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Moment of tragedy continues to reverberate for local family

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Posted on: March 15, 2014

BY ROSANNA LANDIS WEAVER — On the morning of January 13, Jose Martin Huaman headed to the bus stop shortly before 7 a.m. though the theater where he was employed didn’t open until 10 a.m.  It was his habit to leave early, since the several buses he took to work made for a complicated commute to Arundel Mills.  According to his family he often said,  ‘I would rather get to work early and wait than be late for work.”

But that morning he never made it to work: He was killed in a tragic accident, and his loss continues to torment his family.

The accident occurred at around 7:00 a.m., in the 4800 block of Rhode Island Avenue, just a few blocks from the 42nd place home where 23-year-old Huaman lived with his mother, stepfather and three sisters. An SUV hit ice, spun out of control and hit Huaman before crashing into a nearby building. The driver, who has not been charged, was treated for minor injuries at a local hospital and released. At this time, the family says, the collision remains under investigation.

It was a bitterly cold morning, cold enough to contribute to water main breaks and leaks that were originally considered to be a factor. But Prince George’s County Police Lt. Bill Alexander told the Washington Post late in January that the water main breaks were over 40 yards from the accident, and seemed unlikely to be the cause of the ice.

Nearly two months later, Jose’s mother, Maria Pezo, breaks down in tears as she tries to convey the wonderful person her son was and the magnitude of her grief. Pezo, who came to Hyattsville from Peru in 1996, cannot always find the words she wants in English. Her sister Nancy Abarra, a Hyattsville resident for 30 years, helps tell the story of the fateful day.

On the morning of the accident Pezo was at the Prince George’s Hospital Center, where she had spent the night with her daughter, Nancy.  Nancy Huaman, named after her aunt, suffers from lupus and had been hospitalized with a related illness. Two days earlier, the self-employed Pezos had been working at a construction site in West Virginia, when she received the call that her daughter had been admitted to the hospital.  Pezo rushed to the hospital, and spent the next two days there — without stopping at home — and grieves now that she did not see her son for the four days before his death.

As the only son, Jose was especially close to his mother. He would call her frequently, to let her know he was leaving from work, for example, or to check whether she had eaten lunch.  But she wasn’t concerned that she hadn’t heard from him that morning: other times when she’d spent the night at the hospital he would tell her, “I didn’t call because I didn’t want to disturb your rest.”

So that day she assumed he was at his work at the Cinemark Theater in Arundel Mills, where he had worked — helping to support his family — since graduating from Arundel High School in 2009.  At the hospital, Pezo and her daughter watched the television news of the accident near their home, with no thought that it might involve their family.

Meanwhile, the police had been knocking on the doors at the family’s home, which adjoins the parking lot of the Hyattsville Seventh Day Adventist church. When there was no answer, an officer talked to someone on the church property, saying only that there had been an accident and the police were trying to reach the family.

After a series of phone calls, Abarra reached her sister, and suggested that since she was at the hospital she should “go downstairs” to see what she could find out. The front desk referred Pezo to the emergency room waiting area. There, the doctors told the hysterical mother that they could not give her official news until another family member arrived to support her. Soon family arrived and the devastating news was delivered.

The next days were overwhelming, and the family was grateful for the support of their church. Joe Graves, a lay pastor there, tried to help the family negotiate the difficult and expensive logistics of the funeral and burial in a time of grief.

“The church was completely full that day” says Abarra of the January 20 memorial service. “In his short life he touched a lot of lives.”

Huaman’s bosses at the theater had asked to speak, and several Cinemark managers and employees offered a special tribute. He had recently been promoted to supervisor, a full-time position. He was working on getting his driver’s license and hoped to start college soon. He told his aunt, “I’m going to learn to be the best manager.”

Now his family must to learn how to get along without him, as best they can, and every day brings new adjustments and realizations.  Karen, the youngest daughter in the family, is a senior at Northwestern High School and had been looking forward to having her brother at graduation, and what she had anticipated as a celebration she now expects will be a sad day.

“Everyone in the family is suffering in their own way,” says Abarra.   “If we didn’t have our faith and didn’t have our church, I don’t know what we would do.”

In addition to dealing with grief, the family is dealing with the financial ramifications of not just the loss of a steady income,  but also the burden of the funeral expenses.  Graves noted that they had reached out to a number of organizations for help, but the family did not qualify for aid offered by various social service agencies.  Some offered benefits in such a situation when a spouse or child is left behind, but supporting his siblings did not meet those criteria, and others only offered benefits if the accident has been ruled a crime.

A fund has been established at the church and donations can be sent to the Hyattsville Seventh Day Adventist Church, 4905 42nd Place, Hyattsville, MD 20781, care of Pastor Graves, with a designation on the check for Huaman family.

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