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Alcohol Suspected in Crash That Killed Tewa Storyteller

By Martin Salazar
Journal Northern Bureau
    SANTA FE— Española police suspect alcohol was a factor in the Saturday night crash that claimed the life of renowned Tewa storyteller Esther Martinez.
    "We believe this is going to be a DWI," said Española City Manager Chris Rainwater.
    But charges have not been filed against the 44-year-old Santa Fe man police say caused the collision as Martinez, 94, was on her way back from Washington, D.C., where she received a national award.
    She was just a few miles from home.
    Española city officials identified the at-fault driver as Jaime Martinez-Gonzales.
    The crash took place about 10:30 p.m. Saturday on Española's North McCurdy Road near Martinez Lane. Martinez-Gonzales was driving a 1994 Ford F-150 pickup.
    According to a police report, he first sideswiped a 2002 Toyota Camry, then crashed head-on into the 1997 Dodge Dakota in which Martinez was riding.
    Martinez was returning from accepting a National Heritage Fellowship in Washington, D.C. Her grandson told The Associated Press on Sunday that Martinez's daughter, Josephine Binford, was hospitalized with injuries but was expected to go home soon and that another daughter, Marie Sanchez, was recovering at home from two broken ribs.
    Rainwater said first responders detected a "very strong odor of alcohol" on Martinez-Gonzales and his vehicle.
    Martinez-Gonzales was airlifted to St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe, said city of Española spokeswoman Lesah Sedillo. Rainwater said Martinez-Gonzales suffered serious facial injuries and was undergoing surgery.
    St. Vincent spokesman Arturo Delgado said he could not release any information on Martinez-Gonzales. Authorities were awaiting a toxicology report and did not have a report on his blood alcohol content Monday afternoon.
    Sedillo said the driver of the Camry, who was alone, was not injured. She said Martinez-Gonzales had no passengers.
    Martinez was one of 12 folk and traditional artists honored last week after being named a National Heritage Fellow, the nation's highest honor for such artists.
    According to a news release, she received a standing ovation in Washington for her stories and life's work preserving her traditions and native Tewa language.
    Larry Phillips, who works in exhibitions and as a photographer at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, met her when he was growing up at Ohkay Owingeh.
    "I went to school with one of her sons," he said Monday. "They lived right past the Rio Grande. We used to walk over there and she'd cook for us."
    He remembers the warm tortillas and traditional foods of her kitchen.
    She was "very loving, caring— that type of person," he said.
    Her American Indian name was P'oe Tswa or Blue Water, but Phillips called her Aunt. He remembers sitting at her feet in her home as she told traditional Tewa stories with her quick sense of humor.
    David Cloutier, executive director of the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, called Martinez "irreplaceable" because of her vast knowledge of the Tewa language.
    "Even at an advanced age, it's a net loss not only for the native community, but for the world," he said.
    Martinez was born and raised in San Juan Pueblo, north of Española. The pueblo recently returned to using its traditional name of Ohkay Owingeh, which in the Tewa language means home of the strong people.
Her life
    Martinez received an honorary degree from Northern New Mexico College in May for her "significant contributions to the preservation of Tewa language and culture," according to the school's Web site. College President Jose Griego has said it was the first time the college has bestowed an honorary degree.
    According to the Web site:
    Martinez was born in 1912, attended Santa Fe Indian School and graduated from Albuquerque Indian School. She returned to her home and raised a family of 10 while working in Los Alamos and later at John F. Kennedy School.
    In the mid-1960s, she was hired to teach her native language at San Juan Day School and went on to become the school's director of bilingual education.
    Among her accomplishments was publishing "The San Juan Pueblo Tewa Dictionary," a children's storybook titled "The Naughty Little Rabbit and Old Man Coyote" and most recently "My Life in San Juan Pueblo: Stories of Esther Martinez."
    She was named Woman of the Year by the National Council of American Indians in 1997.
Journal staff writer Kathaleen Roberts contributed to this story.

E-MAIL writer Martin Salazar