Uriel Martinez, 22, was riding in the passenger seat of his friend’s car – an hour’s drive north of his hometown of Immokalee.
The Florida Highway Patrol reported that the vehicle was traveling north on Placid Lakes Boulevard in Highlands County when it veered off the roadway for an unknown reason and overturned.
Martinez died soon after the crash. The 16-year-old driver survived with critical injuries.
Three months later, the driver was in the crowd at Immokalee Technical College’s graduation. He cried beside the sobbing Martinez parents, as a person who looked just like Uriel walked across the stage in his place.
It was his twin brother, Alexis.
“I know he would take this as a big accomplishment because he thought college wasn’t for him, but he was always trying to do something better for himself," Alexis said. "I know he would’ve wanted to walk, and I know that he would want to be here and want to take pictures with my family and the people here who supported him.”
One of those longtime supporters was business instructor Ronnie Campbell, who taught Uriel’s program and, before that, had been a substitute teacher at Immokalee High School when the brothers went there.
“Most of the time, (he) was a quiet student, did his work and was on task most of the time," Campbell said. "Always helping out his family, things that they had to do. So, there was times that he’d say, ‘You know, I’ve got to step away. I’ve got to go help my parents do this.’ So, he was very attached to his parents and his brother.”
Campbell, like much of the school’s faculty and students, was shocked when Uriel’s brother arrived at the graduation.
“When I walked in, it kind of, like, my heart dropped because, to me, I always confused them both in school.”
Alexis said, even he faced that problem.
“At first, when he passed," Alexis said, "I couldn’t look in the mirror because all I saw was him.”
The idea for Alexis to walk in his brother’s place came when iTECH called the family to ask who would be picking up Uriel’s accounting operations certificate. Alexis was there, and it dawned on him to act as he always did for his twin.
“Even though he was the first born, I took care of him,” Alexis said.
Alexis, who says he’s the more serious twin of the two, now says he’s working on being more like Uriel – goofy and always trying to make others smile.
“I’m trying not to be sad or mad at him because I feel like he left a..." Alexis paused, wiping away tears. "We were supposed to share a burden together, because we’re twins. But, I’m trying to push through it and learn how to be by myself.”