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Essential California: The life and death of DJ V-Funk

A man DJing
Victor “DJ V-Funk” Martinez of Porterville, Calif.
(Courtesy of Emelina Martinez)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Dec. 17, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

Tuesday was the deadliest day of the pandemic in California thus far, with 295 COVID-19 deaths, or roughly 12 Californians dying ever hour. More than 21,000 Californians have now died from COVID-19 or related complications.

This morning, I’d like to spend a little time talking about one of those Californians, and the people he left behind.

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By day, Victor Martinez, 36, worked as an environmental supervisor at a state residential facility for developmentally disabled adults, overseeing custodial staff. But his true passion was music.

For more than a decade, he performed as a DJ in and around his hometown of Porterville under the name “DJ V-Funk.” Martinez knew instinctively how to read a crowd, and what to play to get them dancing, according to his wife Emelina Martinez.

His DJ sets provided the soundtrack at countless San Joaquin Valley quinceañeras, weddings and birthday parties. It was a business, but he insisted on playing certain events for free, like school fundraisers or a party to raise money for a community member’s kidney transplant.

His turntable skills changed the course of his life more than 15 years ago, when his not-yet wife was looking for a DJ to play her upcoming birthday party. He got the gig. And within a few months, he also got the girl. His life further bloomed as a devoted father to their son Adriel, now 14, and 5-year-old daughter Ambrielle.

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When Adriel marched in his first Veterans Day parade with the school band, his father walked alongside so he could take pictures the whole way. Martinez never wanted to miss a moment of his children’s lives — not a ballet class or a soccer practice or a Little League game. If something conflicted with work, he would try to go on his lunch break.

It wasn’t just his own children that Martinez doted on. “He wanted to be everyone’s father,” according to his wife. Martinez played Santa Claus at Boys & Girls Club holiday parties, led camping trips for at-risk youth and pushed friends and family to strive for their personal goals.

He and his wife experienced an “instant” connection when they first met. Both of their lives had been profoundly shaped by violent tragedy. But in the long shadow of senseless acts, each found a soul mate who could grasp what the other had been through.

“He understood my pain and I understood his,” said Emelina Martinez, who lost a brother in a shooting before meeting her husband.

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Victor Martinez’s mother and sister were murdered in the family home when he was 13. As a teenager, he was put on the witness stand multiple times to testify against the killer, and later given an award by the Tulare County district attorney’s office for the “exceptional courage” he showed in bringing the assailant to justice.

Others might have wilted under the weight of such grief. But Martinez knew what he wanted: to build something new with Emelina, and create a shelter of love and stability for their children. And that’s exactly what he did.

“He really, really took care of us,” Emelina said. Her husband was cautious at times, particularly as the pandemic bore down around them. He made sure his family had hand sanitizer, gloves and masks, and took care to wipe down the inside of their cars before they got in.

A Martinez family photo
Victor Martinez, his wife Emelina and their children, Ambrielle and Adriel.
(Courtesy of Emelina Martinez)
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But the virus still found him in mid-July. His wife believes Martinez contracted COVID-19 at work, because his job at the Porterville Developmental Center required him to enter units with COVID-19 patients to ensure they were being cleaned properly. Emelina still works as a psychiatric nurse at the same facility, which was reactivated this week as a temporary surge field hospital.

Martinez died at Bakersfield Adventist Health Hospital on Aug. 27, after battling COVID-19 for a month.

[See also: “The pandemic’s toll: Lives lost in California” from the Los Angeles Times]

Back in 2005, Martinez and his wife had eloped, eager to start their lives together. But as they approached their 15th anniversary, the couple wanted to do it again “the right way,” with a church wedding and Emelina’s father walking her down the aisle.

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By the summer, they had decided to postpone their fall wedding until after COVID, but the bulk of the planning was done. They had looked at rings and carefully chosen the tannish-brown suit that Adriel would wear as a groomsman, along with the princess-like dress that Ambrielle would don for flower girl duties. Emelina had found the perfect white dress at a friend’s bridal boutique.

Before Martinez’s funeral, she went ahead and put the dress on. “I asked my dad, ‘Can you still give me away, Daddy?” she recalled. Her father said yes.

Wearing a lace-covered, strapless wedding gown, Emelina walked down the aisle of the Porterville Funeral and Cremation Center on her father’s arm, toward the box where her husband lay.

“More than Words” by Extreme and “Amber” by 311 — the songs Martinez had picked out for a very different version of this same moment — played as his wife and father-in-law made their way toward him.

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It was a world away from the day Victor and Emelina had wanted or planned. But she was still going to wear the dress for her groom, and pledge her love one last time.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

What was your most indelible memory of 2020? Tell us about it, and we’ll share some of the responses before the end of the year. Los Angeles Times

Beds filling halls. Agonizing ER waits. Burned-out staff. Inside overloaded California hospitals: In the last week, the state has averaged more than 32,000 coronavirus cases each day, an increase of 129% from two weeks ago. Those cases are contributing to higher hospitalization rates than at any other point during the pandemic. Los Angeles Times

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[See also: “Facing ‘a grim set of weeks,’ California opens COVID field hospitals across the state” in the Los Angeles Times]

How toxic fumes seep into the air you breathe on planes: A Times investigation found that vapors from heated jet engine oil leak into planes with alarming frequency across all airlines, sickening passengers and crew. Los Angeles Times

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.

L.A. STORIES

With Transportation secretary off the table, the waiting game continues for Mayor Eric Garcetti. Garcetti, whose term ends in 2022, has yet to be tapped for a Biden administration post, but he hasn’t ruled out the possibility that he might be. Los Angeles Times

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CAA signed an agreement with the Writers Guild of America, bringing the industry closer to settling a longstanding dispute over practices deemed harmful to writers. Los Angeles Times

[See also: “Why agents are becoming managers as WGA fight drags on” in the Los Angeles Times]

Support our journalism

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

After months of impasse, House and Senate leaders were on the brink of announcing an economic aid package of about $900 billion, which is expected to add $300 a week to state compensation for the unemployed and provide a one-time direct payment of at least $600 for most Americans. Los Angeles Times

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The Trump administration said that it would withhold $200 million in federal healthcare funding from California because the state requires that insurance providers cover abortions, escalating a highly politicized battle just weeks before President Trump leaves office. San Francisco Chronicle

Southern California cities consider renewed “hero pay” for grocery store workers amid the COVID-19 surge: The Long Beach City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to draft an urgent ordinance mandating an extra $4 an hour for grocery store workers for at least the next 120 days, and Los Angeles is exploring a similar measure. Los Angeles Times

HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

The ICU capacity in the Bay Area on Wednesday fell below 15% for the first time, triggering state rules that will place every county in the region under a stay-at-home order. Quite a few Bay Area counties had already voluntarily issued similar rules. Mercury News

A Christmas singalong organized by Kirk Cameron drew hundreds of mostly maskless people — and criticism. The “Growing Pains” actor organized and promoted the Thousand Oaks event on Instagram, drawing rebukes from many for potentially spreading the coronavirus during a perilous surge. Los Angeles Times

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CALIFORNIA CULTURE

$750 to Zoom with Santa? How COVID changed the business of playing St. Nick. Los Angeles Times

Ed Taylor has found a lucrative business as a virtual Santa on Zoom and FaceTime.
(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

California population growth hits record lows: COVID-19 has further restrained record-low population growth in California as more people moved away and pandemic restrictions slowed migration into the state, according to data released Wednesday. Los Angeles Times

A poem to start your Thursday: “What the Living Do” by Marie Howe. Poets.org

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Free online games

Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at latimes.com/games.

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: sunny, 64. San Diego: partly sunny, 64. San Francisco: partly sunny, 57. San Jose: maybe rain, 57. Fresno: probably rain, 57. Sacramento: partly sunny, 57. More weather is here.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory comes from Ed Heidt:

I remember when I was doing my doctorate in Los Angeles at USC and I was so busy with my studies that I forgot about the Oscars, which were held in 1988 at the Shrine Auditorium right across the street from the parking lot where I parked every day. On the day after the Oscars, I drove to school as usual and when I turned down Royal Street, it was littered with all sorts of debris. I pulled up to the lot attendant’s kiosk and asked, “What happened here?” He said, “The Oscars were here yesterday.” As an avid fan of movies and the Oscars, I realized that I was studying too much!

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If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.


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