Family, friends recall how 18-year-old accepted God, valued life
Dec. 28, 2013 at 6:28 a.m.
Updated Dec. 29, 2013 at 6:29 a.m.
PORT LAVACA - John Patrick Torres Jr. always had a smile.
That infectious smile is how his friends and family want him to be remembered - not by the devastation of Thursday.
He had just left work - he was still in his restaurant uniform - and he went to get dinner with some friends. While making a left turn onto U.S. Highway 87 toward Victoria, the car he was driving was struck by a southbound Ford F-250. The truck crashed into the driver's side of the vehicle.
Torres died at the scene. He was 18 years old.
"I remember the smoke," best friend Amber Ocanas recalled about the wreck. "All I saw was smoke. All I smelled was smoke."
Ocanas, 18, had returned to Port Lavaca earlier that day after spending the holidays in Lubbock with her sick grandmother. She was on her way to see her friend.
She saw the wreck instead.
"He was alive when I got there," she cried. "I thought he was going to be OK."
Three teenagers also in the car suffered critical injuries, were hospitalized and remain in critical condition.
No one in the Ford pickup, which was driven by Richard Ward, 37, of Port Lavaca, was hurt.
Changing his life
Ocanas and Torres were instant friends after meeting in the second grade.
He always made her smile.
The two attended Calhoun High School, but Torres later earned his GED.
Torres made some bad choices in his life, his dad said, and "he went away for awhile."
But when he got out, things changed after he attended a church retreat during spring break.
He had found God - a message he shared with his friend.
"When Baby John went on that church retreat, it made a big impact on him," Ocanas said. "He told me to go."
"I would have never known how much I needed God in my life without him. He had a big impact on my life."
Ocanas was the last person to spend time with Torres before he died - a moment that will mean a great deal to her for the rest of her life.
"I know he knew I was there."
Erika Fortanel was somber when she placed two framed collages she made for the funeral into the hands of Torres' father.
It was filled with memories she and Ocanas shared with their best friend.
Fortanel, 17, is the third in the trio of best friends. And she is the girl who called Torres' mother to tell her about the crash.
"Are you sure?" his mother, Michelle Cantu, said over the phone.
She could hear the sirens.
"We just ran," Cantu said. "We pulled up right behind the officers.
"They wouldn't let me get close - they weren't telling me anything."
Calhoun County Justice of the Peace Precinct 5 Nancy Pomykal pronounced Torres dead at the scene, and a trooper relayed the message to his grandfather.
"I could see the look on my dad's face," Cantu said. "They didn't have to tell me."
"He always said, 'When I die, bury me in Polo,'" Jordan Torres, 15, said about his older brother.
He wrote the quote on his Facebook wall Saturday along with a photograph of the Ralph Lauren suit, socks and boxers his brother would be buried in.
"We always dressed him up that way," his mother said.
John Torres loved red.
He always wore Air Jordans, and his Instagram signature was Polomontana.
"If you stepped on his shoes, he would tell you to lick them clean," Ocanas said, taking a moment to laugh. "Boss your life up; that's what he always said."
And that's how they want him remembered.
"Remember that smile," his brother said.
"No matter what your mood was - even if you were crying - once you saw that smile, it would make you smile."