Andrew Vathis rode a three-wheel bicycle. He sacked groceries. His smile changed lives.
Vathis, 51, a fixture for 26 years at Albertsons stores on the South Hill, was walking home from work Friday when he was struck and killed by an SUV. The collision at 7 p.m. at the intersection of 57th Avenue and Hailee Lane remains under investigation.
News of Vathis’ death, who was a longtime member of the Ben & Jerry’s Coneheads basketball team at Hoopfest, has lit up both Facebook and a GoFundMe page, which already has raced past the $15,000 goal to help his mother cover funeral expenses.
“I will tell you, that was one of the sweetest young men I have ever met in my life,” retired teacher Steph Zoldak said. “He was filled with joy. He was extraordinary.”
Vathis worked since the early 1990s at Albertsons. A call to the store on 57th Avenue on Monday was forwarded to corporate offices in Bellevue, which wasn’t immediately returned.
Vathis often visited the firefighters at Spokane County Fire District 8 at Station 81, said Capt. Todd Wood, who worked with Vathis for 13 years at Albertsons.
“He would come over to the fire station, visit us and bring stuffed animals in case there was a kid who had a house catch fire so we would have something to give them,” Wood said. “He was always thinking about other people.”
On Friday, Wood’s co-workers responded to the collision that ended up killing Vathis.
“Everybody on the engine knew him,” Wood said. “It was pretty devastating.”
The driver of the SUV remained at the scene and cooperated with investigators. Sheriff’s spokesman Deputy Mark Gregory said his agency has not named the driver, because that person has not been charged with a crime.
“We are continuing to investigate,” he said. “We are still looking for any witnesses who we haven’t spoken to yet.”
Zoldak said she first remembered meeting Vathis at the now-closed Albertsons on 37th Avenue.
“I remember him riding his three-wheel bicycle down Regal biking to work. It always brought a smile to my face because I knew he would be at work and helping people,” she said. “I’ve met a lot of people in my life through teaching, but this kid had style.
“When you have so much sadness when you are gone, I think they deserve something. There is a huge void when he is missing.”
Alison Highberger also knew Vathis as a fixture at her neighborhood grocery store.
“I just felt so terrible. Everybody does,” Highberger said. “It’s just stunning to us that he was gone. It feels like a member of your family has died.”
Zoldak said she was so shook by Vathis’ death that she made it a point to call her own sons to make sure they were OK.
“Every time he would bring my groceries, he was just sweet and kind, and so many people loved him,” she said. “He was a treasure. He really was.”
A celebration of life service has been scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Ferris High School, said Kari Conner, the owner of the Ben & Jerry’s franchise in Spokane.
“We are just absolutely floored,” Conner said. “Andrew became part of our family.”
When he first became a member of the Conehead’s basketball team, Vathis asked Conner if he got to keep his T-shirt. During a timeout, he came over and asked to make sure he actually got free ice cream after the game.
“Anybody they played in the special needs division, we would bring them up to the shop for ice cream,” she said. “It didn’t matter who won or lost. It was more fun to play and go get ice cream.”
Wood, the fire captain, said he used Vathis as an example to his children.
“With his personality, he just persevered through life. He never gave up,” Wood said. “I told my kids, ‘There is no reason you can’t be kind in this world.’ He just always had a smile on his face. I just thought that was a good lesson for everybody.”
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