Memorial held for custodian killed by tow truck

Principal Candace Ruiz promises the 30-year-plus school custodian James Smith will never be forgotten.

DALLAS, Texas — The song "Precious Lord Take My Hand" Wednesday at Robert T. Hill Middle School helped celebrate the life of a longtime district employee. 

The principal organized a memorial for 67-year-old James Smith. He worked as a school custodian for more than 30 years before he was killed after being run over by a tow truck driver.

"We are going to have teachers, faculty, and staff from everywhere who are coming in to celebrate what Mr. Smith meant to us in the Hill community," Principal Candace Ruiz said.

Smith also meant the world to his family, who attended the memorial. His sisters knew the service wouldn't be easy, but they are grateful to Dallas ISD and Robert T. Hill Middle School for recognizing their brother who they call a peacemaker and more than just a sibling. 

"He was just the best brother," said Vanatia Hamilton. "I mean, this is so hard because he was my everything." 

"He had a heart of gold that loved everybody," Linda Carswell said, "He could stop a war if he gave him a chance because he loved peace." 

Smith tried to stop a tow truck driver towing his vehicle overnight on Dec. 3, 2023, at home in his apartment complex. But Smith died after being run over by the tow truck driver, who failed to stop according to investigators. 

Police arrested 25-year-old Roberto Padilla-Garcia for manslaughter, who posted $10,000 bail to bond out of jail right away. Dduring the memorial service at the school for her brother, Carswell shared that she is praying for Padilla-Garcia's family. 

"My heart goes out to the young man's family that's responsible for his death because he's somebody's family too," said Carswell, "I know that he could not have been thinking  and emphatic part of him wasn't working at that time to drive off and leave him there and to keep going and to be arrested towing another car in like to take James' life was a part of his job."

School employees put together this slide show. Coworkers, friends, and family signed a poster with his photo. When Principal Candace Ruiz arrived at Hill Middle School ten years ago Smith made sure she was familiar with every inch of Robert T. Hill Middle School. He also made sure to make it to her car safely at the end of the school day by escorting her to her car.

"He had me walk the campus with him," Ruiz said. "This was his pride and joy. We were family. We are family. And he was so proud of Hill." 

The memorial table outside the auditorium for the beloved custodian promises a future fishing club in his honor. The school had a tackle box and fishing rod as part of the display Wednesday night. The fishing theme is all part of his principal's promise Smith will always be remembered.

"We will continue his legacy and keep him proud of our campus, our school and our community," said Ruiz.


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