Bethany Borges was looking for her sister Sunday morning in Yosemite Valley’s Half Dome Village when she heard a tree falling and Destiny Borges’ scream.
The sisters, their mother and fellow employees of Retail Grocery Inventory Service had just packed up from a stay in tent cabins and were beginning their last day of work in Yosemite National Park for a park concessionaire.
Destiny Borges needed to use a restroom, apparently had found one locked and was looking for another when the Ponderosa pine fell with her in its path, her sister said. “I heard everything. She froze and couldn’t get out of the way. Those trees out there are huge,” Bethany Borges said, picturing what happened to the 20-year-old.
She and a co-worker found her sister, Bethany Borges said. They saw no one else racing to the scene, she said while sitting in aunt Autumn Warthan’s Ceres home Monday afternoon with Warthan, cousins and other family members.
She was so loved and so kind. She was like my mom, always taking care of everybody.
Bethany Borges, sister of Destiny Borges
“I came across the tree and we saw there was a body under there,” Bethany Borges recalled. “They knew that tree fell, but nobody went to make sure that anyone was OK. … They automatically made us leave because trees were falling, and that’s understandable …”
“But they knew prior to that,” Warthan interjected. She said she had heard that park workers knew trees were falling because of heavy snow and high winds, so they already were moving people out of the area.
“I felt they were horrible,” Bethany Borges continued. “My mom (Summer Warthan) didn’t want to leave my sister’s side, her body, she didn’t want to leave my sister’s body, and they were being very rude to her.”
Autumn Warthan said the family has hired an attorney and wants answers from the park’s staff. One thing she doesn’t understand is why, after RGIS staffers previously had done work in Yosemite and stayed in wooden cabins not surrounded by hazardous trees, the workers this time were put in the tent cabins in such inclement weather.
She was glue to her family and friends. No matter what kind of things she was going through, she seemed to always make it better for other people.
Lilly Hailey, friend
Destiny Borges’ relatives on Monday spoke of her artistic talent, quirky sense of humor and other traits. “Very, very smart,” Autumn Warthan’s husband, Kevin Barber, said of his niece.
The young woman loved to draw, and worked as a drama technician for plays put on by the theater department while she attended Ceres High.
“Music was everything to her,” her sister said.
In the past few months, longtime friend Alex Ortega had become more to her sister, Bethany Borges said. Since the two became a couple, “that’s the happiest I’ve ever seen her.”
Autumn Warthan said Ortega is devastated and left yellow roses on his girlfriend’s bed at the home she shared with her mother and sister.
A Gofundme account has been set up in Destiny Borges’ name. The summary on the page says she was a “beautiful and bright young lady just starting to live a bright, dream-filled life. … Her mother is a single mom and we are asking for help to fund her funeral service. This has been such a sudden death for the family and we are asking for help.”
Borges went to Sam Vaughn Elementary and Mae Hensley Junior High before attending and graduating from Ceres High School, said Jocelyn Marie Wilson, a close friend since age 7.
“Literally, to me, she had no flaws,” said Wilson, adding that Destiny and Bethany Borges were the first friends she made when she moved to the street where they lived. “She was the happiest girl ever, always there for everyone. … She could make anyone feel loved and cared for. She was independent, proud and stronger than anyone I know.”
Wilson said Monday morning that she’d been crying most of the time since she learned of her friend’s death. When she looks outside the home her mom owns, she said, she sees memories of Borges on every foot of the sidewalk: a cupcake frosting battle at a 16th birthday party, singing songs from “Hannah Montana” and briefly tricking a woman on the street into thinking the girls had written the song themselves, nights gathering at one home or the other to watch the “Twilight” movies.
She was that one rock everybody has. … She was compassionate and loved to be around people, 24/7.
Jocelyn Marie Wilson, friend
Borges was among the first to visit after a car crash Wilson suffered. She was there in December to hold Wilson’s newborn son. She was loyal to her friends through thick and thin, Wilson said, and even if the two hadn’t talked in a while, they could pick right up as though they’d never left off.
“It’s still difficult to imagine that she, out of everyone in the world, all the bad people in the world, had this happen to her.”
Lilly Hailey, who Wilson said was Borges’ closest friend, told The Bee that people who met Borges instantly loved her. “She was so selfless, and always looking out for others’ feelings. I will never understand how I was so lucky to have a best friend like her, because she was and always will be the light to my day. … I will cherish every moment I spent with her, because she would not want everyone to be sad because of her – she was just that type of person.”
Yosemite National Park spokesman Scott Gediman said rangers closed Half Dome Village – previously named Curry Village – and had visitors leave the area after the accident. The village reopened to visitors Monday morning, he said.
In December and January, at least two people in California were killed by falling trees. In January, one woman was struck and killed by a tree while walking on a Northern California golf course. In December, a woman posing for photographs as part of a wedding party was killed and five others were injured by a falling eucalyptus tree in Southern California.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.