Toni Cobarubias

Toni Cobarubias, center, was baptized by Mike Snyder, left, and Jason Estle, right, a few weeks before her death.

Antonia "Toni" Cobarubias touched a lot of lives before she was killed in a hit-and-run, her friends and family say.

"I aspire to be more like her," Sheena Tarvin said. "She didn't judge anybody, and she was very giving."

Early Saturday morning she was pushing a shopping cart on North Highway 395 in Hermiston when a driver struck her from behind, killing her, and then fled the scene. Police are still searching for the driver.

At Desert Rose Ministries — a Christian ministry on Main Street that serves up food, clothing and other items to Hermiston's homeless residents — those who knew her shared memories together on Tuesday morning. They hope she is remembered for more than just how she died.

Tarvin, who spent time living on the streets with Cobarubias, described her as a free spirit who was never ashamed of who she was.

"I was up at the probation office and she was going to see her PO, and she had this toothbrush sticking up out of her hair," Tarvin said. "I said, 'Toni, you've got a toothbrush sticking out of the back of your head and she said, 'I know! Sunlight kills the bacteria!'"

Cobarubias struggled with mental illness and addiction, which meant she had her bad days and her good days. But everyone at Desert Rose Ministries said she was always a sweet, kind soul who was anxious to share whatever she had with others.

Judith Raysor said she always had a smile on her face. She loved to dance and had a beautiful singing voice, in addition to being a talented painter.

"One thing about her, she was never disrespectful," she said. "She never bothered anyone."

She said some people might write Cobarubias off as "just a homeless person," but everyone has value.

"To think she was up there pushing her cart and somebody hit her and kept going — she didn't deserve that," Raysor said.

Bryan Vigil said his first time meeting Cobarubias, he found her sleeping on the back porch of Desert Rose Ministries. As a volunteer, it was the first time he had dealt with someone sleeping out there and he was worried she would be upset when he woke her up, but she turned out to be a quiet, gentle person.

"She loved to give hugs," he said.

Barbara White said Cobarubias was a "beautiful soul" and she always gave those who ministered to her more than she got from them. She said the last time she saw her, she was in the "nether world" of her mental illnesses, but her personality still shined through.

She said Cobarubias was baptized shortly before her death, and as Christians those at Desert Rose Ministries mourned her, but also knew she was in a better place, free from the struggles she battled on Earth.

Jason Estle, the pastor of Desert Rose Ministries, said they didn't know much about Cobarubias' history or family, but she does have some family in the area.

He said he will miss her beautiful singing voice during worship services and her giving nature.

"I think a lot of times people get the idea that homeless people have no talents, no gifts," he said. "That was not the case here. She was awesome."

Cobarubias grew up in Lakeview, Washington, but would come and stay with her aunt, Stella Queen, in Echo when she was working on getting her life together. The last time that happened she was stable for three and a half years. Her generosity was her downfall, Queen said, as she tried to help people who brought drugs back into her life.

"When she crashed, it was fast," she said.

The family is working on getting together a memorial service for sometime next week, and Queen said she wants to bring a picture of her niece from when she was a teenager so everyone could see what a "cutie" she was back then, before the ravages of addiction and the schizophrenia, which runs rampant in her family.

"At least the voices were happy voices," Queen said. "She would sit on the bed and just giggle."

She and Cobarubias' friend Starr Gaede echoed what those at Desert Rose said about her — she would give anyone anything at any time if she thought it would help them.

Gaede said the last time she saw her friend she was sitting outside of the Dollar Tree, eating a burrito with someone. When she came out of the store, they were still there.

"When I came out she said, 'Give me one last hug,'" Gaede said. "I didn't realize it would be our last hug."

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