Maria Armendariz once asked her friend Georgi Stratton a special favor in case anything happened to her.
The 38-year-old Chandler woman asked Stratton if she would look after her brother Michael in the event Armendariz could no longer care for his special needs.
She didn’t want her 44-year-old brother placed in a group home, where he wouldn’t know anyone and would be considered a ward of the state.
Stratton was unexpectedly presented with this prospect on Dec. 18 after Armendariz was killed in a traffic accident.
Armendariz, mother to a 14-year-old daughter, was out early that morning walking her dog when she was hit by a semi-truck as it was backing out of a driveway on Ray Road. Armendariz was then hit by another vehicle before she was pronounced deceased.
Her untimely death devastated Stratton, who considered Armendariz a member of her own family.
“She became so ingrained in our lives,” said Stratton, a real estate agent in the East Valley area.
Stratton met Armendariz’s mother years ago at church and the two quickly became best friends. She came to think of Maria and Michael almost as her own children.
When the mother died nine years ago, Stratton said Armendariz immediately stepped in to be Michael’s primary caregiver.
Armendariz was always a selfless person, Stratton said, putting her brother and daughter first before herself.
“She was like Mother Theresa,” Stratton said.
The Armendariz family didn’t have a lot of money, so it was up to Maria to find ways to support her family on her own.
Stratton described her friend as spunky, independent, and resourceful – someone who would never ask for handouts, she said.
Armendariz’s sudden death feels all the more tragic because it seemed like she was energized and excited for the future, Stratton said.
She had started exercising more and lost about 40 pounds during the last couple months of her life.
“She was on a mission to make life awesome for her and her family,” Stratton said.
Shortly after hearing of Armendariz’s death, Stratton got together with her adult daughters and they decided to officially make Michael part of their family.
He had initially been taken to live with Armendariz’s ex-boyfriend since the Strattons had no legal authority over Michael. They quickly went to work to correct that.
“We didn’t want to let Michael out of our sight,” Stratton said.
They were able to relocate Michael to Stratton’s home within a few days and she’s in the process of obtaining custodianship. Though Michael misses Maria, Stratton said he’s adjusting well to his new home.
“He’s happier as a bug in the rug,” she said.
Because Stratton still works full-time, she’s started a fundraiser on GoFundMe.com for donations to go toward Michael’s medical needs and private daycare. The fundraiser already accumulated more than $12,000 in donations.
Stratton said they won’t be able to replace Armendariz, but they hope to give Michael the life his sister would have wanted for him.
Armendariz had this way of doing so many special little things, Stratton added, which will be difficult to replicate.
Armendariz was the 13th person in Chandler to die from a traffic accident in 2019. The number of traffic fatalities recorded in the city has fluctuated between nine and 16 deaths over the last few years.
Chandler Police has not announced any arrests or citations made in Armendariz’s case. The agency’s said it does not suspect impairment or distracted driving was a factor in causing the accident.