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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.

"It was so hard to get him out of bed. You'd have to use a cattle prod," Andy said. "But since he's been at UPS, he would just jump up and go to work. He was really happy there."

But AJ, his family said, was most at home when he was playing with his nieces and nephews — he had nine — or at his favorite hobby, which was hunting. He was an expert, they said, no matter the prey.

"Whatever season was open, AJ was out there," said his sister Samantha Policarpo. "He loved to tell stories about it. And he could really tell a good story."

It was part of Martinez's character, they said, and his larger-than-life personality that he would try to make people laugh. Brenda, who lived on the ranch near her brother, remembers trying to sleep in one weekend morning just before the opening of duck season. Martinez was not only practicing his duck calls, but he was teaching her young daughters his technique, loudly.

"I had to get out of bed and tell him I was trying to sleep," she said, laughing at the memory. "He just flashed that goofy grin at me. It was hard to be mad at that kid, for too long anyway."

Still, they had no idea how many people's lives he had touched until his injuries landed him in the hospital. There has been a stream of visitors at the ranch, where many of Martinez's friends have stopped by to pay their respects or offer to help.

"So many of these kids came to see him, I couldn't believe it," Andy Martinez said. "One after another. They've kept coming over, too. The community has been so supportive. You just wish it didn't take something bad to realize how many people are there for you."

Andy Martinez said he was grateful for the care his son received at Santa Rosa's trauma center, including the nurse they said stayed with the family long after her shift had ended.

Andy Martinez smiles at this but it's only a moment before he drops his gaze downward and kicks at the dirt at his feet, raising a small dust cloud around the family's several small terrier dogs. One of the dogs, Pepper, belonged to AJ Martinez, and the family said, she has seemed a little lost.

They're all still in shock, Andy Martinez says, still trying to come to terms with their sudden, senseless loss. It helps that they are surrounded by family and friends, some of whom dropped everything to travel from as far away as Utah and Idaho to lend their support.

A celebration of AJ Martinez's life is scheduled for Saturday at Crane Melon Ranch. The event was organized by neighbors on Petaluma Road, Rick and Cindy Crane and their daughter Jennifer.

But perhaps the biggest comfort they said is that the family was able to donate some of AJ Martinez's organs. One kidney was sent to UC Davis, another, along with his spleen and liver, went to a hospital in Utah and his heart was on its way to a donor in San Diego.

"He had a brief life, but he lived it to the fullest," Andy Martinez said. "And he had a very big heart. Now it will live on. My boy will live on. I'm grateful for that. It's like he's not completely gone."

You can reach Staff Writer Elizabeth M. Cosin at 521-5276 or elizabeth.cosin@pressdemocrat.com.