Melanie Cabrera knew something was wrong when she woke up Sunday morning and there was no text message on her phone from the man she was dating, Alex Martinez.
“He texted me every morning, ‘Good Morning,'” said Cabrera, 18, of Meriden.
So she hopped on Facebook and then she saw a post on his page – the first of hundreds to come – that said “He was a soldier.”
In the past tense.
Then another one popped up saying: “RIP Alex.”
It was a terrible way to learn a terrible thing. Cabrera tried to call Martinez on his cell phone, but it just rang and rang. And then, she heard on the TV news that Martinez, 20, had died in a car crash in Middletown overnight. “I was shocked,” she said. “I didn’t believe it.”
Cabrera is one of hundreds of people grappling with the death of the popular young Meriden man.
Martinez was the only fatality in that occurred at 2:25 a.m. Sunday morning on Route 17 in Middletown, when the Honda Civic he was riding in and a Ford F350 pickup truck collided as the Civic attempted to turn onto Highland Avenue. The driver of the Civic, Jedidiah Roesler, 22, of Meriden, along with two other passengers, and the driver of the truck, Stephen Tyrseck, 36, of Durham, were all taken to Hartford Hospital for non-life-threatening injuries, according to Middletown Police. Martinez was pronounced dead at the scene.
The group in the Civic was reportedly driving home from a party at a house in Middletown. Cabrera said Martinez texted her from the party at about 12:33 a.m. Sunday saying, "I just want to go home, but I didn't drive." She said she wishes he had left then.
Middletown Police said Sunday that it was still investigating which vehicle caused the crash, and Traffic Reconstruction Supervisor Sgt. Scott Aresco said Monday afternoon that the Department was not releasing any further information at this time.
In talking to friends and reading some of the hundreds of tributes on Martinez's Facebook wall from his nearly 900 friends, phrases like "he was the sweetest kid" and “there was not one bad bone in his body" are constant.
“He would just put a smile on everybody’s faces – he was just so goofy and loving,” said friend Gaby Veguilla, who graduated from Platt High School a year ahead of Martinez. “Everybody who knew him just loved him – you just can’t explain it.”
Alexander "Alex" Martinez was born in Paterson, NJ to Rosa and Ricardo Martinez on July 12, 1991, according to Cabrera. She talked to Meriden Patch from the Martinez's house, and asked that the reporter not call his parents, saying that they were already fielding a constant stream of stressful phone calls.
The family moved to Meriden when Alex was 8 months old. He attended John Barry Elementary School, then Thomas Edison Middle School, and finally Platt High School, graduating in 2009.
This summer he was working for the Cheshire trucking company Central Transport Int., Cabrera said, and had just transferred to Middlesex Community College in Middletown from Gateway Community College in New Haven to study Business Management. He lived with his parents.
Business may have been his major, but Martinez's real passion was for anything with wheels and gears - friends called him a car and bicycle enthusiast. Replicas of both and scented car fresheners have been placed by mourners , along with flowers and other items, in the last two days.
Ryan McElroy of Meriden said he and Martinez became fast friends because of their shared love of cars after meeting at a local Burger King restaurant. "He was a good kid," McElroy said by phone Monday from Florida. He and girlfriend Veguilla are on vacation there.
The two, along with Carlos Kay, have planned a car and bike show in Martinez's memory for Saturday, August 6* from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. in Hubbard Park. They posted the event on Facebook Monday morning and as of 11:26 p.m. Monday, 298 people said they would attend and bring their own cars, trucks, bikes and motorcycles. McElroy posted asking everyone who is coming to wear "a white tee" or "some red" – because Martinez always wore these items.
Volunteers plan to donate food and sell t-shirts, bracelets and other items with all proceeds going to the Martinez family for funeral costs and other expenses. One of those other expenses, according to McElroy, is a Volkswagon that Martinez had recently purchased.
The 20-year-old's other favorite pastime, aside from attending car shows and hanging out with friends at barbecues and get-togethers, according to friends, was stunt biking. He was a daily presence at the skate park across from Platt High School. A photo above shows him on his bike, soaring above a ramp in the park.
Cabrera stayed in Martinez's room Sunday night, and spent Monday at his house with his family, as relatives and friends poured in and out and phoned. She had difficulty – as did many of his friends – speaking about Martinez in the past tense.
"He’s so much fun...I stress a lot – he’s always telling me to cheer up and it always worked," she said. "If I was not around him I was in a bad mood, until I saw him."
The wake for Martinez will be held Thursday from 5-8 p.m. at Flatow Funeral Home, 48 Cook Ave in Meriden. His funeral will be held Friday at St. Rose Church, 35 Center St. at 10 a.m.
"Alex was a great Guy. There is absolutely no bad quality about him. His wit, sense of humor and kind heart made him the big brother of Meriden teens alike," Nadia Sandoval commented on a story about the accident on . "We were great friends and I feel like everyone in Meriden lost a friend."
*The date of the show was changed from Aug. 7 to Aug. 6 because of a scheduling conflict at the venue.