On Tuesday, April 29, shortly before 2 a.m., musician Ventura Sergio Banuelos was riding his motorcycle at Broadway and Casanova in Lincoln Heights when, for reasons that are still unclear, he went soaring off his bike into a lightpost while his motorcycle continued moving forward. When the fire department arrived on the scene, they determined that Banuelos had died immediately upon impact. It was just over a month before his 36th birthday.
A previous motorcyle accident involving the Black Lodge musician, in 2010, had resulted in his hospitalization and extensive rehabilitation. But he was soon back on his bike doing what he loved to do.
"He really loved the thrill. He was very passionate about motorcycles," says close friend Casey Vandeventer, who met Banuelos five years ago when they worked together at Figaro Bistrot in Los Feliz.
Banuelos played bass with Black Lodge, an L.A.-based rock band as Ventura Xiii. And while he had a definite rock star, thrill-seeking side, he was known for being enigmatic, thoughtful, hard-working, meticulous, quiet and humble.
An only child born and raised in Los Angeles, Banuelos lost his mother to cancer when he was still in college (friends say his father was no longer present in his life). When Arthur Garcia, a childhood friend of Banuelos', died in a 2006 car accident, Banuelos took to sending Garcia's mother flowers on Mother's Day and visiting her on the holidays.
He rarely talked about his volunteer work, but friends say not only did he regularly volunteer at Union Rescue Mission, but also donated his time and tutoring skills at the Youth Moving On Peer Resource center at Hillsides, a Pasadena-based charity center. Seeking to one day work search and rescue missions, Banuelos enrolled in helicopter pilot classes.
After his death, a steady stream of messages and photos poured in on Facebook, including tributes from rock stars Dave Navarro and Jeordie White a.k.a. "Twiggy Ramirez," who tweeted about Banuelos the day after he died.
"He was just wonderful and he had that air of super effortlessly cool. Kind, generous and thoughtful. Ventura was a real sweetheart," says Vandeventer. "He was a man of few words, so when he did say things, they were fairly profound. We used to joke that he is the most interesting man in the world, an international man of mystery."
John Winscher, who rode motorcycles with Banuelos and worked alongside him as a bartender at Figaro Bistrot, says his favorite time at work was when their shifts would overlap and they'd bartend together. "He was very generous," says Winscher. "He came to all my comedy shows. One time, it was pouring rain and I canceled the show. I didn't think I needed to tell my friends because I didn't think anyone would go. But Ventura rode his motorcycle across town in the rain and showed up at The Comedy Store just to see me."
"Ventura was one of the most loyal and fierce friends I've ever had in my life," says former roommate and bandmate Johnny Royal. "He would literally do anything for you. I met him when he was bartending at Figaro. When I first saw him, he was serving me food and I was thinking to myself, 'This guy is so good-looking, I don't care if he plays an instrument. I want him in my band.' I told him that. Two days later, he called me, and then we were inseparable. When he talked, people listened. There would be days where we would not talk at all and then he would say something and it was like I was talking to Socrates. He was super smart, a great musician, and a great writer. Ventura was a poet and a philosopher."
Recently, Banuelos had moved into the home that belongs to his childhood friend Bobby Holguin's mother, staying in Bobby's old room to save money. "Ventura's mother and my aunt were best friends from childhood," says Holguin. "We were in the single moms club. I didn't know my dad and he didn't really know his dad, so my uncle always made sure the boys with no fathers were included in everything. We grew up playing soccer together at the YMCA and we'd go camping at state parks all through California. We'd still play soccer on Saturdays. Ventura is the only person I have ever met, and that includes social workers, who never judged me. All he ever did was help me."
Ironically, it was Banuelos, whom Holguin calls his "saving grace," who gave Holguin advice about how to deal with the death of a loved one. "I asked him how he ever got over the death of his mom. He said, 'The truth is you're never going to get through it or get over it. But in time you will learn to deal with it better.' Now I keep repeating that like a mantra in my head."
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Tomorrow, on Saturday, May 3 at 9 p.m., a memorial service and candlelight vigil are being held in Ventura Baneulos' honor at The Realm Creative, 201 N. Westmoreland Avenue in Koreatown.
Banuelos will be buried in Whittier at Rose Hills Memorial Park next to his mother and grandparents. The funeral will be Saturday, May 10, 3 PM at Rose Hills Memorial Park's SkyRose Chapel in Whittier. Donations are being taken at youcaring.com to help with costs.