A Santa Monica High School English teacher who was found dead on a beach in Panama Sunday, July 20th, is remembered as someone who loved the teaching profession and the relationships he was able to form with his students.
The body of 25-year-old Joey Lutz washed ashore and was found by a fisherman at Playa Wizard, three days after he was knocked down by a wave while standing in shallow water and swept out to sea by a powerful riptide, his family said.
The Culver City High School graduate had been traveling on his own in the Bocas del Toro islands in northwest Panama and was with some people he had met along the way when they were hit by the wave, said his sister, Shira Lutz. The traveling companions managed to escape the riptide but Lutz was carried out, and the last time he was seen he was struggling in the water, she said.
Lutz was initially reported to be missing, but the hopes of his survival ended when the body came ashore. Stuart Lutz identified the body as his son.
The news of the teacher’s drowning has come as a shock to those who knew him in the Santa Monica community.
“It’s devastating,” Santa Monica High School principal Hugo Pedroza said. “He was a young teacher who took a vacation, and from one day to the next, he’s gone.
“It’s a big loss for us.”
Lutz had taught English at the high school for three years. Aside from his teaching, Lutz was a senior advisor for the high school Class of 2007 and was an advisor for the school’s Improv Club. Pedroza also noted that Lutz was an actor and musician who enjoyed playing the guitar.
“He was a renaissance man who had knowledge about everything,” Pedroza said.
The young educator took great pride in teaching and valued the connection he was able to make with his students, Pedroza said. Lutz was supportive to new teachers in the profession, and while many teachers struggled to have an influence on certain students, Lutz was able to do so, the principal remembered.
“He really loved his teaching, but even more than that, he loved the kids,” Pedroza said of Lutz.
Students of Lutz have posted comments on a group page created in memory of their teacher on the social networking site Face book.com, saying he will be greatly missed.
“Mr. Lutz has taught us so much and I hope that his memory will still live on by us passing his advice and humor along,” one student wrote.
“While he strayed away from the traditionally rigorous style of teaching, his humor and creative assignments were instantly liked,” another student wrote.
Pedroza said he notified school faculty and staff, as well as a parent-teacher association of Lutz’s death. The school has provided grief counselors on campus to help students attending summer school cope with the loss.
Stew Bubar, a former member of the Culver City Unified School District board, said Lutz served as student body president during his senior year at Culver City High and was involved in the Audio-Visual Performing Arts Academy. Bubar, who teaches with Lutz’s father at Southgate Middle School, called Lutz a “very talented person,” who was involved in drama and improvisational comedy.
“He was an innovative and inventive person and a really nice guy,” Bubar said.
Shira Lutz recalled how her brother, a graduate of UC Santa Cruz, was “always optimistic.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever meet someone else like him, ever,” she said. “He had a personality that draws people in and he really believed in the goodness in people.”
Among Lutz’s loves were nature and traveling, something that had taken him to countries around the world, she said. He had begun his most recent trip in Costa Rica and was three weeks into a planned month-long vacation when the accident occurred, Shira Lutz said.
Lutz is survived by his mother Freda, father Stuart, sister Shira and brother Mickey.