Nikka Perez is hero in her own right.
The 10-year-old run down by a truck earlier this week as she and an older cousin used a crosswalk on East Yosemite Avenue at Washington Street has proven to be more than resilient in the aftermath of the hit-and-run incident.
Nikka is in a hospital bed at the U.C. Davis Medical Center in Sacramento where she has had a compound leg fracture set and put into a cast, her mother Rosie Castellano said on Thursday from the hospital. A tough and caring sixth grader from Lincoln Elementary School, her mom said she refused pain medications for the first 24 hours.
“She was afraid to go to sleep,” her mom said, “and she doesn’t want me to leave her side. She surprised me. I have never met a girl that is so strong. All the prayers and everything have helped.”
Her mother noted that the first thing she said to her, “I ruined my Jordans!”
Nikka talked about her experience briefly from her hospital bed on Thursday, recalling that she was foot pedaling her bicycle a couple of feet ahead of her 24-year-old cousin Alejandro Vargas.
“It was just me and my cousin. He told me to get back in the crosswalk. I thought the truck had slowed and then it zoomed up. I don’t remember anything else because I closed my eyes after I was hit because I didn’t want to see what was going to happen to me,” Nikka said.
Her cousin said she was spun around three times by the impact and rolled on the ground as the truck sped off, calling for her mom. “I want my mom. I want my mom,” she said as she tried to hobble on one leg to the curb. Alejandro said he shouted at the driver of the car behind the truck to follow the hit and run suspect
That’s exactly what the motorist did while calling police on his cell phone. Officers caught up with the hit and run suspect near Union Road.
Alejandro said he had tried to pull her out of the truck’s way but couldn’t reach her in time.
Alejandro said, he too, had thought the truck would stop. When he saw he wasn’t slowing down he waved his arms at him, yelling, trying to get the truck to stop. The cousin said he called to staff members at the nearby Quicki-Kleen Car Wash to run to their house a block away on Sutter Street and tell any adult they find to come – it’s an emergency.
“She wouldn’t let me help her after she was hit. I wanted to carry her,” he remembers.
The girl’s grandmother Leandra Castellano, Aunt Manuella Vargas and the cousin, Alejandro, spoke from the family home only a block from the accident scene Thursday morning. The grandmother noted that the trauma is exceptionally hard on Nikka’s mother because she had lost a 10-year-old son, Richard Junior Perez, in 2008 when he was killed, along with his uncle, in a July 4 car crash midway between Manteca and Tracy.
Grandma Castellano said Nikka was always there to help no matter who it was she saw in need. “She would say, ‘Grandma, can I help you, you are going to get hurt doing that, let me help.’”
A small fenced memorial with plaques, a cross, and plants marks the day of the fatal crash five years ago in the back yard of their home.
When Alejandro heard of the prayer circle that formed in front of the Calvary Community Church as the air ambulance flew overhead for the hospital, he appeared very touched saying, “We need to go over there and thank those people.”
Alejandro was also injured in the run down, learning from doctors he had a broken bone in his foot. “But I am able to walk on it,” he said.
Finally accepting pain meds to thwart off the hurt of having her wounds cleaned, Nikka continued to talk from her bed about her future. Teachers at Lincoln Elementary School like her third grade instructor, Miss Herrera, and her current sixth grade teacher Paul Hashino have made an impression. She thinks she wants to be a teacher like the two of them someday. She has narrowed her choices down to teaching from being an airline hostess and then a doctor.
Her mother said the doctors have told her that her daughter will walk again someday, but there will be a lot of recuperation time involved with therapy and being on crutches.
And for Nikka, the positive memories are how the medics and firefighters treated her, especially the flight nurse in the Mercy Hospital helicopter out of Merced. Another might be the prayer doll and the snuggle pillow sent to her from the Doctors Hospital volunteers. It was that air ambulance that just happened to be in the Modesto area when the Stockton based helicopter was unavailable.
The suspect in the hit and run — Andrey Gubanov, 29, of Manteca — appeared in the Manteca Branch of the San Joaquin County Superior Court on Thursday. He had been held in lieu of $500,000 bail; however that has been changed to a “no bail allowed” status by the judge according to the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s website Thursday afternoon. He remains in the San Joaquin County Jail in French Camp, according to the website.