Juan Garcia, Jr., had been at Midnight Mass with a friend in Michigan and was returning to Toledo, where he planned to have his family over to his new apartment for Christmas dinner.
But instead of dinner with their son and brother, the Garcia family got tragic news from police and the Lucas County Coroner’s Office early Tuesday morning: Mr. Garcia, 26, was dead, the victim of an apparent head-on collision with a wrong-way driver on I-75.
“We want him back,” a grieving father, Juan Garcia Sr., said Tuesday afternoon in the family’s home on Albert Street in East Toledo.
The younger Mr. Garcia’s mother, Maria Garcia, said her son left their home Christmas Eve expressing some concern about how light snow Monday evening might affect driving conditions in Michigan. He later texted to tell her he had arrived safely at the church.
That was the last they heard from him.
According to Toledo police, a car driven north in I-75’s southbound lanes by Adam Tunison, 41, of LaSalle, Mich., collided with Mr. Garcia's auto near Milepost 209, between the Ottawa River Road and I-280 interchanges in North Toledo, about 3:05 a.m.
Mr. Garcia was pronounced dead at the scene.
Tunison was taken to Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center, where he was listed in fair condition late last night. Police did not say how long Tunison had been driving the wrong way on the freeway.
No charges had been filed as of Tuesday evening, and the investigation was ongoing.
Tunison is a scene supervisor at Hollywood Casino Toledo, which was one of Mr. Garcia’s favorite places.
According to Jason Birney, the casino’s vice president of marketing, Tunison was not working Monday night or Tuesday morning. He was due back to work Tuesday night.
“It’s an awful situation. We’re dealing with it today around the building. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all the families involved,” Mr. Birney said.
Tunison’s Facebook page contains a three-word post, “drunk is good,” which was timed and dated 11:35 p.m., Dec. 18, “near West Toledo via mobile.”
The post drew comments, including one from a friend who asked at 1:16 a.m., “Do you need a ride?”
The answer six minutes later was “Not yet.”
The friend then commented, “Be careful.”
A post to Tunison’s Facebook account at 3:10 a.m. Monday shows a photograph of a car dashboard with a close-up of the odometer and the outdoor temperature. The picture was posted “near Erie.”
The text with the post is “25 degrees!! Kinda missing San Diego right now!!”
According to the Facebook page, Tunison is from San Diego.
Mr. Garcia's friend Zach Smith said Mr. Garcia went with him and some members of his family to 11 p.m. Mass at Our Lady of the Woods in Woodhaven, Mich., south of Detroit.
He hung around for a while afterward before heading back toward Toledo.
“There was no drinking involved. I just told him to be careful driving home,” the friend said. “He was a great guy.”
Mr. Smith said Mr. Garcia loved playing slot machines at Hollywood Casino.
“He's been to the Hollywood Casino quite a few times. He loved to go there and do slots,” Mr. Smith said.
In East Toledo, the Garcias’ front yard is decked with a large inflatable Christmas tree and snowmen, and the inside is decorated for Christmas as well.
Mr. Garcia loved Christmas, family members said.
He was at the family home on Christmas Eve to open gifts and prided himself on being the most generous gift-giver. Among the presents he brought was an infant bathtub for a baby expected in May by his brother Jose’s family.
“He gave presents to everybody,” Mrs. Garcia said.
He was proud that he was going to be able to entertain the family for Christmas dinner at 5 p.m. at his new apartment on North Superior Street in Toledo.
Relatives said Mr. Garcia was a bartender at Zia’s restaurant at The Docks, where he worked for about the last six years, and had been president of his Waite High School graduating class in 2004.
David Yenrick, the principal of Waite High School, said Mr. Garcia was, in addition to class president, vice president of the Waite chapter of the National Honor Society, a member of the varsity track team, and a candidate in the top 10 for homecoming king.
"He was a very nice young man. He always represented Waite in a very positive light," Mr. Yenrick said.
Ken Rossler, a retired Waite teacher who was the class adviser, confirmed Mr. Garcia was his class president and said he was a “very nice young man, a hard worker, a really dedicated student.”
“Whether there was a fund-raiser or an event at school, you could always count on Juan to make sure the event got done properly,” Mr. Rossler said.
The family moved to Toledo from Mexico in 1996, and Mr. Garcia loved his adopted country, said his sister, Natalia Garcia.
She said he liked to travel, loved casinos, and was “very social.” Mr. Garcia liked his job, enjoyed hanging out with friends, and liked to dance, his sister said.