ARLINGTON Some high school students trying to turn their lives around say they will be inspired to succeed by one who didn't make it.

Christian Martinez died in a hospital last Tuesday, nearly two weeks after the car crash that also killed three of his friends.

Martinez, 18, is leaving a legacy few could have expected especially him.

He desperately wanted to graduate from the Venture School, an alternative high school in Arlington. Students aren't sent here for mistakes; they choose to attend.

We had it all mapped out, said Sherry Feltner, a teacher, advisor and mentor to Martinez. He was going to graduate this year, and he would have been a success story. He would have been the perfect rags-to-riches example.

Christian Martinez was a kid surviving by his wits sometimes alone and homeless, even sleeping outside.

He just kept telling us, 'I'm used to freezing. I'm used to being cold. It's OK,' said Michael Gomez, who along with her daughter Corry took Martinez into their home last year.

The young man responded by throwing himself into school.

He was here every day. 'Got to get to school,' Corry remembered.

He worked a job that had hours of 10 to 6 in the morning, and came to school after that, said fellow student Makinna Tucker.

The one thing he told me over and over is that 'I'm going to graduate. I'm going to get my diploma,' Feltner remembered.

Martinez was in the back seat of a car that slammed into a tree on October 10. Twin brothers Michael and Stephen Eckel died that night, along with 19-year-old Danielle Ruthstrom.

Another boy survived, and it looked like Martinez would, too. He was responding to visitors in the intensive care unit.

I just told him to remember our deal... that he was going to graduate. And he squeezed my hand, Feltner said.

So the hospital's call to the school Tuesday came as a shock. Students and teachers had just hours to say goodbye.

We would hold his hand. Kiss his forehead. Tell him we loved him, Tucker said.

Venture students say the death of Christian Martinez has unified the school, as death often does. But this young man left another unlikely legacy for a kid who could have been a throw-away.

Everyone is pushing to graduate now, because he really wanted that, Tucker said.


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