City Beat

Cook noted for helping others now needs others’ help

Jose Santamaria is a decent man. He works six nights a week as a cook at a downtown restaurant. He has raised two good children and has a lot of friends in a lot of places. When someone needs help, Santamaria helps them.

You may even know Santamaria. He was a cook at the old Café Soleil in Cesar Chavez Plaza for years before it closed. You may know him by his nickname, Wes.

If you go to the Torch Club, you’ve almost certainly met Santamaria. He’s there all the time. When the joint gets busy, Santamaria sometimes jumps behind the bar and helps wash glasses. When another regular customer got sick with breast cancer, Santamaria cooked the food for a fundraiser to help with her medical costs.

Santamaria never says a bad thing about anyone. It sounds like he has tried to live a good life.

Last weekend, someone left Santamaria to die on the side of the road.

It was around 1:30 on the morning of May 17 and Santamaria was riding his bicycle home from his late shift at Mayahuel, a restaurant on K Street. A driver struck him from behind in front of Sacramento City College on Freeport Boulevard. The driver kept driving and is still on the loose.

A couple out hunting for a late-night snack came across Santamaria’s mangled body and called for help. His bike was on one side of the street, he was on the other. He’s in the intensive-care unit at UC Davis Medical Center with broken ribs, a broken collarbone and shoulder blade, cracked vertebrae in his back and bleeding in his kidneys, liver and lungs. He may never walk again.

“Some days he’s doing OK; some days he’s not,” said his daughter, Genny.

Santamaria, 51, grew up in Oxkutzcab, an ancient city on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. He grew up with Jorge Ix and moved with him here when Ix opened Café Soleil more than 20 years ago. The café shut down in December.

Santamaria and his wife, also named Genny, raised two kids in south Sacramento. Santamaria is the head of the household, and now the family is trying to figure out how they’re going to pay his medical bills and survive.

There are many people trying to help because Santamaria is a guy who also tries to help. His pals at the Torch Club are passing the hat for donations, and they’re talking about putting on a benefit concert. They’ve also started an online fundraising effort at More than 40 people and businesses donated a combined $3,000 in the first day.

“We’re going to keep going until Jose and his family get what they need,” said Marina Texeira, who owns the Torch.

Genny is overwhelmed by the kindness. It’s coming from people she’s never met, but who love her father. It’s coming from the caring staff at the hospital who her father “fist bumps,” when he has the energy.

“It hurts so much to see him like that because he never complains,” she said. “Even now, he isn’t complaining.”

Santamaria needs his rest now. It’s time for the guy who’s always helping out to get a little help himself.