Student remembered for hard work ethic after unexpected death

Trudging through the backcountry areas of San Mateo county with Search and Rescue Explorer Post 830, SF State student Luis Rubalcaba spent much of his late teen years working with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office participating in search and rescue missions. Head held high wherever he went, Rubalcaba caught the attention of professors and peers with his positive attitude and indomitable work ethic.

“His main thing was work beats talent every time,” Juan Rubalcaba said of his younger brother. “If you put enough work to it, you can achieve anything you want.”

Rubalcaba, was found dead last week after a boating accident in the South Bay with his father Guillermo Rubalcaba and his fiancee Larissa Casteneda. The trio left Oyster Point Feb. 16 for a day trip in a 12-foot canoe purchased only weeks prior, but did not return.

SF State student Luis Rubalcaba repels during a climbing a exercise. (Courtesy of Rubalcaba family)
SF State student Luis Rubalcaba repels during a climbing a exercise. (Courtesy of Rubalcaba family)

Search and rescue crews discovered Casteneda crying out for help in the open water off of Coyote Point in San Mateo around 1 a.m. Feb. 17, according to a statement from the United States Coast Guard. It was almost an hour later when they discovered Guillermo Rubalcaba floating in the water nearby.

Juan Rubalcaba was just getting off work when he got the call from his mother that his younger brother, father, and brother’s fiancee had not returned from their fishing trip. Rubalcaba said the discovery of Casteneda and his father, who was alive but unconscious at the time, gave the family hope that his brother would be okay.

“Thirty minutes later, my brother called me again and said that my dad passed away at the hospital,” Juan Rubalcaba said. “From there it was all downhill. We were just praying that Luis was still alive.”

After being pulled from the water, Casteneda was transported to Daly City Hospital for evaluation, according to the press release.

The body of his younger brother wasn’t discovered until 9 a.m. the following morning near the San Mateo Bridge, Juan Rubalcaba said.

“Our family will never be the same,” Juan Rubalcaba said. “The pain will never go away, but you have to stay strong. It was their day, and we all have that day coming.”

Rubalcaba, born July 27, 1992 in the town of Nochistlan, Mexico, moved to the United States in 1997 with his family where they eventually settled in Daly City seven years later.

Rubalcaba’s cousin and close friend Jose Pulido, 19, said that they did everything together, even deciding to study criminal justice and pursue desire to work in law enforcement. According to Pulido, his cousin applied for a job with the California Highway Patrol before his death.

“When we spoke recently he was telling me how he had applied somewhere down in Merced for CHP dispatch,” Pulido said. “He said they had contacted him about finalizing an interview. That was the last thing we spoke about before this tragic event.”

During his time with Explorer Post 830 , Rubalcaba worked closely with Patrick Lucy, a correctional officer with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, to help at-risk teens to make a better life for themselves. A run-in with the police and a short stint in juvenile hall when he was 17 lead him to Lucy, and their friendship continued as Rubalcaba became interested in law enforcement as a career path.

“He was a kid that lived a cinderella story, for lack of a better word,” Lucy said. “He had some struggles in life, and he overcame those struggles to become an amazing young man with a dream that was not selfish, that wasn’t about him– it was about others.”

A friend of the family started an online crowd-funding page to help pay for funeral costs and “whatever the family may need as they move forward,” according to the page. As of noon Tuesday the group had raised $1,690 of their $5,000 goal.

A viewing was held 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Garden Chapel Mortuary in South San Francisco. There will be a mass at Holy Angel’s Catholic Church Wednesday at 10 a.m. in Colma and burial services will be conducted at nearby Holy Cross Cemetery.