Jeff Jardine

Hit-and-run in Empire leaves quadriplegic’s van in limbo

To the person missing the vinyl fender trim from the front of a silver double-cab pickup truck:

Josie Halcon has it. You left it there sometime around midnight Dec. 27, when you slammed into the adapted van the Empire woman uses to transport her quadriplegic son, Anthony De La Garza. It came off. She found it on the ground.

But since you fled the scene after crashing into the side of their van and another pickup parked nearby, you probably aren’t going to step up to claim it. Drinking too much that night? No license or registration?

And certainly no conscience. ... Why does the family suspect all of the above likely apply? And if none does, then explain the lack of responsibility, please.

Yes, they are angry with you. They think you should own up to what you did – to pretend, at least, you are a responsible person.

Yes, the van is still drivable. The wheelchair lift still works. But the damage to the body around the gas tank has Halcon concerned.

“And I’m the one who drives it,” Halcon said.

The van is old – a 1988 Dodge to be exact. It needed work even before you hit it. Halcon and her husband, Ernie, are both retired and live on Social Security incomes as does De La Garza, who receives disability.

They carried liability and uninsured motorist coverage, but their insurance carrier won’t pay up, Halcon said, until it determines whether the hitter-and-runner – meaning you – has or doesn’t have insurance. If so, the company will haggle it out with your insurer. If not, they’ll pay.

Another thing, pilgrim: It’s illegal to operate a car without carrying liability insurance. But so is hitting and running, driving under the influence of whatever, and driving an unregistered vehicle, should any or all of those apply.

The person you are hurting most is De La Garza, who relies on the van to have any semblance of a life. His mom drives him to church on Sundays. She uses it to take him to movies and to the park, and mostly to get out of the house where he can breathe fresh air and soak up a bit of sunshine.

De La Garza, who sold pagers for WorldCom in the San Jose area after attending Downey High, suffered in December 2000 a series of strokes that left him paralyzed from the neck down. He relies on a feeding tube for nourishment.

He was featured in The Bee in a 2011 story by Sue Nowicki that explained that De La Garza, unable to speak, communicates through a computer that works like a laptop, but tracks eye movements and translates them into words. That enabled him to begin taking history classes online at Modesto Junior College.

Some friends started a GoFundMe account with the idea of raising $10,000 toward replacing the old van. The account contained $675 through Wednesday afternoon.

He needs a van, he said, that was “built for a 6’1 man, not a 5’1 lady. There is barely enough room for the caregiver to sit, and I have to sit upright so my lower body is in considerable pain.”

He also would love to have a van that allows him to turn on the air conditioning in the summers without stalling the engine. But even the old van he has beats none at all.

Thanks to you, pal, the old one might not be a viable option. But what do you care? You crashed into their van and then left the scene. You bolted like a coward. You made the already precarious life of a quadriplegic even more difficult.

The neighbor caught some of the episode on his security camera, and Josie Halcon hopes that when you take your pickup in for repairs, an honest body-and-fender guy will see this, step forward and turn you in.

She also filed a report with the California Highway Patrol. Or you could step forward on your own.

“He should do the right and legal thing,” Halcon said.

Until then, she’s hanging on to the fender trim as evidence.

How to help

If you have information about this case, contact the California Highway Patrol at 209-545-7440.