Fresno father talks about losing his son on a family outing

February 26, 2013 12:15:55 AM PST
Close to seven months have passed since a summer bike ride ended in tragedy for a Fresno family.

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The scorching Valley sun had just set when the Maldonado's made their way through a crosswalk in Northeast Fresno. That's when a high school varsity basketball coach who police say was on his way home from a day of drinking at Bass Lake, hit several members of the family.

According to police reports, Donovan Maldonado, 7, was struck then dragged underneath the car 800 feet. The driver left the scene and Donovan died a short time later.

Donovan's 18 month old sister, suffered a major brain injury and spent weeks in critical condition. And their father, Jesse received a serious leg injury that to date, has taken doctors five surgeries to try and repair.

Donovan's father, Jesse Maldonado, sat down with Action News to talk about his loss and how his family is recovering.

Jesse Maldonado says he wakes up every day hoping this isn't real. Then, he realizes as his wife gets him out of bed and into his wheelchair, it is a painful reality. But, his physical wounds pale in comparison to the pain and heartache he lives with after a fun, family outing shattered their lives.

Jesse Maldonado has a halo around his leg, and during his latest surgery doctors took a bone from his hip to graft his leg. But, the pain he carries within is far more profound.

Jesse explained, "It's hard waking up in the morning knowing that our son's not with us anymore."

Donovan Maldonado was a little 7-year-old boy with a big competitive spirit, something he learned from his older sister.

"You know they compete for everything," said Jesse. "I mean to run and open the door for mom and dad they would run each other down to try to get to the door first."

Donovan played just about every sport he could, he tried them all. But, he loved basketball most.

Jesse told ABC30, "He just had so much fun playing all the time and just his smile and whether he'd win or lost he was just always excited to be out there with his friends and playing and just having a good time."

According to police reports, Donovan was nearing the middle of the crosswalk, behind his mom and in front of his dad, when he was hit. Jesse was the last one in the group to cross, when he was hit, too.

His 18-month-old daughter, Bella was in a seat attached to Jesse's bike when police say the car clipped the front tire and spun it around. Both Jesse and Bella were ejected.

Witnesses reported, Donovan's mother screamed as she ran after the car, but it didn't stop.

The accident report shows Donovan was carried the length of more than two football fields.

Central High Varsity Boys Basketball Coach, Loren LeBeau, was arrested for driving drunk and felony hit and run. Police say LeBeau initially left the scene but returned a short time later.

Late last year, the Maldonado's filed a wrongful death lawsuit against LeBeau. The family also filed against the city of Fresno, saying the crosswalk on Shepherd between Millbrook and Perrin is poorly designed and doesn't have adequate lighting and signage.

And while he struggles with the pain, Jesse can't come to terms with the loss. He said, "I just really miss him, I really miss him."

The grief may be more unbearable for Donovan's mother, Maria. She wasn't hurt in the crash, neither was the couple's 12-year-old daughter, Adriana. But, they watched helplessly as Donovan was dragged away. Each morning, Maria struggles just to survive the day.

Jesse said, "It's just been real overwhelming just for me, I know personally for me, watching Maria going through the pain every morning that she wakes up."

In the weeks after the crash, Jesse's broken leg combined with Maria's grief forced the couple to make another tough decision.

"We decided to move and Maria just couldn't handle, too many memories there for her to deal with so it was just hard," explained Jesse.

Family and friends packed and moved the family out of their apartment to a single level home.

Those were their darkest days. The life they had together all changed in one evening. But, during those times of anguish and pain, the couple was overcome with love from the community.

Jesse said, "I can't say thank you enough to the community."

Kids who played sports with and against Donovan, the companies where Jesse and Maria work, parents at Donovan's school, and many strangers who simply wanted to do anything to help this family.

"From that moment forward," said Jesse. "They've always been behind us and there's a lot of great people out there and it just shows us, there's people out that there that do truly care."

That support is sustaining the Maldonado's for now, as Jesse tries to heal and hopefully walk again. Since he needs constant care, Maria is home with him. Together, they help each other get through those moments that always bring a flood of emotions.

Jesse added, "It's hard to see his little friends running around and stuff because I just want to imagine that he's there with them."

He still struggles to even drive by the crosswalk where his family was shattered. Everywhere he goes are memories of Donovan, and the places he laughed and played.

"Every day is just a challenge, you know, just to get through the day, everything's a memory," said Jesse. "It's just so hard because every streetlight we go to, every park we drive by, it's just a constant reminder of all the things we used to do together. It feels like we're never going to have that back anymore."

ABC30 did meet Maria during our interview. She was crying and very upset. Although she wanted to support Jesse during the interview, she was too distraught to even sit by him.

If you'd like to make a donation to the Maldonados, go to any Bank of America, and donate to the Maldonado Memorial Fund.

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