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Wrestling Coach Accused of Causing Crash That Injured Santa Maria Boy Will Go to Trial

John Gilbert Martinez was under the influence of prescription pills and methamphetamine when he choked a teen driver, causing a rollover accident that seriously injured a 10-year-old passenger, a prosecutor said during a two-day preliminary hearing that ended Thursday.

Martinez, 57, of Guadalupe, faces seven charges, including five felonies, for allegedly causing the Oct. 19 crash on Thompson Road in Nipomo.

But Martinez’s attorney said Thursday that her client was trying to get the unlicensed teen to stop driving.

“He never wanted those kids to get hurt,” Angela Kowal said outside the San Luis Obispo courtroom. “He loves those kids.”

On Wednesday, the 16-year-old driver, referred to in court only as Anthony, testified that Martinez was his coach and family friend who often drove him to wrestling practice. On Oct. 19, he said, he saw Martinez take an unusual amount of pills before they picked up two other wrestlers — brothers identified as Jason, 13, and Elijah, 10, of Santa Maria.

Anthony testified that he suggested going to a hospital because of the large amount of pills Martinez had taken. Martinez refused, so Anthony insisted on driving the car.

After picking up the two younger boys, Martinez continued to ingest pills, Anthony said, so he again suggested going to a hospital. At one point, he said, Martinez got out of the car and the teen forced him into the back seat.

Martinez began to choke the driver while the car was moving at about 65 mph, Jason testified.

During the ensuing struggle, Anthony testified, Martinez knocked his hands from the steering wheel, causing the car to veer toward oncoming traffic. He over-corrected, and the car flipped and rolled several times. Elijah was thrown from the vehicle.

Elijah suffered a collapsed lung, broken pelvis and a severed hand that had to be surgically re-attached, Deputy District Attorney Lindsey Bittner said.

On Thursday, Neil Clayton, a detective with the District Attorney’s Office, testified that a bystander told him Anthony asked for a ride home after the accident. The bystander reported Anthony saying, “I killed my brother.”

Elijah was like a brother to him, Anthony testified, even if they weren’t related.

During the hearing, Kowal suggested Anthony should have called his mother to help with Martinez, rather than drive. Once he began driving, she told The Tribune after the hearing, her client tried to stop him.

“I know Johnny was trying to get him to pull over, and he would not,” Kowal said.

In court, Bittner said the defense was “shamelessly blaming a 16-year-old” who was trying to get his coach help.

Superior Court Judge Jacquelyn Duffy ruled there was enough evidence to pursue the charges filed. Martinez will appear in court again Dec. 30.

Elijah is still recovering from his injuries at a hospital in Los Angeles.

[Click here to read more from the San Luis Obispo Tribune]

— Patrick S Pemberton is a reporter with the San Luis Obispo Tribune. Contact him at [email protected]

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