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Forever an Outsider : Some called the Martins the 'perfect family,' but their 17-year-old son felt estranged and isolated. He turned to 'Disco Boys' and drugs for solace and found only a violent death.

July 12, 1987|MARK ARAX | Times Staff Writer

Craig Martin stood in an empty culvert 10 feet under the San Bernardino Freeway in Rosemead, drew a small knife from his back pocket and scraped at the pool of dried blood that had spilled from his brother's body 10 days earlier. He gently held the flakes in the palm of his right hand, raised them to his nose. Then he looked up, wondering about the degradation that had brought him there, the detachment that allowed him to remain.

"Here I am touching my brother's blood. It seems so crazy. But when it happens to you, you don't even think about it. You become crazed."

He had gone there to see for himself, stepping down into a maze of drainage canals that snake beneath the western San Gabriel Valley, a subterranean world spray-painted with the graffiti of gangs, hard rockers and teen-age lovers.

Down here everything seemed so muffled, he said, voices lost in the relentless pounding of tires on freeway girders overhead. Ba boom. Ba boom. Ba boom. "I hear those cars and trucks passing over and I wonder if he thought that was the sound of death," 20-year-old Craig said. "That's what bothers me the most, that he must have known death was coming."

Scott Martin, 17, died in Rubio Wash, in the bowels of the freeway, less than a mile from home. He had been shot seven times in the head by unknown assailants sometime between June 12 and June 15--the day his body was found by teen-agers walking along the concrete wash. He was wearing new white Reeboks--a gift from his brother--a nice gray sweater and a mouthful of braces. Drug paraphernalia had been strewn about his body.

If his appearance suggested a comfortable middle-class background, the manner and place of his death certainly hinted at something darker. Sheriff's homicide detectives are saying very little about the case, except to confirm that he had a drug problem.

But the Martins--fearing that investigators will write off Scott's murder as a drug deal gone awry--have visited and revisited the murder scene over the past three weeks, searching for clues and some assurance that he did not live his last moments in terror. They have left there with only questions, unsure why or exactly how a shy, troubled boy whose family escaped the barrios of East Los Angeles a decade ago could become ensnarled in a world of drugs and violence they thought they had left behind.

Before his death, Scott confided to friends that he had never felt a part of his family. He said they wanted him to be someone he wasn't. They excelled in sports and school and blended nicely into a neighborhood of Anglos. His parents were both Latino (the family name was once pronounced Mar- teen ), but he was the one who looked it. His skin was darker, he spoke in street slang and, although he was a natural athlete who stood 6 feet 3, sports did not stir him. Instead, he fell in with a group of Latino boys whose parents had also come to the suburbs seeking prosperity. Scott followed the example of these friends, "Disco Boys," who grew up in broken homes, dropped out of school and abused marijuana and cocaine.

Soon, the Martins were struggling to win the mind and spirit of a son who lied and stole from them to buy drugs. They attended counseling sessions and joined a parents' support group before becoming so frustrated that they kicked him out of the house and changed the locks. He moved in with his grandparents. A month later, he was dead.

"If you can reach one kid, if his parents will sit him down with the newspaper and he reads this and says, 'Hey, this can happen to me,' then that would make the whole thing worth it," said Ray Martin, 48, the father. "It's too late to help Scott. . . . Maybe you can help someone else."

Ray and Pat Martin left the impoverished barrios of East Los Angeles in 1977 for what they regarded as the promised land, a quiet neighborhood in the community of San Gabriel. Craig, their oldest, became a high school football star and later played at Glendale Community College. Carrie, 14, the youngest, was voted to the junior varsity cheerleading squad.

Ray, an estimator for a carton manufacturer, and Pat, a junior high school library clerk, spent much of their free time playing slow-pitch softball and coaching girls' and boys' baseball teams in the Rosemead Youth Assn. One year, Ray served as vice president, coach and umpire. Pat became treasurer of a local education foundation and a member of the junior high booster club.

They were, as more than one friend recently put it, the "perfect family." But beneath the burnished exterior--beyond the spacious two-story home with a swimming pool, the living-room case filled with sports trophies, the collection of exotic birds and groomed poodles--their lives were consumed with the private turmoil of a middle child on drugs.

The barrio, Pat Martin said, was never far behind.

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