SHIPROCK — Orthaniel "OJ" Bidtah and Gilbert Bekis were on their way to a fundraiser for the N8V Heat and Lady Thunder basketball teams when they were killed in a two-car crash July 3 on Navajo Route 36.
The two men were long-time friends. Bekis was a former U.S. Marine, and Bidtah was a tireless volunteer.
"He had a big heart," Michael Bidtah said about his brother. "Never was a selfish person, man. Always thought of others before himself."
The Bidtah and Bekis families held a fundraiser Saturday to raise money to bury the two friends. Bekis, 50, was buried Wednesday at Kirtland cemetery. Bidtah, 33, will be buried Thursday. A celebration of life will be held at 10 a.m. at Dineh Christian Center in Shiprock.
Michael Bidtah said the men met more than 14 years ago at Nenahnezad Community School, where they both worked.
"(OJ) said Gilbert was the first person to welcome him," Michael Bidtah said. "He showed him around the school and ever since then they had been inseparable."
Chris Bekis said his brother served in all-Navajo platoon in the Marines after signing up for the service at age 17. He served as an infantryman with the Marines from 1981 to 1985.
"He was a loving person, he was a sharing person, and he was a Marine," Chris Bekis said, adding the family appreciates the support and donations from the community.
The Shiprock Police Department, with assistance from the Navajo Department of Criminal Investigation and the New Mexico State Police, is investigating the crash, which was reported at 10:25 p.m. and occurred at mile marker 22.
Detective Jefferson Joe said the operator of the vehicle that hit Bekis and Bidtah was a 27-year-old Native American man. He was transported to San Juan Regional Medical Center and is being treated for "extensive injuries."
He said it has not been determined whether alcohol was involved in the crash.
"We have some information, but it has not been confirmed," he said.
Joe said any charges filed will be referred to the state attorney's office.
Michael Bidtah said his brother was an avid sports fan — "He followed his teams religiously" — and coached basketball and football at Nenahnezad.
"He was actually my inspiration for getting into coaching," he said.
He said his brother was working toward a degree in civil engineering at San Juan College, but was also interested in early childhood development and social work.
According to his Facebook page, Gilbert Bekis was also studying at San Juan College, working toward a business and accounting degree.