Maria "Tess" Martinez, a former Tucson Weekly intern, died Monday, June 1, in a single-car accident in New Mexico. She was 25 years old.
Martinez was a student at the University of Arizona. In addition to interning and freelancing for the Weekly, she served as an intern at the Tucson Citizen and as an apprentice at La Estrella de Tucson. She also wrote for the Green Valley News and Sun, Inside Tucson Business and other publications. She was slated to be a metro intern at the Arizona Daily Star in the fall, according to the Star's Leslie Newell.
She worked as a server at several local eateries, including the Something Sweet Dessert Lounge.
She spent the summer of 2008 as one of 10 students in the Academy for Alternative Journalism (AAJ), a joint program of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (AAN) and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Chicago.
The AAN announcement of the 2008 AAJ class said of Tess: "At 19, Tess Martinez left her hometown of Tucson, Ariz., and headed to California, eventually settling in San Francisco. After a few years of goofing around in the Bay Area, she returned to Tucson and finished her studies in journalism at the University of Arizona. She works as a waitress at a sushi bar and enjoys tinkering with Volkswagens."
She was on her way to the Chicago area for the summer when the accident happened. Her Twitter page lists her last message—sent at 3:44 p.m., on Saturday, May 30—as: "driving to Chicago tonight."
Lt. John Stocum, of the Torrance County (New Mexico) Sheriff's Office, said that the accident happened between 2:45 and 3:15 p.m., Monday, June 1, on Interstate 40.
"For some unknown reason, her car (suddenly) left the road," he said.
The car rolled several times, and Martinez—who was not wearing a seat belt—was ejected from the vehicle, Stocum said. Her dog, Einstein, was in the car and survived, and remains in "safe keeping" in New Mexico, he added.
News of Martinez's death stunned her friends and colleagues.
"She just had this wonderfully infectious spirit," said Charles Whitaker, the director of the Academy of Alternative Journalism. "She was the person who pulled the group together and got them to start going out."
Whitaker called Martinez a "dogged reporter" who went the furthest among all of her AAJ classmates to get a story: For one of her AAJ pieces, she wrote about a "flophouse of a hotel" in a town outside of Chicago.
"She spent a lot of time out there and really got to know the people," Whitaker remembered.
Both Whitaker and Jim Nintzel—the Weekly's senior writer and an instructor in the UA School of Journalism—noted that Martinez had a bright journalism future ahead of her.
"Tess did things her way and was blessed with smarts, good instincts and a wonderful sense of humor," Nintzel said. "I've no doubt she would have gone on to great things had she not been taken from us so soon."
Martinez is survived by her mother, Doreen; her father, Joe; brothers Michael, Marc, Christopher, Anthony and Vinnie; and sisters Grace, Tatiana and Catalina.
Services for Martinez were held at St. Melany's Byzantine Catholic Church, 1212 N. Sahuara Ave., earlier this week. The family is collecting donations for Tess' services. Contributions can be made at the Bank of Tucson (4400 E. Broadway Blvd.), account no. 4038626; at Something Sweet Dessert Lounge (5319 E. Speedway Blvd., 881-7735); and at St. Melany's.