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,
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
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
“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
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.