Latino community mourning loss of an “exceptional” couple known for helping others

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Juan Muniz was always helping people in the city’s Latino community, said their friends at El Concilio. Whether it was addressing the needs of the people on the radio or helping a senior citizen find employment, he was doing something to serve others.

“He definitely was someone who was constantly on the move, trying to find ways of helping people,” said Lissette Mira-Amaya with a smile. “And so ways Maria. We cannot forget Maria.”

Muniz's wife — who also went by Mary — was always by his side, said Mira-Amaya who's known them for decades. According to police they were both tragically killed Tuesday night in a car crash.

“It’s heartbreaking to hear the news,” said Adrian Vazquez, executive director with El Concilio, a nonprofit known for helping Latinos get acclimated to the overall Kalamazoo community. “I mean it’s been not long since I saw him, you know, talk to him.”

Police said the suspect, 56-year-old Thomas Vyverman, was fleeing from officers that night and refused to pull over. He continued speeding away until he slammed into the Munizes at the intersection of Portage Street and Crosstown Parkway. He then took off on foot but police pursued him and arrested him.

“I was very sad,” said Mira-Amaya, who’s also therapist with Family and Children Services. “I mean it was shocking probably is the word that Juan and Maria had died in car accident and hit by a drunk driver. It was very disturbing.”

Thursday afternoon, Vyverman was officially charged with operating while intoxicated causing death and fleeing and eluding police during his video arraignment at the Kalamazoo County courthouse.

“I’m not a bad person,” he said on video. “I’m really not.”

The Muniz’s daughter released a statement to FOX 17 saying: Our parents were exceptional people and had a wonderful impact on all of our lives. They were always extremely generous with our family and with the community and will be so dearly missed, but never forgotten!

The people at El Concilio agreed.

“I think that one of the things that I will remember was the fact that they were a strong couple and that they were always trying to help other people," said Mira-Amaya about keeping their memory alive. "One of the key issues that they worked on always [was] be involved with the community, do good work, help people, be supportive."

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