Dawn and Roman Fernandez

Dawn and Roman Fernandez were Cactus High School sweethearts who married in 1988. 

 

Dawn Fernandez was at the Roadrunner Restaurant & Saloon in New River on July 27, 2015, when she became tired. 

Her 48-year-old husband, Roman, said she should go home and put their grandbabies to bed. 

She returned to their Phoenixhome and tucked them in. As they slept, she and her son watched television. At 1:30 a.m., the phone rang. The call changed her life. Her husband was dead.

“My phone rang, and it was my son yelling into the phone that his dad was dead,” she recalled through tears. “A female voice got on the phone. I thought it was my daughter-in-law. I said, ‘What kind of sick joke is this? Put your dad on the phone.’”

The “woman” was a Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office deputy. Dawn could not believe what she was saying. She put the phone down, walked into the living room and told her son something terrible happened.

“I said, ‘There’s a woman on the phone, and I don’t believe what she’s telling me,’” Dawn recalled. “He went into the bathroom, and when he came out and he said, ‘You’re right, mom. Something horrible has happened.’”

Roman was stabbed in the heart and the lower abdomen during a fight at the Roadrunner.

“It wasn’t a targeted fight,” she said. “He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Frustrated at the lack of tips, Dawn has turned to the media to help garner leads in Roman’s death. 

Young love

Dawn and Roman met at Cactus High School in Glendale but did not get serious about their relationship until after graduation. He joined the Navy as she worked toward her diploma at the school. 

The two eventually married in October 1988.

Roman, who was employed by Honeywell at the time of his death, was an exceptional husband and father, she said. 

He parlayed his sports knowledge into coaching their sons’ soccer, wrestling and football teams at Sunrise and Liberty high schools in Peoria. 

“He was an exceptional coach,” she said. “He touched so many lives.”

So many mourners showed up for Mass at St. Jerome Catholic Church in Phoenix that they were forced to park at a grocery store down the street. Others, instead, went straight to the gravesite. 

“We were very well known because of the sports we were involved in,” Dawn said. “So many people — friends, family and acquaintances — came out to show their respects and support me. I’m so thankful and grateful for that.”

Long night

At the Roadrunner, the couple were enjoying an evening out, watching their oldest grandson at the mutton bust with their then 6-month-old granddaughter. 

“We decided to call it a night,” she said. “We were all on our way out of the parking lot, and I could hear my son and daughter-in-law. They wanted to stay and watch bull riding. I asked my husband if he minded me taking the grandchildren home.

“By the time we got to the car, Roman said, ‘You’re going to be busy with the kids. I will just be sitting on the couch watching television.’ He wanted to stay with their son and daughter-in-law and watch bull riding. I kissed him goodnight. That was the last time I kissed him.”

Roman tagged Dawn on a Facebook post, a video of their son and daughter-in-law dancing, around 10:30 p.m. At home, Dawn looked at her youngest son and said, “I bet they’re having fun. We might as well settle in for the night.

“We found a movie to watch, and I made brownies and ice cream.”

Meanwhile, a fight broke out throughout the Roadrunner.

“My son saw his wife, who was involved in a fight as well. He went to save her and protect her from being punched. When he pulled her away, they proceeded to go to the car, and they saw something lying in the parking lot. It was my husband.”

A nurse, their daughter-in-law performed CPR until first responders arrived 20 minutes later.

“The stabbing in the heart is the one that killed him,” she said through tears. “He couldn’t survive that.”

Begging for tips

No one has come forward and the leads are dwindling, she said. Authorities know what happened and who was near him. The fight was just out of sight of the security cameras. 

“Someone carried him out to the parking lot,” she said. “You can see that on tape. The district attorney’s office said they won’t make an arrest based on what they have. 

“My attorney has been pushing all these years to get someone else involved.

“He is in direct contact with them now. We’re hoping to keep things moving, and if MCSO has completed their investigation, he has others waiting in the wings to pick it up and continue the work.”

In the meantime, Dawn lives in the couple’s North Phoenix home they purchased in November 2014. With the holidays and a grandbaby’s birth in February, they hadn’t gotten around to remodeling it. 

“It was eight months later he passed,” she said. “There are some blessings to that. There aren’t a lot of memories here, but that’s also fortunate and unfortunate.”