MECCA, Calif. - Family, friends and students gathered at Saul Martinez Elementary School in Mecca Friday morning to remember the life of fallen California Highway Patrol Officer, Saul Martinez, who died in the lined of duty 20 years ago.
The morning started with a 5K run, followed by a lunch and helicopter display in honor of Martinez's life. His widow, Remedios Martinez, his son, Saul Martinez Jr., and CHP partner, Donovan Rice talked to News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2's Lauren Coronado.
"It's an honor to be here with the school and the kids and the community to celebrate this big day. Twenty years, it's a long time, but (I'm) grateful," Remedios Martinez said.
Rice says he thinks of Martinez everyday.
"When I get up in the morning, I say, 'Thank you God for giving me another day, and thank you, Saul for giving me the rest of my life," Rice said.
On May 8, 1997, Martinez and Rice made a traffic stop, when another car barreled toward them. Martinez pushed his partner out of the way and was struck by the car. The accident left Martinez critically injured.
"That morning when I was discharged from the hospital, Captain John Benoit, who everyone knows has passed, asked, 'Donovan how are you doing? I said, 'I'm doing fine', and I asked, 'How's Saul? Does he have brain activity?' and he said, 'No'. I cried my eyes out and I knew what was going to happen. They would take him off life support and that would be the end of Saul," Rice said.
The 39-year-old officer died nearly a week later in the hospital.
"I woke up to the yell of my mother's scream. So if you can imagine being in your room being woken by that noise. It's a sound that still haunts me to this day. It's one of those things, I can never forget his memory, I will never forget his memory, but knowing who he was, knowing the impact that he did serves as a motivator for me as who I want to be, who I strive to be, who I emulate," Saul Martinez Jr. said.
According to Martinez's family, Saul Martinez came to the U.S as an immigrant, whose parents were farm workers. He joined the United Farm Workers Union and worked as an organizer with Cesar Chavez in Coachella and Mecca. Ten years later, he became a CHP officer in Indio. He strived to give back to the community and hosted his own radio station to educate people in the Valley about current laws and regulations, always offering help and support to the farm working community.
Misdemeanor manslaughter charges were filed against the driver who was accused of hit and killing Martinez.