Among the many sounds in Judge Thomas Zeff’s courtroom Monday morning — “Excuse me’s” as people took seats, the door opening (and the whoosh of cold air from the hallway) anytime someone entered or left, attorneys talking, bailiffs asking questions — was the soft rhythm of 5-year-old Genevieve “GG” Grayson’s ventilator.
The little girl sat reclined and teary-eyed in her wheelchair in the aisle as her mother, Shawnta Lynnell, rested a comforting hand on her head. They were joined in the gallery by Lynnell’s great-grandmother, grandmother, two great-aunts, two sisters and other relatives, who had come from Turlock, Fresno and the Bay Area for Jorge Tello’s pretrial hearing.
For the March 29 crash in Turlock that paralyzed GG and also badly hurt her little sister, Gia, 22-year-old Delhi resident Tello faces a felony charge of reckless driving causing great bodily injury and a misdemeanor charge of reckless driving causing injury.
The hearing lasted only a couple of minutes — just long enough to decide that Tello will return to Stanislaus County Superior Court on Wednesday morning for a bail review (he remains in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail, with bail set at $110,000).
Afterward, in the hallway outside the courtroom, prosecutor John Mayne spoke with the Grayson/Lynnell family members, telling them a bit of what to expect. If he wins a conviction, he said, they shouldn’t count on Tello spending a “huge amount of time” in custody, in part because he has no criminal history.
And he told them the Turlock Police Department is to thank for the case being prosecuted. Officers worked hard from the start, Mayne said, and “if they’d not done all they did, we wouldn’t have been able to proceed.”
Afterward, Lynnell’s sisters Khiana Block and Shawntee James spoke with The Bee about the life-changing impact of the crash on their nieces and the whole family.
Gia, who was 13 months old at the time of the crash, has recovered remarkably well, Block said. The toddler has been closely watched because she suffered a brain injury, Block said, but her development appears to be normal. No problems have been observed.
Gia’s left leg was broken in two places and has healed nicely, Block said, but there’s still concern because the little girl continues to have some trouble keeping her balance.
As for GG, who turned 5 in late October, “she’s been overcoming so many issues” doctors didn’t think she would, Block said. She is on a ventilator but no longer receives oxygen. “A couple of days before her birthday, she passed her swallow test and is able to eat normal food.”
Doctors thought GG might not be able to speak, but a speaking valve enables her to, James said.
And cognitively, she’s fine. She’s in a regular transitional-kindergarten class in Fresno, where the family had to relocate from Turlock to be near her health care providers. “We’re very blessed that she’s here with us and we can still talk with her, hear her voice and kiss her. And that she’s learning — she’s able to learn still,” Block said.
Still, in the blink of an eye, GG went from “always dancing around,” Block said, to quadriplegic, “barely even able to move her neck,” James added. “She has a complete C1 spinal cord injury, basically the same one (actor) Christopher Reeve had,” James said.
Her aunts spoke about GG’s great group of friends in Turlock and now in Fresno who support her and help keep her strong and spirited. Kids do everything from dance for her to carry her schoolwork.
The talked of the many family members who help Lynnell and the girls’ father, Ryant Grayson, who now works at Valley Children’s Healthcare, where GG underwent surgery.
But help can make things easier by only so much.
GG “knows that things are different and she’s going through things where she’s not going to be comfortable and she’s going to be scared,” Block said. “She knows that we have her and she knows she’s in safe arms, but I try to put myself in her place and imagine that I cant move. Just all the little things: You feel like you’re gonna fall, or ‘My head is slipping to the side.’”
Those things are in GG’s mind all the time, “not wanting any pain, not wanting to get hurt,” Block said. And when the little girl gets anxious, shakes and cries, as she softly did at the courthouse Monday, the women console her, stroke her face, give her butterfly kisses.
And the girls’ mom, their sister Lynnell? She doesn’t want to be a burden, she’d take on everything if she could, James said. Even though a trip to the grocery store can include 45 minutes of just getting GG and her wheelchair from the house to the family vehicle. “And she has another baby on top of that,” Block said.
“But we know she needs help, so we’re there even if she doesn’t ask,” James continued, saying family members rotate in visiting Fresno to assist the family.
What would really help the family, even on solely an emotional level, Block and James said, would be if defendant Tello expressed regret for the crash.
If he would apologize for trying to beat the signal light that day at West Hawkeye Avenue and North Golden State Boulevard, Block said, “we can somewhat be connected almost as an extended family if they’re (Tello and his family) gonna be supportive and say ‘We’ve got your guys’ back, and any kind of emotional support, we’re going to go through it together.’
“Two families coming together to try to deal it out, I think it would bring a lot of good healing to both of us.”