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Special Report

Jacob's life sentence (w/video)

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Jacob Amezquita recalls only faded images of the few seconds that changed his life forever.

Seated between his mother and her friend in the cab of a Dodge Dakota truck, Jacob was 6 years old when a driver slammed into their vehicle just before 4 p.m. June 7, 2007.

The powerful crash at Delmar Drive and Lone Tree Road killed Jacob’s mom, Vanessa Jasso, 24, and her friend, Rudy Flores, 52.

Somehow Jacob miraculously survived.

He endured more than six surgeries and spent three months in a hospital mostly sedated, fighting to survive. Then he struggled through more time to physically rehabilitate.

“I don’t really remember anything … It was really hard to get to where I am now,” said the 18-year-old Victoria West High School senior. “I couldn’t walk when I was in the hospital. They had to teach me how to do that again. I had to learn how to tie my shoes. Take a shower on my own; get myself dressed. I had started back at the beginning.”

Medical records show that Jacob’s head was almost separated from his spine. Doctors had to implant a cerebral shunt on the side of his neck to help prevent his brain from swelling in case of future injuries. On the back of his head is a deep 5-inch scar.

“I had a lot of broken bones actually, and (they) had to repair all that,” Jacob said. “That’s when they put the shunt in, and they put the metal in my neck to keep it together and everything.”

And while the convicted driver, Bryan K. Brown, received a light sentence – 10 years on probation for killing two people – Jacob has struggled with a life sentence of physical disabilities and the immeasurable loss of his mother.

Lengthy Recovery

After the crash, Jacob grew up in an old house on Victoria’s south side with his great-aunt Gloria Trevino, 71, who became his legal guardian. Over the years, Trevino’s boyfriend, Ricardo Elizalde, 66, has stepped into the role of surrogate father to Jacob and has helped the ailing Trevino raise him.

“He calls me Dad,” Elizalde said. “That’s not a title that you are given. I didn’t ask him to give me that title. That’s a title you earn. I’m proud that he calls me Dad.”

For almost 12 years, Jacob has coped with the lingering effects of a traumatic brain injury, and he has fought to live like a healthy youth who never came so close to death.

“I guess it kind of shapes me into being who I am now,” he said. “(The crash) helped me grow up at a young age, being that I wasn’t doing most of the things that kids my age were doing at that point. You know – from learning to walk to learning to tie my shoes again. It just helped me grow up and made me realize the world isn’t perfect and sometimes things just happen and there’s not really anything you can do about it.”

His limited mobility and medical implants made playing sports dangerous. He has friends and a girlfriend. His interest is in music, and he is active in various band ensembles at Victoria West. He plays the trumpet and is learning to play the French horn. And when he’s not at band practice, he works part-time as a cook at Sonic Drive-In.

Remembering Mom

Every day Jacob is haunted by “what-ifs.” He has vague recollections about his mother and remembers her mostly through photographs and stories from Trevino and Elizalde.

“She was really kind, really fair,” Jacob remembers. “She was one of the old-fashioned parents. Not so strict, but she just wanted me to grow up the right way – everything like that. She spoiled me a lot. That’s really all I can remember. She was just a really great mom.”

Jasso was a single mom working two jobs to support herself and her son. His father was absent from their lives.

“Everything that I could have ever asked for at that age, she always made sure I had it,” Jacob said. “She was a really hard worker, and you know, I wouldn’t trade those six years with her for anybody else.”

From his family, Jacob learned that his mother enjoyed singing and listening to music, so he believes he inherited a love of music from his mother.

In the remaining weeks of his senior year, he’s mulling over his plans after graduation and hopes to attend Victoria College and then transfer to a bigger university and strive for a career in music or music education.

“Music has been a big part of my life as to … getting over troubles and working things out. It’s usually my go-to thing whenever I’m feeling distressed or anything like that. My mom loved music a lot, so I guess she passed that on to me.

“Music isn’t a widely chosen thing from my school, but it’s what I like to do, so I figure I just might as well pursue it, and I want to be the best at it.”

Turning 18 just days ago, a longtime hurdle for Jacob is becoming even more difficult – his financial security.

The benefits he received from his mother’s Social Security have ended, and he has started the process of applying for Supplemental Security Income. He also recently was given the $20,000-plus-interest insurance settlement check that had been kept safe for him since his mother’s death.

Still, his parents are worried about how they will be able to pay for Jacob’s higher education, and they wonder how he will be prepared for the future after they pass on.

“He’s had a hard life,” Elizalde said, sitting at the dining room table. “I wish we could give him more than we can.”

Tough Prosecution

Elizalde said he regrets not knowing more about the legal system when Brown, the driver responsible for the crash, was on trial.

He remembers sitting in the courtroom every day during the two-week trial in 2009 as prosecutors appeared frustrated by the investigation, particularly about the mishandling of key evidence.

In 2007, Brown, then 39, was contracted to work at an offshore platform and had driven to Victoria on that warm spring day to run errands with co-workers.

The defense argued that Brown was unfamiliar with the area and thought he was on a highway heading to Port O’Connor.

Brown, who lives in Morrow, La., did not have a criminal history.

Senior police officers processed the scene and conducted a field sobriety test, which Brown passed, but there is no video of the test. There were beer cans – some empty and some still unopened – in his truck.

Brown was transported to the hospital for a blood draw. But that sample sat in police custody for 102 days before being sent to the state crime lab. Brown’s blood alcohol content was .110, which is above the legal limit.

Intoxication was not listed as a factor in the crash report, according to archived reports, but speeding and running a stop sign were listed causes.

During the trial, the defense lawyer was able to punch holes in the thoroughness and reliability of the police investigation.

“It was a very hard-fought case,” said Victoria attorney Eddie Wilkinson, one of the prosecutors at the time. He and Eli Garza, now a district judge but then the lead prosecutor, pushed for Brown to serve prison time.

Court documents show Brown completed his 10-year probation Feb. 4 for two counts of manslaughter, and he completed 200 hours of community service.

Brown could not be reached for comment.

‘God Has A Plan’

Today, Jacob looks forward to graduating from Victoria West High School and then beginning college.

He avoids dwelling on the crash and its aftermath, but he often spends time remembering his mother, her smiles and her perseverance to provide for him.

He also longs for closure, but understands it may never come.

Two years ago, as Jacob began driver’s education class, he told his family that he wanted to meet Brown.

“Probably not even a question he can give me an answer to, but you know – just why?” Jacob said. “I want to know what happened to him. What changed in his life because at the end of the day, he got to go home.”

Jacob said he is still learning to forgive, and he knows he can never change the past.

“I’m comfortable with where I’m at,” he said. “It’s just that I wish things could have been different. I just wish it would have ended differently, and I mainly just wish it would have never happened.

“It really helped me grow up and realize what the world is like nowadays, and that it’s possible to get through it all.”

Despite his tremendous loss, Jacob knows he still has a lot on his side – a loving family.

“As long as we live,” Elizalde said, “we’ll be there for him. … We just want the best for him. His mom and grandma, they’re in heaven, but they’re gonna be even more proud of him when he succeeds in life, which I know he’s gonna do.

“He was left in this world for a reason. God has a plan for him.”

12 years after surviving crash that killed his mother, Victoria youth prepares for future

Jacob leans against a cabinet in the dining area of his Victoria home and speaks with Elizalde.

Advocate photographers Angela Piazza and Evan Lewis contributed to this story. Questions may be directed to the Advocate newsroom at 361-574-1222.

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