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Man who shot self was a Marine, father

The family of Robert Martinez, the 37-year-old Grass Valley man killed playing with a gun, says he was a sensitive and troubled man, tormented by physical pain, alcoholism, depression and plain bad luck.

“He was the most tenderhearted boy,” his grandmother Helen Goldwater said Wednesday. “Even though he had a horrible life, he was never hardened. People liked him.”

His mother Cheryl Pell said Martinez got a bad start in life. She gave birth to him when she was young, and she said his stepfather was physically abusive with him from the beginning. He also gave Martinez recreational drugs at a young age.



“I was so screwed up then,” Pell said Wednesday. “(Martinez) was abused by my ex-husband but Rob has always been a good person.”

Martinez’s grandparents Irv and Helen Goldwater decided it would be best to let Martinez live with them in Grass Valley when Martinez was 16 years old.




“He came to us with a drug problem,” Helen Goldwater said, her voice cracking. “It was so hard for him to adjust to a different life.”

She disliked Martinez’s taste for horror movies and ’70s rock and roll music, so she convinced him to sample her Frank Sinatra records and old black-and-white movies.

“From then on he was a Frank Sinatra fan,” Goldwater said. “He was his idol. He had pictures of him and imitated him.”

Martinez graduated from Sierra Mountain High School, and things were looking up. He got married and had a son with his new wife.

Martinez’s grandfather, who had served in the military when he was younger, convinced Martinez to enlist with the Marines.

Pell said her son did not take well to the military and was honorably discharged after serving a couple of years.

“It was hard on him,” Pell said. “A lot of his friends were serving in Iraq.”

Shortly after his discharge, Martinez’s second round of misfortune hit. He was involved in a severe head-on collision on Highway 20 that nearly killed him.

“He had to be airlifted with massive internal injuries,” Goldwater said.

His foot was hanging from his foot by a vein, but doctors saved it. They also removed his spleen and inserted metal rods into his broken legs. Martinez was 21 years old.

“He’s never been the same since the accident,” Goldwater said.

Martinez’s addictions to drugs and alcohol consumed his life, family members said.

He worked at SPD Market in Grass Valley for a while, where he worked hard and was well-liked, but Goldwater said she had to tell him he was not welcome in her home as long as he was doing drugs.

“That was so hard for me to tell him,” she said Wednesday. “Tough love is much harder than the other kind.”

Martinez began camping in woods surrounding Grass Valley. Every once in a while, he would call Goldwater and she would bring him food.

“He was always in pain with those metal rods in his legs,” she said. “The wintertime is when I would think of him the most. The cold makes the pain worse.”

She said Martinez tried several times to overcome his addictions.

“He tried to stop many times,” she said. “He try to go to church and straighten out his life. He had that sensitivity toward God.”

She said his addiction became stronger than his desire to stop.

Martinez had many friends, she said, including Ken Jones, the man who was with Martinez when he did Saturday night.

Jones did not return a phone call from The Union Wednesday.

Goldwater and Martinez’s wife, Yvonne Martinez, both say Jones was a good friend to Martinez, paying him for odd jobs around the apartment complex on the 300 block of Bennett Street where he lived.

Police investigators say examination of evidence at the scene indicates the men were playing a game with the gun, and there was one round loaded into the chamber of the revolver Martinez was shot with.

“Ken was not playing Russian Roulette with Rob,” Martinez said Wednesday from her home in Sacramento. “He was looking at his computer when he heard the shot.”

She said the men had been drinking heavily Saturday and shooting guns in the woods. When they returned to Jones’ apartment later that night, the drinking resumed and Martinez asked too look at Jones’ gun, she said.

She worries that a bullet was accidentally left in the gun and Martinez pulled the trigger believing the gun was empty; but she also worries that Martinez did know there was a bullet in the gun and he was depressed.

“You know how it is when you’re drinking,” she said. “Sometimes your emotions take over and that could have been an issue. That could have triggered it.”

A memorial service for Robert Martinez will be held at 1 p.m. May 1 at Calvary Bible Church, 11481 highway 174 in Grass Valley.

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To contact staff writer Robyn Moormeister, e-mail robynm@theunion.com or call 477-4236.


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