AUSTIN (KXAN) — Friends left photos, flowers, notes and balloons at a growing memorial they created to remember a local graffiti artist killed in an east Austin crash.
Police confirmed Adam Gaconnet, 32, died on April 29 when a vehicle struck him as he rode a scooter home from work during the early morning hours. The crash happened on East Seventh Street between Allen and Gunter Streets, which is now decorated in honor of Gaconnet by those who knew him best.
Gaconnet’s mother, Debi West, along with his brother, Bret, live about 3.5 hours south of Austin along the Texas coast in Rockport. Based on the photos they’ve seen, they said they cannot believe the extent of the memorial left at the crash site. They’re also touched by the meaningful things many of his friends are sharing on social media, especially those who created a Facebook page called “Atom Rage: A Celebration of Life” as a place for people to go and share their favorite memories.
“It’s been a phenomenal outpouring,” West said Tuesday.
His brother Bret called it “absolutely beautiful” but “not surprising” to see what people are saying about how he impacted them.
“He knew so many people,” Bret said. “He would just get on the bus and ride around town with his friends just to meet people. Like all day, they’d just sit on the bus and ride around town just to meet new people. He knew a lot of people and affected a lot of people, and it’s just amazing.”
Many of the tributes people are making now include pictures of the artwork Gaconnet created with a spray-paint can. His mother said she recognized his artistic talents early, which only grew from the stick figures he’d draw starting at age seven or eight.
“If the notion struck him, he’d put it on paper,” West said.
Adrian Martinez and Germe Adair, two of Gaconnet’s closest friends in Austin, said people can look around town now and still find some of his colorful graffiti artwork with the tag “Zomek.” Martinez said he recently spotted a Zomek piece on a dumpster behind a gas station on Riverside Drive in east Austin. Adair likened it to an “Easter egg hunt” for him and his friends, because they’ll never stop looking for places where Gaconnet left some of these mementos.
“I don’t want to know where they all are, because I want to be walking in Austin 20 years from now and turn a corner down a random alley and still see him,” Adair said. “Every time I see one, I can look over at my passenger seat and see him sitting there smiling at me.”
Adair said he almost instantly became best friends with Gaconnet when they met in 2009.
“I considered him more family than the family I actually have,” Adair said. “He taught me how to love people. He taught me how to be understanding. He taught me how to have patience. He taught me how to just be a better person.”
Adair and Martinez said Gaconnet often acted as the glue who could bring big groups of people together, and that network of close friendships is now helping them all cope with this tragedy. They said they’ll miss his 20-second hugs, which he used to tell them is how long it takes to start healing.
“He loved going out meeting new people and just spending time just expressing how much love he had to give,” Martinez said. “He would still, even if he didn’t see you one day, he would see you the next day. He would FaceTime you. He would do something to show you how much he cared about you, and to me that was special. I’ll never forget it. He’s just the pinnacle of light in my eyes.”
After the crash last week, police said they arrested the 21-year-old driver, Francisco Jauregui. He faces a charge of driving while intoxicated. Jail records show he’s no longer in custody, and currently, no attorney is listed for him. KXAN will reach out to Jauregui’s attorney for comment once one is chosen.
Gaconnet’s mother said she hopes his death will serve as a tragic reminder to find a safe way home.
“I want this to be a lesson to people that you know, you don’t have to drink and drive. There’s ways around it,” West said. “Call somebody, anybody. Walk, crawl — doesn’t matter. Just don’t put somebody else’s mother through this.”
His friends added they’d also like more people to embrace whom they’re closest to and show affection.
“Hug your family. Hug your loved ones,” Martinez said. “Hug a random person for the first time and say hello and get their name. You never know whose day you could change with just a hug.”
The family plans to hold services for him in Aransas Pass, Texas on May 13 — a fitting day, they said, because it’s Friday the 13th.
“That was always my favorite number, and he just picked up on it,” West said. “We ran from there.”
“If you can choose any day, you know, that’d be the one,” Bret added, laughing.