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The Valley

Athlete in Crash Gets a Big Assist

Emotional and financial support grows for the injured Moorpark College student.

November 17, 2002|Fred Alvarez | Times Staff Writer

Nayely Jimenez remembers nothing about the crash that cut short her college basketball season and nearly ended her life.

The Moorpark College freshman doesn't remember driving to her parents' Pacoima home last month to pick up her basketball uniform on the eve of the team's first official practice. Nor does she remember getting slammed by a drunk driver who allegedly blew through a red light, broadsided her car and then tried to bolt from the scene.

In fact, the 18-year-old didn't even know she had been hurt until she woke up the next day in the intensive care unit at a Mission Hills hospital, surrounded by posters and get-well cards from family and friends, many of whom feared she wouldn't make it.

That outpouring of support sparked an unprecedented fund-raising drive at Moorpark College to which has spread beyond the east Ventura County campus.

The effort culminated Friday at the Lady Rangers' first home game, where Jimenez received a rousing ovation during pregame introductions while standing at mid-court between her coaches. The coaches wrapped a protective arm around Jimenez, who suffered a broken jaw, head trauma and other injuries that have blurred her vision and left her unsteady.

Athletic Director John Keever explained to the crowd about the fund set up in Jimenez's honor and the goal of raising $10,000 to help with her expenses and recovery.

Wearing her No. 23 basketball jersey, Jimenez then huddled with teammates for the first time since the Oct. 14 accident and joined them on the bench, cheering and clapping and swapping high-fives after every good play.

"It has been so great, I don't even know how to put it into words," Jimenez said of all the goodwill. "To know so many people care is just a wonderful feeling."

Support has come from all over.

The Moorpark College Foundation established a fund in her honor that so far has raised more than $6,000. Most donations have come in response to mass e-mails sent to faculty and staff at the three schools in the community college district.

The college also raised more than $1,000 through ticket sales for a drawing held after halftime of Friday's game. The prizes -- which included piano lessons, a basket of Avon cosmetics and a round of golf at a Moorpark course -- were donated.

Although it appears that Medi-Cal will cover most of her hospital bills, Jimenez will likely have some outstanding debt. She also had to give up her part-time job at Blockbuster, and the crash left her without a car.

Jeanne Bailey, the college's veteran public information officer, said she has never seen such a broad segment of the college community rally around one of its own.

"There have been all of these people who have been willing to step up to the plate and do the right thing," Bailey said.

The incident even inspired a new wrinkle to the college's annual drunk-driving prevention campaign, held last week in the quad. Members of the women's basketball team set up booths alongside Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Alcoholics Anonymous to solicit donations for Jimenez.

Team members were among the first to visit Jimenez in the hospital. And they had worked hard since the accident to push tickets for Friday's raffle at football games and other events.

"Our team concept is family, so we are doing whatever we can to help Nayely and her family," said team captain Chenne Tuimoloau. Team members have clutched Jimenez's jersey in huddles and kept it next to them on the bench.

"We wanted her to know she was always with us," Tuimoloau added. "She is such a hard worker, I have no doubt she will be back."

There were plenty of doubts, however, the day Jimenez was hurt.

About an hour after leaving her sister's house in Simi Valley, the 5-foot-7 forward from Reseda High was on Laurel Canyon Boulevard, preparing to turn onto Pierce Street, when her compact car was struck by a Ford Taurus driven by 22-year-old Miguel Ayon, according to police.

The Pacoima man allegedly tried to flee but was tackled by witnesses, police said.

Ayon has been charged with several felonies, including causing an injury while driving drunk. He has pleaded not guilty and his case is set for a preliminary hearing this week.

As word spread of the accident, the waiting room at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills filled with family and friends, including Reseda High basketball Coach Mike Wagner.

Wagner, who coached Jimenez for two years before taking over the men's program, said he wasn't very hopeful when he saw her for the first time.

"I thought she wasn't coming home," said Wagner, who remembers Jimenez as a hard worker and a model student.

"But every day since Oct. 14, she's gotten a little bit better and a little bit stronger," the coach said. "Even if she never plays basketball again, I could care less. Just to hear her laughing again is all that matters to me."

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