By: Jorge Villalobos
EL CENTRO – On the evening of Saturday, January 22nd Holtville lost an influential community member when a 2010 Chevy truck struck the passenger side of a 2000 Hyundai on Highway 7 at the Heber Intersection. That evening three people would be involved in the collision but only two would survive. Juan Arroyo, 45, the driver of the Hyundai vehicle which was travelling Northbound on Hwy 7 and Dustin Nelson, 28, who drove the Chevy Westbound on Heber road. Marta Arroyo, 44, was the passenger in the Hyundai, was killed on impact from blunt-force trauma to the body.
Juan Arroyo recalls the moment’s right after the impact “I looked over and she was leaning on me, I called her name and she wouldn’t answer.” Arroyo then got out of his vehicle and went around to the passenger door yanking it open. After calling her name a few times he would come to the realization that Marta was gone. “So I pulled away from the car and I just started to ask god not to take her,” struggled Arroyo as he tries to reconcile with her death. “He knows why and I don’t understand it but I will understand one day why he took her.”
Juan and Marta met when they were in Middle School; Juan was in eighth grade while Marta was in seventh grade. “We were just friends, but I always liked her ever since I saw her,” Juan reminisces. There was a year of separation when Juan moved up to the ninth grade and started to attend the Holtville High School, they still managed to talk on the bus to and from school since they lived in the same general area. “When I was in the tenth grade and she was in the ninth grade, she was my girlfriend,” smiles Juan. Juan and Marta got married in November 17, 1989 in Holtville.
Holtville has become not only the home of Juan and Marta, but the home of their kids: Juan Arroyo, Jose Arroyo, Cesar Arroyo and Yessenia Arroyo. They were all raised in Holtville; they even bought a house next to their parents to be close to them. It would be within their kids where a tradition would be born amongst the Arroyos, the tradition of soccer.
Soccer has always played a big role in Juan’s life, this is something he taught his own kids when they were young. “I coached for most of their lives, when they were six or seven years old,” explained Juan. Up until High School, when his eldest was in the tenth grade there was a vacancy for a boy’s varsity coach. “I applied and got the coaching job,” smiles Juan proudly. It wouldn’t be long before Marta would follow suit.
One day while Juan was coaching a game, Marta could be heard from the stands “Juan move your defense up! Juan you gotta do this!” This caught the attention of Superintendent Vega who was next to Juan at the game. “Who’s that lady?” Vega asked Juan. “It’s my wife,” replied Juan with a chuckle. Vega told Juan that they were starting the girl’s soccer program at the High School and that he’d love for her to be a part of it. The program as Juan states was started by the works of Mr. Avila and Marta, though she was new to the High School level of soccer. Marta had been the president for the Holtville Youth League which ran for about ten years.
Marta coached the Girl’s Varsity soccer team for ten years, forming a loving and caring relationship with her girls. Always giving any girl who showed up a chance to learn and play. Under her wings, her girls would become CIF contenders, year and year. “She read a lot of books and videos, she took everything so serious,” explained Juan about Marta when she began. During her time at the High School level, Marta also coached at the Middle School. She coached the Middle School team to two championships. “Being a woman where men are supposed to dominate the coaching, she was something else,” smiled Juan.
During a faithful game at Southwest, Chad Van Acker who was still new to Holtville High School had decided to attend. In his sleeping bag and beanie he watched on from the stands, despite the freezing weather. But he sat and looked on as the only supporter that evening, he would receive a very warm gesture from Marta and her girls. “Marta had the entire team say thank you to me, from the field,” explained Van Acker from his first experience with Marta.
When Mr. Avila stepped down from his Varsity coaching position to pursue a science teaching position at the Middle School, Marta would take his place. This left a vacant coaching job for the Junior Varsity girls team. “The girls that I had gone to go watch, the previous year came up to me at school one day as a group and one of them had to have the courage to talk to me,” explained Van Acker. The group of girls walked up to Van Acker, with their heads down and unsure about what they were about to ask. It was either Melissa Martinez or Yahaira Estrada that explained the situation to Van Acker. Despite having no intentions of coaching soccer, Van Acker told them that he needed the weekend to think about it. Having his coaching aspirations focused on Track and Field, Van Acker agreed to coach junior varsity soccer.
He would be taken in by not only the girls but by Juan and Marta who included him in Head Coaches meetings. Marta would work with Van Acker as he stepped into the unfamiliar, he would learn commands in Spanish so that his girls would better understand him. “It just felt like basically, I was becoming a part of the team.” Over the years, they would become good friends, bouncing soccer drill and strategies off of one another.
On Saturday, January 22nd Van Acker received a phone call from Alma Godwin. “Have you heard?” she asked. Van Acker had no idea of what had happened, though after being told he went on facebook to talk to some of the Arroyo’s family members to confirm it. Mr. Pechtel contacted Van Acker 20 minutes after to further confirm Marta’s fate.
“I spent most of the weekend communicating with past soccer players who were calling me to confirm whether or not it had actually happened,” explained Van Acker. “Because of those conversations I was able to somewhat react too and begin grieving her death. So I thought that when I was coming into school on Monday that I was going to be alright,” stated Van Acker. “As I turned the corner on to Melon and caught my first glimpse of the soccer field, I just lost it, it hit me.” Van Acker saw Marta not only as a friend but a mentor during the soccer season. “Soccer is not going to be the same.”
“It’s incredible how many people went out to her funeral,” said Juan. “I was told from Sadie Rubin, a Pioneer from Holtville that in her life, in Holtville she’s never been to a funeral with so much people.” Members from the California Highway Patrol came on Juan Arroyo jr’s behalf as the and the Border Patrol came on behalf of Cesar Arroyo.
Juan admits that his kids are the pillar of strength for him, as much as he wants to be strong, he relies on his children who are also hurting. “I haven’t been there for them,” Juan tears up. “I need to get stronger I need to be there for them now.” “I really want to thank the people from the whole Valley, people from the whole Valley came and supported us,” Juan struggled to say as his daughter, Yessenia held his arm.
“When something like this happens and I didn’t expect so much support from so many people, that’s why I love Holtville,” struggled Juan. “I didn’t expect something like this to happen to me and it did. Holtville was there for me, as a town as a community.” “She was an angel, a really special woman, I’m going to miss her but I know she’s here.”