Students, alumni and staff at Maimonides Academy in West Hollywood rallied around their security guard, Juan Martinez, whose wife and two daughters were killed in a car accident allegedly caused by a drunk driver over Memorial Day weekend.
Lynzne Martinez, 30, and her daughters Brianna, 7, and Loryana, 2, died in the crash early Monday morning in Willowbrook. Juan, 28, suffered a broken leg. His year-old son, Aiden Cruz, was unharmed.
The family had spent the night at a friend’s house, not wanting to drive home the night before after having had a few drinks. The driver of a white Cadillac, who was allegedly on drugs and intoxicated, tried to flee the scene after he plowed into the Martinezs’ Chevy Tahoe, but he was stopped by witnesses, according to news reports.
By Wednesday afternoon, the school community had raised nearly $25,000 to help Martinez pay for expenses, according to Rabbi Aharon Wilk, principal of Maimonides, a preschool-8th grade Orthodox day school. Parents set up an online fundraiser at wepay.com, and others brought funds directly to the school. A parent who is a lawyer called to volunteer his services, families sent meals to the grieving relatives, and someone started a diaper and baby clothing collection.
“I told my brother the first day I saw him that I notified the school, and they called me right away and told me they had already started a fundraiser to help us,” said Ignacio Martinez, Juan’s brother, who also works as a security guard at Maimonides. “My brother, he felt loved. He felt that from the school and all the families.”
Three years ago, Juan’s infant son died from SIDS, and the school also supported the family then, Ignacio said.
Wilk said Juan and Ignacio – known by his nickname, Nacho – along with the rest of the security team, are part of the school family, setting a tone of warmth and welcome. Juan usually runs traffic at morning carpool, and he knows each kid by name and has inside jokes with many of them. Sometimes, Wilk said, Juan reminds boys to wear their yarmulkes.
“They are treated like heroes at our school, because they have shown over a number of years that they would do anything for our kids to keep them safe,” Wilk said.
Some students had already heard about the accident when they arrived back in school on Tuesday morning. Wilk and the school counselor visited each classroom in the 4th-8th grade to discuss the accident. Jewish Family Services’ Aleinu program briefed teachers on what to expect and how to handle questions, and then sent counselors to the school Wednesday to meet one-on-one with any kids that needed to talk.
Wilk said in every classroom he visited, the students had one question: “When can we see Juan?”
Kids prepared cards and letters to send with staff who visited Juan on Wednesday. Wilk and the school’s executive director, Rabbi Baruch Kupfer, were planning to visit on Thursday. The funerals for Juan’s wife and daughters were not yet scheduled.
“We just want to thank everyone who has been with us from day one,” Ignacio Martinez said. “We appreciate all the love and support.”
Click here to donate to the Martinez family.