Long Beach resident Debra Batus, who died on March 2, often stopped at the Long Beach Bagel Café, on East Park Avenue, in the morning before walking to her babysitting job in the Canals, to grab a coffee or something sweet.
She was usually pushing a baby stroller, in case she wanted to bring the children she cared for to a park, or for treats or toys for the kids. At 63, she had some problems with her knees, and the carriage helped her walk more easily.
“She would use the baby carriage to bring things with her back and forth,” said her son, Jesse. “It was easier for her. She’s been at one person or another’s house babysitting their kids for the past 12 years. All of our friends who she used to babysit for, they’ve grown up and had their own children, and she was the one that they went to to take care of their kids.”
On Sundays, Batus would join her friends JoAnn Hiskey and Mary Thomas at the Diner by the Sea after 8 a.m. Mass at St. Mary’s of the Isle Roman Catholic Church, where they would chat among themselves or with fellow customers and the staff.
“She was very social, and she had a terrific sense of humor,” Hiskey said of Batus. “So many people knew her.”
Batus lived in Long Beach for 40 years, and her three sons are all Long Beach High School graduates.
On March 2, Batus took her usual route to work, walking north on Pacific Boulevard. At about 6:30 a.m., she was struck and killed by a car while crossing Park Avenue. Long Beach police said the driver, a local resident who is in her 70s, was headed west in a 2016 Nissan Sentra.
Responding police and firefighters initially believed there might have been a baby in Batus’s stroller. “We saw the stroller and did a frantic search for any children,” said Lt. Mark Stark, a spokesman for the Long Beach Police Department. “We went into the Bagel Café, and they said they never saw a child. She was pushing a stroller, but there was no baby in it.”
Police said they eventually learned why Batus used the carriage.
The westbound lanes of Park Avenue, between Maple and Pacific boulevards, were closed for hours, which created heavy traffic as vehicles were rerouted until the street reopened just before 10 a.m. Stark said that the driver, whose name was not released, remained at the scene and was not charged. He added that no other vehicles were involved.
“At this point there is no criminality,” Stark said. “They did all the DWI and drug field tests, which turned out to be negative at the time. We are trying to obtain video from homes in the area to determine red or green lights.”
Hundreds of people attended Batus’s wake on Monday and Tuesday, and more were expected for her funeral Mass at St. Mary’s on Wednesday. Batus is survived by her sons, Jason, Jesse and Jordan, three sisters and a daughter-in-law, Stacey Batus.
Many people recalled a woman who was a leader in the church and active in the community. “People are devastated — the suddenness of it,” said the Rev. Brian Barr, of St. Mary’s. “But beyond the shock, she was a close friend of so many in the parish. It’s not like one or two people are walking around heartbroken — it’s a lot of people who are hurting.”
Batus grew up in Rockaway Beach before moving to Long Beach, and Jesse recalled being raised in a loving home, where she instilled a love of music in her kids and friends would gather often. Days at the beach were frequent.
“She was like the neighborhood mom,” her son said. “It was a good house to grow up in — we were a well-known Long Beach family. She was the kind of person that if you brought your friends over, she’d whip something up; her favorite thing was to have people come over. We’d sit and watch something together on TV, or she’d go out to the diner with her friends or go shopping. She was an extremely generous person.
We’re a very musical family,” Jesse added. “She loved music, and grew up in the ’60s and loved the Beatles all the way through to modern music. We actually had a little music room in the house. She did a good job raising us all to be momma’s boys.”
For years Batus was a fixture at St. Mary’s, where she headed the church’s hospitality committee and organized bake sales for events such as the annual feast and carnival.
“It wasn’t just about making cupcakes to her,” Barr said. “It was sincerely about welcoming people and reaching out to people. We had one church member who was grieving the loss of her husband and she was struggling, and Debbie just stepped up and invited her into the St. Mary’s community. She was very empathetic and service-centered, somebody who was very kind but at the same time very strong — she rose to the occasion when [dealing] with adversity in a classy, principled way.”
Though she was a vegetarian, friends said she would often cook her sons’ favorite meals. “She was very devoted to her children,” Barr said.
Batus, Hiskey and Thomas were so close that they were known at St. Mary’s as the Three Musketeers.
“Debbie was the most amazing woman,” said another of her friends, Theresa Malone. “Every Sunday, my husband, Ronnie, and I would sit near the three ladies at the diner. She had the biggest heart and the most beautiful smile.”
“We liked being with each other, and exchanged little gifts at Christmas,” Hiskey said. “We all had a pleasant time with each other — she does leave us with the wonderful memories.”