Cement block with 9 names a memorial for 2

For the first year they lived in their north Modesto home, Joshua and Brenda Melendez wondered about the names scrawled into the concrete sidewalk.

Nine first names, left behind by a family that lived there before them.

"It was cute that the kids put their names on it," Joshua Melendez said.

Then in late May 2009, Brenda Melendez read stories about a crash in Oakland that killed two former Modestans along with 3-year-old twin boys, all passengers in a car driven by a woman facing vehicular manslaughter and other charges.

Twenty-year-old David Terra, his 23-year-old sister Sara and her son, Jason, died instantly. Jason's identical twin brother, Jessie, died two days later in an Oakland hospital.

The Bee's story went on to say that David and Sara were among the seven children adopted by Bill and Louise Terra of Modesto. It named all the children in a family depicted in a 1995 Bee story as being "a multiracial Brady Bunch."

"Something about the names stuck with me," Brenda Melendez said. "It wasn't until the third story that it hit me."

Indeed, the names in the story matched the names on the sidewalk.

A couple of weeks later, after the service for the children and grandchildren, Louise Terra began sorting through the sympathy cards mourners left at the funeral home. One envelope included a photo of the concrete walk with the names inscribed.

It was from the Melendezes and included a note with a heartfelt offer.

"If we wanted (the concrete piece), they could cut it out," Louise Terra said.

Of course the Terras wanted it. What began as a family of kids leaving their marks in the mud had become, in essence, a memorial for two of them.

Louise called the Melendezes. Joshua just needed to figure out how to remove the 37-by-17-inch slab without damaging it. He promised to get it to them "a few months down the road," she said.

The intersection of the Melendezes and the Terras began eight years ago, when the Terras bought a four-bedroom, two-story home in Modesto's Village I. When Bill hired a concrete contractor to pour the sidewalk, the adopted children wrote their names on it.

"Kids have to do that," Bill Terra said.

They added the names of Heather and Jackie, the couple's biological daughters, who are now married and living elsewhere.

The Terras lived in the home for several years. But as some of the children grew up and moved out, they decided they needed fewer rooms and would be happier not climbing stairs. So they downsized to a single-story, three-bedroom place. Then, once all the children had moved out, they sold that home and moved to a seniors-only development.

Meanwhile, the four-bedroom home with the names in the concrete sold again, this time to the Melendezes in June 2008.

Nearly a year later, the crash occurred, and the concrete slab that had been little more than a conversation piece to the Melendezes and their visitors suddenly took on a greater emotional value.

Weeks passed, became months and extended into a new year. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, Joshua told his wife he needed to make good on his promise to remove the piece and give it to the Terras.

He took photos of the slab to Home Depot, and the store manager donated the use of a concrete cutter. Joshua took it home last weekend and began cutting.

"I thought it was going to be easy," said Melendez, a human resources manager at Formulation Technology, a pharmaceutical manufacturer in Oakdale.

But the concrete was more than 5 inches thick, deeper than the cutting tool would go.

"I tried to break it loose," he said. "Finally, I went and got a big ol' crowbar and got it out."

He called the Terras and told them he could bring it over Monday evening, enlisting the help of co-workers Mike Wilcoxson and Richard Gonzales.

Brenda Melendez said the project's timing perhaps was divinely guided. Only after planning the job did they recall that Monday is the eve of the first anniversary of the May 25, 2009, crash. Monday also would have been David Terra's 21st birthday.

"What we think is by accident isn't always accidental," she said. "Things happen for a reason."

What might be just a slab of concrete means so much to the Terras and tells so much about Joshua and Brenda Melendez.

Said Bill Terra, his voice choking, "How many people would do something like that?"

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or