Johansen High students gathered at lunch Thursday in support and prayer for a friend gravely injured in a horrific car accident over the weekend.
The #PrayForRobbie event drew hundreds of teens to the school’s central quad, as well as longtime friends and family of Robert Penton, 17. Penton remains in intensive care, suffering from severe brain injuries and a broken femur, said his mother, Jodi McClure.
“They lifted him from the (medically induced) coma, but he hasn’t woken up. The doctors are saying it doesn’t look good,” McClure said, fighting back tears. But Wednesday, Penton reacted to cold water and pressure on his toes, she added. “It’s like he’s trying to wake himself up, so that’s what we’re hanging onto. There was a lot of damage.”
Speakers at the noontime rally urged students to pray hard and pray often. “He’s gotten this far. He’s a fighter. He is an amazing guy. He will come back from this. I have faith in him,” said friend Victoria Slefo, who asked for “a moment of silence in honor of his recovery.”
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“I’m not going to sit here and say a speech about him. It’s not a funeral,” Slefo said as applause rippled across the quad. “It’s not about how he was. It’s how he is.”
Charlie Vaa told gathered classmates that prayer would help his friend through. Before the event, Vaa said Penton loves to make jokes. “He was funny, and really smart when it comes to mechanical stuff.”
Penton’s stepfather, grandfather and longtime family friends stepped up to the microphone as well, talking about the friendly young man with the bright green eyes and magnetic smile.
“Thank you all for your support. It helps us through this rough time,” older brother C.J. Penton told the crowd. “Keep praying, caring. It’s working. He’s getting better.”
Johansen Principal Nathan Schar said the event was “100 percent student-led,” spreading word of the event through social media. “Facebook and Instagram made all this support happen,” he said.
The outpouring included kids who know Penton from the basketball team, leadership students who helped organize the event and a cross-section of others, Schar said.
“All groups, all of Johansen, came together for this,” he said. A purple and gold banner – school colors – was covered with well-wishers’ comments to send to Penton’s hospital room.
Penton has been planning to go into the military, debating between the Marines and the Air Force, his mother said. He loves music and loved his car, the green Acura Integra he was driving Saturday morning.
At 4:40a.m. Saturday, traveling too fast for the wet conditions, the car went off Christoffersen Parkway, hit a fence and landed upended against a tree on the California State University, Stanislaus, campus, Turlock police investigators said. It took more than 30 medical and fire personnel an hour to get Penton out of the destroyed car.
Two passengers were in the car. One was treated and released for minor injuries. The other was hospitalized with moderate injuries.
Toxicology reports showed no alcohol or drugs in Penton’s system. Schar said he understood the teen was called to pick up the other two from a party.
“He was the responsible one,” Schar said. “He was the good person in this. He was doing the right thing.”