, unfortunately, lost their lives to the virus.


More than 9,000 people died due to complications related to COVID-19 in Arizona by the end of 2020according to state health officials

Each one of those lives lost to the disease currently crippling health care systems and economies around the world is marked by the family and friends they left behind. 

As we continue to navigate these uncertain times, we remember some of the people who fought hard but, unfortunately, lost their lives to the coronavirus in 2020.

RELATED: December was the deadliest month in 2020 for Arizona COVID-19 deaths

If you know someone in Arizona who died of COVID-19 that you would like to add to this remembrance, email their names, photos and more information to connect@12News.com 

Here are some of the Arizonans we lost to COVID-19 in 2020:

Lonnie Dench was a husband, father and grandfather. He and his wife Wanda gained national attention in 2016 after Wanda accidentally texted Jamal Hinton and invited him over for Thanksgiving dinner.

The strangers became fast friends and stayed in touch over the years. Lonnie passed away in early April after being hospitalized with the virus and pneumonia.

"As some of you may have already found out tonight Lonnie did not make it... he passed away Sunday morning, but Wanda told me all the love and support he was receiving put a huge smile on his face so I thank every single one of you guys for that!" Hinton wrote on Twitter. 

Edgar Pacheco is described by his family and friends as an adventurer. The family man went skydiving, swimming in the ocean and just a few weeks before his death he climbed Machu Picchu in Peru.

The healthy 38-year-old from Queen Creek fought the virus as his condition would get better and then decline, his family explained. 

"He’ll get better," his brother Raul said he initially thought. "He’s 38 years old. He’s young, he’s strong. He doesn’t have medical issues. He’ll pull through. That’s not a problem."

MORE: 'He smiled with his whole being': Family says healthy 38-year-old Valley man dies from COVID-19

Corrina and Cheryl Thinn both died after battling the virus in the month of April. The sisters dedicated their lives to helping people of the Navajo Nation. 

Corrina Thinn was an officer with the Navajo Nation Police Department for 11 years. After Corrina earned her master's degree in social work, she went on to work for various health centers in her community.

Cheryl Thinn also chose to serve her community. She was a Navajo Nation juvenile detention officer and emergency medical service member. Cheryl also worked for the Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation. 

MORE: Community mourns Navajo sisters who passed away due to coronavirus

Credit: Family
PHOTO: (Left) Corrina Thinn, former Navajo Nation Police Officer, in uniform and on-duty. (Right) Cheryl Thinn and her son. Corrina and Cheryl were sisters that both served as public servants to the Navajo People. Both sisters passed away in April 2020 from the coronavirus

Valentina Blackhorse died at the age of just 28 years old. Blackhorse was crowned Miss Western Navajo 2015-2016 and competed in the Miss Indian World Pageant.

The young pageant queen was described as loving and passionate. And she was a strong mother for her one-year-old daughter. Her family said she contracted the virus after caring for her boyfriend who tested positive.

“She had her whole life ahead of her and it was cut short due to this pandemic that’s going on,” Vanielle Blackhorse, Valentina’s sister said. “Me, my family, my parents, my sisters, our hearts will not be the same."

MORE: Former Miss Western Navajo dies from COVID-19

Sybil Walker passed away after contracting the virus in a senior living facility. Her son Michael said his mother would have wanted the community to come together during these difficult times. 

"I would like people to know not only was she brilliant, but she also had a powerful desire for good and fairness in the world. And she cared a great deal about those who needed help," Michael said. 

Veronica Morena lost her battle with COVID-19 in April. Her daughter Sabrina Garcia is a nurse in the Valley. Garcia said she cared for her mother as she fought the virus. 

Garcia started experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 a week after her mother passed away. 

"This disease definitively doesn't discriminate. It doesn't discriminate against age, it doesn't discriminate against anything. I urge people that if you absolutely do not have to go out into a public place or a store don't do it," Garcia said.  

Robert Edward Washington Jr. died in Arizona in June from a coronavirus-related illness, just weeks after returning to work. He was 68 years old.

His daughter, Lina, who is a Sacramento TV sports anchor who grew up in the Valley, has a straightforward explanation for why her father died.

“He returned to work because he had to,” Washington said.

“And because he returned to work he was exposed to coronavirus. And because he was exposed to coronavirus with his vulnerabilities, now he’s dead.”

He died four weeks after returning to work as a security guard at the Gila River tribe’s Lone Butte casino near Chandler.

“This is very real,” she said. “This is not something where the elderly and vulnerable are disposable. This is not natural selection. These are people, these are parents, these are grandparents.”

RELATED: Beloved father dies from coronavirus just weeks after returning to work at Arizona casino

Officer Michael Lee of the Navajo Police Department died as a result of COVID-19 in mid-June.

Lee was a father, husband and 29-year veteran of the force.

The Navajo Police Department says it's their first line of duty death related to the virus.

RELATED: Navajo police officer who died of COVID-19 laid to rest Thursday

Bacilio Lopez, a dedicated father, grandfather and husband, died on June 25, days after he turned 42 years old

His wife, Lesslie, said he started feeling sick on June 2. He tried to get better at home, but it didn’t work and he eventually ended up in the hospital. 

“He was really careful, especially for the kids," Lesslie said. "Anything that came through that door he was cleaning it. The kids were washing their hands. We were changing clothes as soon as we got home from the store. I honestly think about it and I don’t know where we could’ve gotten it.”

RELATED: Valley wife shares message of caution after husband loses battle to COVID-19

Teddy Bernal, the owner of Frank and Lupe's Restaurants in the Valley, died of COVID-19, the company announced on Facebook on Monday. 

"It is in our deepest thoughts that we regret to inform the customers who we consider to be apart of the Bernal family that Teddy Bernal has lost his battle with COVID-19," part of the post read. 

"Teddy was the most caring person you could meet and it was his life’s work and passion to run this restaurant that we all consider a second home."

Bernal became sick "weeks ago," the company said, and "we have taken the proper precautions as guided by the cdc to ensure that this is a safe and healthy environment for both our employees and customers."

There are three Frank and Lupe's locations: One in Scottsdale, one in Phoenix and one in New Mexico. 

It is in our deepest thoughts that we regret to inform the customers... who we consider to be apart of the Bernal family that Teddy Bernal has lost his battle with COVID-19. Teddy was the most caring person you could meet and it was his life's work and passion to run this restaurant that we all consider a second home.

RELATED: Frank and Lupe's owner passes away from COVID-19

Robert Anthony Young was 28 when he lost his battle with coronavirus, younger than most. 

His mom, Alexis, says Robert was diagnosed with COVID-19 on June 23. 

In the days that followed, she says he would get very sick, was hospitalized, then sent home, only to return to the hospital for a second and final stay. 

“If I could see him one more time, I told him before they took him to the hospital, I love him, I love him so much I miss him," she said.

Alexis says even though her son was only 28-years-old, he was overweight and in the high-risk category.

“That’s why we were trying so hard to get him to do something about his health," she said. "Unfortunately, it was too little too late when he finally realized it and the week before he passed, he was trying to work on that.”

RELATED: Valley mom struggles over loss of son who became very sick with COVID-19

Kris Chupp, known as DJ Steel, reportedly died on July 12 after being in an Intensive Care Unit for COVID-19.

Steel went to the hospital because he had difficulty breathing, 12 News learned last week.

Anyone who knew Steel would think that he would be one of the last people to be affected this harshly by the virus, due to a lack of any known underlying issues and his healthy lifestyle, fellow Valley DJs told 12 News.

Credit: Courtesy of Miah Hiciano

RELATED: Valley DJ dies from complications of COVID-19

RELATED: ‘COVID is not fair’: Family of Valley DJ who passed away says he was healthy before contracting virus

Kimberly Byrd was a dedicated teacher at Leonor Hambly Middle School in Winkelman, about 70 miles north of Tucson.

The first-grade teacher is one of thousands in Arizona to lose her life to the COVID-19 virus. 

She may have unknowingly passed it onto two of her fellow teachers while they were teaching a summer class online.

Byrd thought she had a nasal infection that turned out to be the coronavirus – she passed away the following weekend. The other teachers later tested positive.

RELATED: Winkelman school district remembers beloved teacher who died from COVID-19

Bertha Estaben was nine months pregnant with her second child when she got sick. 

Bertha and Gaspar Santiago had been together for almost three years and already had a 21-month old baby.

But their plans to get married all changed when doctors diagnosed Gaspar and Bertha with COVID-19 back in May. 

Gaspar had the worst symptoms. But 15 days later, when they thought the worst had passed, Bertha went to the hospital when she started having a stomachache.

Shortly after, she went into labor and then her heart stopped.

Bertha passed away from complications due to COVID-19. Now Gaspar is raising his two children alone.

RELATED: ‘We were planning our wedding’: Valley family mourns woman with coronavirus who died while giving birth

Bricia Gallegos is a mother to three girls, who will now be left to navigate the world without her after she died from COVID-19. 

Bricia developed pneumonia and ended up in the hospital for seven days.

She was caring for a relative who was battling the virus – that relative recovered but passed it on to the 39-year-old nurse and single mom.

She was laid to rest on Thursday.

RELATED: Single mom dies from COVID-19

Humberto "Junior" Trujillo made history as Phoenix’s first Hispanic Postmaster.

"He was definitely a force to be reckoned with," says his daughter Nicole.

And now he’s making headlines again but for a heartbreaking reason.

His family says he died from COVID-19 on Tuesday after weeks of being in the hospital.

Trujillo worked his way up the ranks at the U.S. Post Office, from helping build the Central Office in Phoenix to becoming Postmaster for the whole city.  He spent 31 years with USPS and really put his stamp on society.

RELATED: 'A force to be reckoned with': Remembering Phoenix Postmaster who died from COVID-19

Erika Viera lost her battle to COVID at the age of 31. Her family shared with 12 News she was admitted to the hospital for trouble breathing in May after experiencing symptoms for 8 days.

Erika was in the ICU for 33 days. On June 24 she passed away.

"We were all hoping for a miracle, it didn't matter if it would take her more time to recover, we were willing to wait patiently," a person close to Erika said.

Erika is described as "a dedicated wife, mother of 3, daughter and sister."

Credit: Family
Erika Viera lost her battle with COVID-19 in May.

Kerry Croswhite was a beloved former Chandler High School teacher and swim coach. 

He was unresponsive, on a ventilator battling COVID-19 throughout the weekend.

Croswhite passed away Tuesday night, according to his wife.

"Kerry lost his battle at 6:01 p.m. this evening," she wrote. "He now can see all of your love and tributes and support."

He had been in the hospital since the beginning of July and his wife blogged regularly about his condition.

RELATED: 'I'm here because of him': Chandler coach who saved swimmer's life loses battle with COVID-19

A Valley woman is in mourning after the coronavirus tragically took her husband's life. 

The news of his death came as she faced a terrible choice for weeks - should she keep fighting to keep her husband alive or sign the paperwork that would take her husband off life support?

“I love you, mama," said William Curby in a video he made for his wife, Trisha.

Trisha shared the video of the love of her life with 12 News.

Gilbert Rodriguez Jr. passed away from COVID-19 on July 23, his family says. 

He left behind his wife Diana and 4 children Danielle, Joel, Sophia and Desiree, plus 13 grandchildren. 

You can watch all the stories of the Arizonans we lost to COVID-19 from our YouTube playlist.

RELATED: 'My marriage wasn't supposed to end like this': Valley woman survives, husband dies battling COVID-19

Carlos Manuel Sandoval lived for decades on the edge of the Sonoran Desert, but he never stopped hearing the siren call of his birthplace in coastal Mexico. 

More than a quarter-century after moving with his family to Phoenix and they became U.S. citizens, Sandoval often traveled back to the fishing port of Guaymas and other coastal communities on the Sea of Cortez. 

Sandoval kept his home in Phoenix for his wife and three children, where they married and started their own families. 

Sandoval was 65 when he died June 30 of complications from COVID-19. 

The above is from The Associated Press. 

Credit: AP
This photo provided by the family shows Carlos Manuel Sandoval with his wife, Rosa, in their kitchen in south Phoenix in the early morning hours of Dec. 25, 2015, after a Christmas Eve celebration with their family. The man known as Don Manuel never stopped hearing the siren call of the sea after he and his family moved to Arizona from their native Guaymas, a port on the southwestern Mexican state of Sonora on the Sea of Cortez. He had three children, nine grandchildren and two great-grandkids. Sandoval died June 30, 2020, from complications of COVID-19 at age 65. (Courtesy of the Sandoval Family via AP)

Alfred Cortez fought COVID-19 for weeks before passing away Monday night. The 87-year-old was the kind of grandpa almost any kid would want.

“You know, my dad loved babies, he loved the little kids,” Sue Hodges said, describing the kind of man her father was. 

“He would sit for hours watching cartoons with them, which was unbelievably patient.”

An engineer by trade, Cortez retired from the U.S. Postal Service before starting a second career as a maintenance worker for Deer Valley, allowing him to continue to work and tinker with things. 

RELATED: A holiday for family: Thanksgiving 2020 will be a somber occasion for many

So far, the virus has claimed the lives of more than 6,000 Arizonans since the start of the pandemic. 

That list includes Tolleson Union High School English teacher and assistant baseball coach Ash Freiderich. 

“It was shocking. It was devastating. It was permanent,” said Ash's mother Catherine Freiderich.  

On Saturday night, Catherine received a call from her daughter-in-law LeAnne that Ash lost his battle with the virus.

“He was living his passion. Teaching sophomore English. Teaching the yearbook and having the kids put it together and then also coaching baseball,” said Catherine.

RELATED: Tolleson community mourns beloved teacher, coach who died from COVID-19

The Madison Elementary School District in Phoenix is mourning the loss of their beloved special education assistant, Nawai Kalai, who had recently tested positive for the virus.

“It comes in waves of whether it’s real or not,” said friend Hailey MacCallum.

RELATED: Special education aid in Phoenix dies after COVID-19 diagnosis

It's another devastating blow to the Chandler community after parents of a Chandler High School student died just hours apart from COVID-19.

It's a pain all too familiar for Chandler High School swim coach Bob Chen.

"It’s a pretty crippling blow," he says Friday. "Unfortunately, it seems that we’ve been pretty well-versed in mobilizing."

According to family updates, booster club parents Tony and Lisa Vasquez died from COVID-19 just one day apart on Dec. 2 and 3, respectively.

They left behind their daughter Brisa, who Chen says is a senior and swim team captain.

RELATED: Parents of Chandler High School swimmer die from COVID-19 just hours apart

Gone at only 46-years-old. A Valley mother leaves her six children behind, after losing her battle with COVID-19. And in an instant, Vanessa Perez, only 25, losing her mom and becoming the one who will now raise her siblings.

“I’m being strong for all my siblings," Perez said. "But I’m really grateful and I always tell them that I’m happy there’s so many of us. God bless because, we’re what’s helping each other move forward.”

Vanessa says her mom, Mayra Millan, was an essential worker at a local grocery store. She cared for her family until COVID-19 took her life earlier this month.

RELATED: Valley mom of 6 dies of COVID-19, leaving her oldest to care for her siblings

A giant in the youth and amateur soccer community is gone at the age of 65. 

Fred Delgado’s final breath was taken from him by COVID-19 on Sunday, two weeks after his wife, Sandy, also died from the disease. Fred’s mother died from COVID-19 this month as well.

RELATED: Beloved Arizona soccer coach dies of COVID-19


- 'I've run out of tears': Arizona man has lost 5 family members to COVID-19, calls for Gov. Ducey to take action

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