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Community News: East

LINCOLN HEIGHTS : The Challenge Begins for Accident Victim

January 23, 1994|MARY ANNE PEREZ

Cindy Gonzales sits on her bed with her twin, Sandra, going over math problems that the high school freshman learned long ago.

They review the work, along with reading and spelling, because 14-year-old Cindy, who had been making A's and Bs, now tests at a third-grade level in math and at a sixth-grade level in reading after she was struck by a drunk driver Nov. 29.

She does not remember the accident, but can relay what happened from what police, friends and family tell her. The former Lincoln High School student is preparing to enter Eagle Rock High School in February to catch up with her schoolwork.

Meanwhile, her mother, Beatrice, 49, is gathering signatures to petition the city to put a traffic light at North Broadway and Sichel Street, where Cindy was hit. Relatives and friends have conducted fund-raisers, such as carwashes and breakfasts, to help the family defray medical expenses.

"Something bad has to be for something good (to happen), and you have to turn it around to something good," Beatrice Gonzales said. "I figure the only thing is I want to do something for my daughter. I want to try to stop this (the lack of a traffic light) from hurting another person."

Cindy and a friend, Frank Cifuentes, 16, were crossing North Broadway in a crosswalk when they were hit by a car. Cindy was thrown 30 feet and Frank suffered a broken leg, cuts and bruises.

"I have half my memory," Cindy said, explaining that the car hit her on her right side, fracturing her right leg and affecting the vision in her right eye and agility in her right arm. She was in a coma for 15 days. She has short-term memory and sometimes needs help in simple tasks, even in spelling her name. Released from Childrens Hospital last week, Cindy walks with the aid of a front-wheel walker and occasionally uses a wheelchair.

The driver, John Joe Gomez, 30, of Lincoln Heights, pleaded guilty to felony drunk driving with bodily injury Dec. 27. Police say Gomez, who has two felony convictions for driving under the influence, drove away from the scene but returned shortly thereafter.

"I think I hit something but I'm not sure if I did. I'm responsible," he is quoted as saying in the police report.

Gomez faces three to seven years in prison when he is sentenced March 29 in Superior Court, said police Detective Richard Lopez. "They'll evaluate whether they think he's made an effort to clean his act up or whether he's a menace to society," said Lopez of the Central Traffic Division.

Ten years ago Cindy's father, Alfred, 56, and Sandra were seriously hurt when their car was hit by a delivery truck. The family had to sell their Chatsworth home, liquidate their furniture, move in with Alfred Gonzales' mother and rely on public assistance to make ends meet.

Alfred Gonzales, who made a living in real estate, now relies on Social Security and a settlement from the accident to provide for his family, who moved into their Lincoln Heights home in 1988.

Now, they are facing a new challenge.

Cindy underwent surgery to drain excess fluid from her brain and explore for internal bleeding, and had a tracheotomy to clear her windpipe. She wears a scarf to hide short-cropped hair where doctors had to drill into her head.

She wants to attend Gomez's sentencing.

"I'm so mad," Cindy said. "I'm going to tell him."

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