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Seminole wrong-way crash claims third victim

Arminda and Joao Martin were immigrants from Portugal who had been together for 63 years. They retired to Largo 20 years ago.
Arminda and Joao Martin were immigrants from Portugal who had been together for 63 years. They retired to Largo 20 years ago.
Published Dec. 28, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — Joao and Arminda Martins were nearly inseparable in their 63 years together.

Immigrants from the same seaside Portuguese village, the couple moved to New Jersey to raise two sons then retired to Largo for the mild winters 20 years ago.

On Friday, the two will be laid to rest together, along with their daughter-in-law, Isabel Martins, 58.

Arminda Martins, 82, lost her fight to survive late Friday at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, a day after Joao Martins, 84, known as "John" by family members, and Isabel Martins were killed by a wrong-way driver in Seminole.

The three were returning to their home in Largo after a traditional Christmas Eve celebration when a Ford Explorer heading the wrong direction on Park Boulevard crashed into their car at 131st Street N, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. Paul Pulkownik, 51, of Largo caused the crash, the FHP said. An investigation is continuing.

Isabel Martins died at the scene. Joao Martins, transported to Bayfront, died an hour later. Arminda, also taken to Bayfront, never regained consciousness and died about 5 p.m. Friday, said her son, John Martins. Her death marked the 16th fatality in wrong-way crashes this year in the Tampa Bay area.

"If she had woken up and known her husband had died, I don't think she would have survived," he said. "She would have died of a broken heart. They were perfect together. I don't think they could have lived without each other."

The three will be remembered together at a funeral Mass at St. Jerome Catholic Church in Largo at 11 a.m. Friday. Afterward they will be interred at Serenity Gardens Memorial Park, also in Largo.

"We did not want to have three separate funerals. I don't think anybody could have taken that," said Martins, who chose to remember his parents as vibrant and loving.

"They did everything, not for themselves, but for their children and grandchildren," he said. "They were amazing."

The two also cherished their Portuguese heritage and each summer traveled to Mortosa, the village of their youth, along the Atlantic coast three hours north of Lisbon.

"They were inseparable," said Henry "Henrique" Chipelo, 75, of St. Petersburg, who knew the couple through the Portuguese American Suncoast Association, a club in St. Petersburg. He often traveled to Mortosa as well.

Close family friends, they shared dinners, toured the countryside and visited each others' homes. It turned out they had all grown up in the same town. Both were outgoing, but quiet, he said. Arminda always smiled. Joao loved to cook lavish, classic Portuguese meals.

"Even in the village, you would never see one without the other," Chipelo said. "I don't think you could find a couple that were better matched than they were."

Contact Rich Shopes at rshopes@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3368. Follow @richshopes.