Family and friends of Natalya Martinez are still finding ways to process what happened this weekend, but they were anything but speechless when it came to describing the 16-year-old, who died in a car wreck on Saturday.
“Everyone knew Natalya as this sassy diva, but she always wanted the best for everyone,” said her sister Marissa Navejar.
They described the Hermiston High School junior as an animal lover with a loud laugh and a passion for cheerleading and travel, who had dreams of becoming a nurse someday.
“She was a beautiful soul,” Marissa said. “She put all of her effort into school. She had a lot of plans.”
On Saturday, Martinez and her mother were traveling to Seattle to meet family to attend a KISS concert. Her mother, Dianna Navejar, said that she got a flat tire on I-5 near Olympia, and because the freeway was so busy, they decided to get the vehicle towed instead of changing the tire on the side of the road.
Dianna’s brother, David, and her son were in another car, and pulled over behind them to wait for the tow truck. The four were waiting in David’s car together.
“Next thing I know, they were waking me up, trying to wake up Tal,” Dianna said. She described the whole back side of the car, a Nissan Altima, slammed in, and glass everywhere.
According to Washington State Patrol and reports by The Olympian newspaper, a Ford Focus hit the Altima and rolled. The driver of the Focus, David Willis of Poulsbo, Washington, is the subject of a criminal investigation. Willis, 40, faces charges of vehicular homicide and reckless endangerment, and is suspected of being impaired, although state patrol did not release whether drugs or alcohol were involved.
An 8-year-old girl was in the car with Willis and was transported to the hospital for injuries. According to The Olympian, Dianna was also transported with injuries. The other two occupants of the vehicle, Dianna’s 14-year-old son and David, were not injured.
On Monday, Martinez’s family gathered at the home of her aunt, Sonia Nash. They laughed and teared up as they recalled things about Natalya.
“She had already named all her future cats and dogs,” Marissa said. “I feel like now I have to adopt all the animals she would have adopted.”
They said Martinez loved cheerleading, and though a concussion had sidelined her the previous season, she had planned to return to the sport this year.
Marissa said the family is close-knit, and Martinez had been eagerly anticipating becoming an aunt later this spring, buying clothes for her brother’s child.
“She said she was going to be the best aunty in the world,” her mom said.
She had also been looking forward to the KISS concert — which had become something of a tradition with her uncle David. He had taken her to see the band three times, and this time many family members were going.
“She was really excited — it was their last tour, and she was excited to have everyone together,” Marissa said.
Her grandmother, Josie Correa, said her granddaughter loved to tease people, but in good fun.
“She was always playing with me,” Correa said. “She was always giving me a hard time. I think it meant that she loved me.”
She loved photography and new places, and had plans to travel with her cousin this summer.
“Even when we were driving from Portland to Olympia, she was pointing out all the things she’d never seen before, places she wanted to come back to,” said Dianna.
“She was really good at being a girl,” Marissa said. “Hair, makeup, nails — I was always trying to get her to do mine. She would Facetime me after school to show me her makeup.”
In addition to Marissa, Martinez had two brothers, Jordan and Michael, her father, Mike, and several relatives and friends.
“We’ve been here our whole lives,” said Marissa. “It’s not just affecting people in Hermiston, but Stanfield, Pendleton, Tri-Cities.”
Correa said since Saturday, Martinez’s friends have sent them videos and photos of her.
“A lot of people cared about her — people we didn’t even know,” she said.
Marissa said a date has not yet been set, but they will have a service that will be open to all high school students or anyone who knew her.