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Family photograph of (L-R) Martin Rios Jr., age 15, and his father Martin Rios, age 44, both from Concord, photographed on Thursday, May 10, 2007 in Concord.
Martin Rios' close-knit family members sat stunned Thursday, struggling to comprehend life after he, his son and two others died in a traffic accident in Mexico.

Rios' absence from a Concord apartment left a palpable silence, except for the tears of his wife of 19 years, Alicia Rios Hernandez.

"He was a very good father," Alicia Rios said in Spanish, fighting off sobs while family members soothed her continuously. Thursday was Mother's Day in Mexico. Rios, 44, and his son Martin Rios Hernandez, 15, both of Concord, died in the accident Tuesday along with his daughter's boyfriend, 19-year-old Raphael Mendoza Hernandez of San Leandro, and a nephew, Ignacio Ceja Guerra, 7 or 8.

Rios had set out Sunday for the 36-hour trip to his native state of Michoacán in central Mexico.

It was the first time he had traveled by car to his hometown of La Soledad, also known as La Chole. He planned to attend a traditional nine-day party there. He also planned to visit his elderly mother, Maria Rios Caribay, and arrange for her to have a Mother's Day mariachi serenade.

According to the Mexican newspaper El Sol de Sinaloa, the accident occurred at 5:45 a.m. on a freeway north of Mazatlán when the driver of the Ford Explorer in which the family members were traveling fell asleep at the wheel. The vehicle rolled down an embankment, hit a tree and caught fire. It was unclear who was driving.

Ignacio's mother was in a car ahead of the Explorer.


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When it didn't catch up, she backtracked and found the accident scene, said Yessica Hernandez, 16, an Ygnacio Valley High School junior who is Martin Rios' aunt.

Compounding the loss was that Rios was his family's glue.

"For issues, everyone went to him," said George Mendoza, 22, one of Rios' nephews. "He was everybody's guidance. He was everything to everybody."

Rios was protective of his children, and he routinely called relatives far and wide to ask how they were doing.

Rios' son Martin, a freshman at Ygnacio Valley High, was as much a mirror of his father's family leadership as he was his constant sidekick.

The two would fish together whenever they got a chance. Martin listened to his father's favorite music. He wore dress shirts, slacks and dress shoes to school daily. He was a role model for other students. "They called him (a) model, too," Yessica Hernandez said of the boy's good looks. He also was called "Choleño," after his father's hometown.

Martin loved to tinker and take things apart, but he always knew how to put them back together. He wanted to be an electrician.

He was well liked at Ygnacio Valley High, which provided counseling to his classmates, said Mt. Diablo Unified School District spokeswoman Sue Berg.

"The teachers are visibly upset as well," said Principal Carolyn Plath. "It's painful for all of us to lose a student."

Students also grieved at Olympic High School, from which Rios' eldest daughter and Martin's sister Olga Rios, 17, graduated Monday, said teacher Craig Blyeth. She had planned to fly to Mexico on Tuesday to join her father, brother and boyfriend.

She went on to Mexico on Tuesday night, to bring them home.

Times staff writer Blanca Torres and staff photographer Jose Carlos Fajardo contributed to this story. Reach Malaika Fraley and Scott Marshall at 925-945-4782 or mfraley@cctimes.com or smarshall2@cctimes.com.