“What do you say about a man like that?” asks Billy Tompkins, as he watches Ignacio Luna lead a group of volunteers helping a family change a flat tire. “What do you say about someone with such character, such a work ethic?”
Luna, in his gray sleeveless T-shirt and black pants, could be any guy off the street, just a good Samaritan lending a helping hand. And he would be, if it weren’t for the burn scars marking his face and right arm — because this extraordinary man has undergone one of the most unthinkable tragedies any person, any parent can face.
This Memorial Day, as most people were settling in post-barbecue, Luna and his family were returning home after a day at the beach. Traveling on Crenshaw Boulevard near Florence Avenue, a speeding Chevrolet Blazer ran a red light around 6 p.m. and collided with Luna’s Honda minivan, setting off a chain-reaction, six-car crash, according to KABC-TV reports. Luna’s son, 12-year-old Carlos Luna, was ejected from the minivan and the Blazer went airborne, bursting into flames before it hit the ground, reports said.
“I’m the passenger, because my wife’s driving, so when I wake up, the car is on fire,” Luna says. “I have my van in my parking lot because we recovered the van, and if you see it, you won’t believe that we’re still alive. We don’t know how we got out.”
Ultimately, Luna and his wife lost three of their children at the scene, Carlos, Tanya Ayala, 7, and Alexis Ayala, a four-year-old twin. The driver and passenger of the Blazer also died at the scene.
“I’m released from the hospital and I don’t feel okay, but I’m driving, going to the market,” Luna says. “I take care of the house. The first month for me was so hard. I don’t feel good, but I need to pick up this or buy this or go to appointments.”
Picking up the pieces after the accident has been, naturally, a slow and difficult process for Luna and his family. Normal things — birthday celebrations, first days of school — take on new meaning as the family strives to move on. At the end of the month, Luna and his family have three birthdays to mark. Luna’s daughter Alexa Ayala, the surviving twin, turns five on July 19th, Angelica Luna turns 11 on July 29th and Luna himself will be 42 on July 30th.
“We were planning to go to Raging Waters with my son, because it [his birthday] was May 16th, so we bought tickets, but you know the weather in those days is so crazy, so we didn’t use them,” Luna says.
“When the accident happened we still had the tickets, so my daughter said, ‘Let’s use them, because I want to go there in memory of my brother, because he wanted to go there so I want to go there.’
“For me, it doesn’t help me to say what happened, or to investigate — I’ve already lost my kids.”
This Sunday, July 20th, Billy Tompkins of Tompkins Square Bar and Grill, and Heather Lemmon have organized a fundraiser for the Luna family from noon to 6 p.m. in the parking lot of Washington Mutual and The Real Estate Consultants, 7141 Manchester Ave., Westchester, with treats for children as well as entertainment for adults.
“I’ve known Nacho [Luna] for over ten years — he’s the head of maintenance at the building I live in, and he’s always helped out at the bar,” Tompkins says. “We’re raising money for the family so they can take time off and make sense of this.”
An auction of donated items will offer a selection of sports memorabilia, household items and various gift certificates. Items include a $2,000 certificate for tile or stone remodel from Vincent Cullinan; Shaquille O’Neal-signed shorts from Tower Pizza; a Kobe Bryant jersey from Tompkins Square Bar and Grill; a Sheriff’s Department boat ride-along in Marina del Rey; a 37-inch flat-screen TV from The Hunter Group; a basketball signed by 2008 Western Conference Champion Los Angeles Lakers; and various restaurant, hotel, gym and amusement park certificates.
Battalion 4 Firehouse will have a chili cook-off, “Iron-Chef style,” Tompkins says, with fire stations from Venice, Mar Vista, Playa Vista and four from Westchester participating.
Parking is available across the street at the library and the park, on Manchester Avenue, with street parking also in the area.
“We’re hoping to get families out to enjoy a family day,” Tompkins says. “There’s going to be a beer garden and a huge area set up for the kids, with ‘mega-bouncies’ and children entertainers, so that it can be a fun day for the entire family.”
Tompkins’ efforts came unexpectedly for Luna, who is touched by the support he has received from family and friends.
“I don’t know how to pay him [Tompkins], this is a lot,” Luna says. “I feel bad because before I charged him [for maintenance work], so I don’t know how to say thank you.
“I didn’t believe it when I saw on the news, on the TV: ‘Make donations for this family.’ I didn’t believe it. […] Now it happened to me so now I see those kinds of people are so generous.”