Friday, September 14, 2012

South Carolina Troopers: Skydiving instructor hit by drunken driver - Air Force Academy graduate was hit by driver going wrong way on Interstate 77

Alan Martinez, right, and other members of Carolina Skydiving in Chester prepare for a jump. 
Chad Wilcox 

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Alan Martinez has jumped from airplanes more than 1,500 times, but it wasn't a fall from 14,000 feet that has him fighting for his life.

On Saturday morning, Martinez was driving up Interstate 77 from Columbia to his job at Skydive Carolina in Chester County.

Troopers said 46-year-old Santos Gomez of Hickory was going the wrong way on the interstate and hit Martinez near Blythewood. Troopers said Gomez was drunk and driving with alcohol open in his car.

"The first 24 hours was the hardest thing any of us has ever had to deal with," said Joey Coffineau, a fellow instructor at Skydive Carolina. "He's very, very skilled, one of the best instructors we've ever had out here."

Martinez, 31, had sent a text that morning, telling the crew at the Chester County airport that he'd be a few minutes late. They didn't hear from him again.

"Then an hour passed, then two hours passed, and we started calling. Calling the hospitals and then calling state troopers," said Doug Barron, another skydiving instructor and close friend.

They eventually learned Martinez had been in a crash.

Martinez attended the Air Force Academy and is now a law student at the University of South Carolina.

Friends told Channel 9 he'd study in Columbia during the week and drive up to Chester on the weekends to enjoy his passion.

"A lot of concern, everybody's praying for him," said Barron, who was also a flying partner for Martinez. When the instructors practiced aerial formations together, Barron was always next to Martinez.

"I trust him because there are lots of times that I need him to be there and he's always there for me," he said.

Now, people in two communities are there for Martinez. Fellow law students at USC have joined together to support him. Friends at Skydive Carolina have done the same, staying at his bedside at Palmetto Richland Hospital late into the night.

"It's been great to see all the support for him, and the people that are always there at the hospital," Coffineau said.

On Thursday afternoon, Barron told Channel 9 he'd just spoken to someone at the hospital's critical care unit and had heard Martinez was now breathing on his own.

"Every day he amazes us with his improvement, and the prognosis is getting better and better," Barron said.

The hospital still lists Martinez in critical condition.

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