Petaluma ranch family mourns teen after ATV crash

The nightmare began early Saturday when the Martinez family was awakened by the bright lights and loud thumping of a CHP helicopter.

The extended clan of parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, uncles, aunts, nephews and nieces, whose family has lived and ranched on 42 acres on Petaluma Hill Road since the 1940s, were stunned out of their sleep to the terrible news that one of their own was badly hurt.

Andrew "AJ" Martinez. Jr., just 18, had somehow fallen off an ATV driven by a friend, suffering a head injury from which he would not recover. He was airlifted to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital but nothing could be done. He died Sunday.

Little is known of what happened that morning — the accident occurred after 2 a.m. — on the Martinez Ranch where AJ had lived his entire life. The family said they didn't know the girl who, the CHP said, was driving the ATV and was arrested after failing a sobriety test.

Because she is a minor, her name has not been released and the CHP has not said if other charges will be filed in the wake of Martinez's death. But for his bereaved family, there is no ill will. All they know is their baby is gone.

"It was an accident, just a terrible accident," said Martinez's father, Andrew Sr., who everybody calls Andy. "I have no hatred for her family. We are all suffering right now, them and us."

AJ Martinez was the youngest of Andy's seven children, many of whom still live and work on the family's ranch, which was purchased in 1945 by Andy's grandfather, Leo, a first-generation Spaniard. Today, the family continues to supply hay to area dairy farms.

They are a close-knit, welcoming group of people who are well-known in the farming and hunting community. The young Martinez, the family says, was the happiest and friendliest. A member of the Future Farmers of America, he showed sheep at the Sonoma County Fair, but it was his personality that resonated.

"He had just the warmest smile you could ever see on a person," said Brenda Martinez, 29, who helped raise her brother after their mother died of cancer in 2003. "If AJ was coming home and there was a group of people there, he would get out of his truck and come down and greet you with a smile and a handshake."

A recent graduate of Petaluma High School, Martinez worked on the ranch and had a full-time job for UPS that he started in December, a job his father said he had come to love.

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