A community is grieving the loss of ten-year-old Even Perez who died in a car accident Saturday morning. He was an Avenal Youth Football player.
The car his mom was driving had a blowout and overturned on I5 near Derrick Avenue. Five children were not wearing seatbelts; three were ejected from the car.
Monday is a day of mourning and remembering at Tamarack Elementary School where Even was in fifth grade. His tragic death has prompted an entire community to rally in support of his family.
He wore number seven on the football field, playing both offense and defense. He’s seen in recent game video running with the ball. On his way to a Saturday morning game in Los Banos, driving on I5 near Derrick Avenue, a back tire blew out. The car overturned in the median and Even died at the scene.
“At first I was more of, this is not true. It can't be true,” said Lupe Chavez, V.P. of Avenal Youth Football.
Chavez got word back in Avenal. While still in a state of shock, he immediately reached out to others to plan a car wash Sunday morning. They raised thousands of dollars during the 12-hour fundraiser.
“I think that's what makes a small community great. We know each other and we help each other in a time of need,” said Chavez.
At school Monday morning, a retired Navy chaplain helps explain life and death to Even's class. He used to sit directly in front of his teacher's desk.
“He was very happy, always smiling, eager to come into school at the beginning of the day,” said Debbie Adams, his teacher at Tamarack Elementary School.
Classmates and friends signed a remembrance poster, writing things like, ‘We will miss you.’ The superintendent says it's a day to grieve and learn. Even and four other children in the car were not wearing seat belts.
“It’s already been a teaching tool. We're talking about how important it is to wear a seat belt and what it can mean,” said David East, Superintendent of Reef-Sunset Unified School District.
Even was the youngest of four children in a single parent home. To raise more money, movie ticket sales at the Avenal Theater on Monday evening are going to the family. His #7 jersey will soon be retired, but his life will not be forgotten.
“Friendly, nice, polite, respectful, and most importantly to his peers,” said Enrique Jimenez, who has coached Even in the program Responsible Athletes.
Donations are being accepted at FAST Federal Credit Union under the name “Even Perez #7.” The phone number is 559-584-0922.