Former Latino student leader killed in wrong-way crash
By Kevin Milliken for La Prensa
Toledo, Dec. 25, 2012: Alcohol may be to blame for a wrong-way crash early Christmas day that resulted in the untimely death of a former Waite High School senior class president.
26-year old Juan José García Jr. was killed when a man who worked at the Hollywood Casino Toledo drove the wrong way on I-75. García was on his way home from a midnight Mass in Michigan when the head-on crash happened between the I-280 interchange and the Ottawa River Rd. exit.
According to Toledo police, 41-year-old Adam Tunison of LaSalle, Mich., was driving north in the southbound lanes of I-75 at about 3 a.m. Christmas morning, when he struck García’s vehicle. García was pronounced dead at the scene and Tunison was taken to St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center. As of press time, Tunison was still in the hospital and no charges have been filed.
According to a police accident report, “alcohol is being considered a factor with the investigation continuing.” Toledo police are awaiting toxicology reports before filing formal charges. The report indicates García’s vehicle spun around and struck a guardrail after the head-on crash.
More than 200 people attended a funeral Mass Saturday morning at Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in the Old South End. Fr. Juan Francisco Molina gave comforting words to the family, friends, and former classmates of García. While his mother clutched a framed photo of her son, García’s sister tightly held a stuffed panda bear.
“He was a joyful young man. He was a good young man,” said Fr. Molina. “It’s hard to say goodbye for his mijos and mijas. Juan José was an extraordinary friend. He chose life, but an intensive life.”
A lone guitarist frequently played refrains during the funeral service, singing in Spanish in tribute to the García family’s Mexican heritage. The family moved to Toledo in the mid-1990s when the younger García was just ten years old. He was born in León, Guanajuato, México. Speakers went back and forth between English and Spanish during the funeral Mass.
García graduated from Waite in 2004, where he was a member of the track team, French Club, and Spanish Club. He later attended Owens Community College and spent the past six years working as a bartender at Zia’s Italian Restaurant.
Ironically, García died on what family and friends called his favorite holiday: Christmas. He had just obtained a new apartment in North Toledo and intended to have his family over for a holiday dinner that night.
“Love your brothers and sisters. Love them with all your heart,” Fr. Molina told the funeral gathering. “Because this is a short life—they’re all a gift from God.”
Retired Waite High School teacher Mary Morales remembered Juan José García as more than just one of her many math students.
“He was an outstanding student. He was always willing to help other students and teachers,” she said. “He was always helpful and volunteered a lot. As senior class president, he led the students in volunteer projects such as Christmas baskets.”
Ms. Morales recalled expressing shock and dismay when she first heard about the fatal wrong-way crash and learned her former student was killed.
“He was a good person. That’s what bothered me when I heard about the accident. Of all people it was him, because he was just an all-around good person,” she said. “His fellow students had to vote him as senior class president, so a lot of students liked him as a leader and he was a good leader.”
Current Waite High School Spanish teacher Josh Flores also served as the advisor of the Spanish Club, to which the young García belonged. Flores attended visitation and talked with the crash victim’s family.
“He was a good kid from a good family,” Flores said by phone. “Juan always exhibited a positive attitude which truly reflected the way his family was as a whole.”
As Spanish Club advisor, Flores is well-known for taking Latino students under his wing and mentoring them. As such, García’s younger sister became very active in the club—but Flores admitted her brother was a self-starter who didn’t need much help or even encouragement.
“The kid just went out and did what he set out and was meant to do. He didn’t need a whole lot of prodding. He just was self-motivated,” said Flores. “I was close to his younger sister. It’s just an overall tragedy. It’s horrible.”
According to Tunison’s LinkedIn page, he had been working the past several months as a scene supervisor in the sports bar at Toledo’s Hollywood Casino. Ironically, that was one of García’s favorite places to hang out and play the slot machines.
Tunison’s LinkedIn profile also lists time as a manager at Pure Platinum, an adult nightclub in his hometown of San Diego. Tunison has worked in the bar and restaurant industry for two decades.
García is survived by his parents, Juan Sr. and María; brother José and sister Natalia. Memorial contributions in his memory may be directed to the Juan José García Jr. Memorial Fund, along with the donor’s name and address in care of Charter One Bank.