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Family Mourns Hit-Run Victim

Accident: Three vehicles slam into an elderly man walking home from a Bible study class.

November 07, 2001|DAVID HALDANE and MAI TRAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Like clockwork, Refugio Martinez left his Bible study class about 8:30 p.m. and began the two-block walk to his Fullerton apartment, a stroll he had taken each Monday for the last two years.

But as he crossed Orangethorpe Avenue dressed in his good gray suit, the 72-year-old man was hit in rapid succession by three cars that tossed him across the busy road. None of the drivers stopped, outraging police who have opened a criminal investigation.

None of the drivers was there to see Martinez's favorite Bible land next to him on the pavement or see his wife race up in a vain attempt to say a last goodbye.

"This is very, very disturbing," said Fullerton Police Sgt. Joe Klein. "You have an elderly man, a senior citizen, walking home in his own neighborhood struck by three vehicles and nobody stops. This is a horrible thing. As a motorist you have an obligation to stop if you hit anything, even a rock in the road."

The accident occurred as Martinez crossed south on Orangethorpe near Woodcrest Park between Ray and Richmond avenues. There was no crosswalk at the intersection, but police said he was legally allowed to cross there. Witnesses told police that a Toyota Corolla was the first to hit him. The impact sent Martinez into opposing lanes, where two other cars struck him. He was dragged 50 yards.

About 15 minutes later, the driver of the Toyota returned, indicating that "he thought he had hit something, wasn't certain, got home, thought he should do something and came back to the scene," Klein said.

Police interviewed the man, impounded his car as evidence and are seeking the other two drivers. He was not arrested pending the outcome of the investigation.

"This is a serious felony," Klein said. "We could have a manslaughter case. We don't know if his life could have been saved."

At Martinez's two-bedroom apartment Tuesday, about a dozen relatives prayed, cried and offered condolences to his wife of 49 years.

"I feel really bad," said Francesca Martinez, 68, who said she learned of the accident almost immediately from a member of her husband's Bible study class and got to the scene while his body still lay on the pavement.

"I wanted to run to him and say goodbye for the last time," she said, "but the police wouldn't let me. I didn't get to say goodbye in person, so now it will only be through pictures."

Relatives described Martinez as a retired handyman who rose every morning at 5:30 to collect cans in the neighborhood. He earned about $70 a week, which he shared with his seven grown children, 30 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. Whatever money was left, they said, he spent on parts for the bicycles he loved to build and ride.

"He loved to pull them apart for fun," said his grandson, Margarito Hernandez, 17.

His other passion was attending the Bible classes.

Martinez's wife said she holds no ill will toward those who hit her husband, but she wishes they had done more.

"Someone should have stopped and helped him out," his wife said. "Whoever's responsible, it's OK. I'm not angry, because it won't bring him back."

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