Friends and relatives of Joshua or “Joshie” Valdez gathered in Gilroy's Christmas Hill Park Tuesday to share memories of the 22-year-old who remains in a coma after he was hit by a car while walking in Morgan Hill June 16.
His friends and family sold homemade jewelry, cupcakes and other baked goods Tuesday night in an effort to raise money for the hit-and-run victim's medical expenses.
“It's great to see how many friends he has, and how many people he's touched,” said Valdez' aunt Jody Adams of Modesto.
About 40 of Valdez' closest friends, aunts, cousins and his mother Stacie Valdez attended the fundraiser and vigil.
Cars rolled up to the park, a favorite hangout spot for Valdez and his friends before he was hospitalized, with windshields decorated with colorful written messages such as “Joshie there is no rainbow when you're gone. Come home!”
Valdez has been in a coma at San Jose Regional Medical Center since June 16, when Morgan Hill police found him early in the morning, unconscious, lying on the street near the intersection of Butterfield Boulevard and San Pedro Avenue.
Police determined that he was the victim of a hit and run, and arrested Sandra Arias, 28 of Morgan Hill, June 22 after a tipster reported to authorities that her car, a Volkswagen Beetle, appeared to have sustained fresh front-end damage.
Arias is out of custody on bail awaiting a July 6 arraignment hearing.
Valdez has not fully regained consciousness since he was hospitalized, though his mother and friends have reported that he has opened his eyes and stared blankly a few times. Stacie Valdez said he is able to hold up two fingers almost every time the nurses at the hospital ask him to.
In addition to a head injury, Valdez suffered numerous broken bones including both shoulder blades, vertebrae and ribs.
Stacie spent every waking hour at the hospital by Valdez’ side the first week after he was injured. This week so far she’s been with him about “six to eight hours” a day, she said Tuesday.
“It’s hard to be in there with him, but it’s harder not to be there,” she said.
At Tuesday’s vigil, one of his friends, Robert Baird of Gilroy, said they're committed to the fundraising and awareness effort simply because he is “one of our closest friends.”
“He would be doing the same thing for us,” Baird said.
The friends have been busy raising money since the day they found out that Valdez was critically injured. Hours of legwork making donation jars and finding public businesses and other places to place them, decorating posters and cards, crafting jewelry have left some deprived of sleep over the last few days, according to Kaitlin Muraoka of Gilroy, one of Valdez' longtime friends.
Donation jars have been placed at Thinker Toys, at Vineyard Town Center in Morgan Hill, as well as several locations in Gilroy including Rock Zone and M & M Liquors.
Becky Spence and another friend contributed to the fundraiser by making cupcakes and a giant poster with pictures of Valdez attached and decorated with flowers, glitter and paint. The poster bore the message, “Come home Joshie.”
“Joshie is such a big part of our life, and it blows my mind that this happened to him,” Spence said. “We'll do whatever we can to help him and his family.”
Another friend, Joshua Garner, was walking with Valdez, who was returning home from a friend's house, just before he was hit by the car. They started the evening hanging out at Paradise Park on La Crosse Drive in southwest Morgan Hill.
Valdez and Garner were walking in the same direction - with Valdez going home and Garner going to another friend's house - with two others. They walked the other two to their homes, then parted ways in the area of San Pedro Avenue and Butterfield Boulevard.
“I gave him a hug, and told him I'd see him (the next day),” said Garner, who has known Valdez about a decade.
Valdez continued up to Butterfield, and Garner noted he wasn't even that far from Valdez when he was injured, based on the known timeline of events leading up to the accident.
When he found out the next day what happened to Valdez, Garner said, “I broke down.”
When dusk approached at Christmas Hill Park at Tuesday's vigil, friends and family lit a candle and gathered in a circle with the poster made by Spence and her friends, telling stories about both the fun and serious memories they’ve shared with Valdez over the years.
Constant themes emerging from their memories suggest that Valdez was always positive, fun-loving, uplifting, and helpful to both friends and strangers.
Valdez’ adopted grandfather, Joe Garcia, 64, of Gilroy - who Valdez calls “Grandpa Joe” - related an example of the Gilroy High graduate's cerebral maturity at the age of 17, when he encouraged Garcia, a U.S. combat veteran, to talk about his own troubling experiences from his past.
“He's a unique guy,” Garcia said. “To be 17 years old, and to tell me, 'you can talk to me anytime,'” he trailed off in remnant disbelief.
“He's kind-hearted, and just an amazing guy,” Garcia said.
The friends and relatives plan to continue raising funds for Valdez’ medical expenses for as long as he is hospitalized, according to longtime friend Josh Diget, who planned to decorate his work place - Bamboo Village restaurant in Gilroy - in dedication to Valdez before his shift started Wednesday.
Contributions can be made online via a wepay.com account linked to a Facebook page established for the injured Morgan Hill resident titled “Prayers for Joshie.”