On Sunday, Hayley Berrios went for a bike ride with her husband, Stephen, and some friends from a local church group.
The couple had just been married in April. Stephen, a photographer, had moved to Lawrence to be with Berrios, who started working at a Lawrence nonprofit after graduating from college. She was 29, athletic, and known for her sardonic sense of humor, friends and family said.
As the group of bicyclists crossed the South Lawrence Trafficway about 8 p.m., headed east near the stoplight at 27th Street, Berrios was hit by a truck and killed. The vehicle, a 1974 Chevrolet, was headed north, driven by Walter Spencer, 67, of Lawrence. Berrios was declared dead before a helicopter ambulance could arrive. Law enforcement officers are still investigating the accident and are looking for more witnesses who could help clarify what happened.
On Monday, friends and family remembered a young woman who came to Lawrence as a college student and became part of the community.
"She was wonderful," said Berrios' mother, Mary Travis. "We miss her so much already."
They described a thoughtful churchgoer and an avid runner who was serious about her work helping low-income people become homeowners in Lawrence. But, friends said, Berrios wasn’t too serious for the occasional wisecrack, usually delivered in her unique, snarky-but-just-in-fun style.
At Tenants to Homeowners, where Berrios worked since graduating from Kansas University in 2006, the loss is overwhelming, said Rebecca Buford, the executive director. In an office with less than a half-dozen employees, Berrios was part of the fabric of the organization. Her attention to detail, poise in dealing with the problems of clients, and the occasional wry email poking fun at the stresses of the day will be missed. As a professional, Buford said, Berrios worked for her clients with a sense that it was the right thing to do. As a person, she was “impossible to replace."
“The personal loss is huge,” Buford said. “She kept us sane, absolutely. She used to just crack us up, and she was the sweetest person you’ll ever meet. ”
The board president of Tenants to Homeowners, Geoff Strole, said he could see that Berrios’ work wasn’t just a job but a passion.
“She was one of those people that could turn a bad situation into a good situation and just had that gift of making people happy. When she walked into the room her smile and positive attitude would light up the room,” Strole said. "She will be missed greatly, and I will never ever forget all she did to light up my life and the hundreds of lives within this community.”
Outside of work, Berrios was active with the Lawrence Church of Christ, organizing church activities for young professionals, said Josh Talley, a church member and friend of Berrios’ from their college years. Talley and his wife, Shana, had become close with Berrios and her husband, he said. Some members of the young professionals' church group were with Haley and Stephen Berrios when the accident happened Sunday.
“She was a unique person,” Talley said. “She had a thought-provoking and meaningful relationship with God.” Berrios studied religion, Talley said, sending notes to her friends about her ideas, such as a list of the different names for God in the Bible and what each meant. “Her faith was deep and sincere, and she used it to help people.”
Now, the Kansas Highway Patrol and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office are looking for help from anyone who was in the area of the South Lawrence Trafficway and 27th Street around 8 p.m., even if they didn’t see the accident itself, said Lt. Steve Lewis, a sheriff’s office spokesman.
The sheriff’s office is especially looking for the driver of a red passenger car who drove through the intersection just prior to the accident. The car wasn’t involved in the accident, Lewis said, but might be able to help investigators piece together the chain of events leading up to it. Anyone who was in the area at that time and has information is asked to call Sheriff’s Detective Jay Armbrister at 785-330-2828.
Meanwhile, Berrios’ family and friends are planning a memorial service for her at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at First Christian Church, at 1000 Kentucky St.