By Reggie Ellis
The impact was so vicious that the license plate numbers from a 1998 Chevy van were imprinted on the passenger side door of a white 2002 Dodge pick-up.
"I have never seen anything like that," said Officer Duke Hettick, a 23-year veteran of the Visalia Police Department, while testifying at a Nov. 7 preliminary hearing for Ephraim Ray Padilla.
Padilla, 21, of Visalia is the man charged with driving under the influence during the Sept. 6 car wreck that left 12-year-old Daniel Lovik hospitalized for three months. He was comatose for the first several weeks.
Hettick said he was at home when he received a call at 6:50 a.m. to respond to the collision at the corner of Murray Avenue and Court Street in Visalia. Another officer had been on the scene for about 10 minutes.
After interviewing Daniel's father, Brian Lovik, the two officers determined that Padilla's van ran a red light traveling northbound on Court Street and T-boned Brian's pick up on the passenger side where Daniel was seated. There were no skid marks from either vehicle. Brian and Daniel were on their way to referee an American Youth Soccer Organization tournament in Visalia.
Hettick testified that a witness said after the collision, the van attempted to drive away but only made it across the street. After the vehicle stopped, a man described as "a Hispanic male, tall and thin" wearing a "striped shirt and beige pants" got out of the van and fled the scene.
"The witness said the man exited the vehicle and tried to run but was staggering so bad he could hardly walk," Hettick said.
Visalia Police Officer Dale Rush testified that en route to the accident he was told to go to Padilla's residence in the 1300 block of North Divisadero Street, three to four miles from the scene of the accident. Dispatch reported that Padilla was the registered owner of the van. When Rush arrived there was no one home. Sometime later, a white car pulled up into the driveway. The driver helped a man out of the passenger seat who was "bleeding from the back of his head and leg." Rush said the man's driver's license identified him as the driver of the van.
"I smelled a strong odor of alcohol. He had an unsteady gate, bloodshot eyes and slurred speech," Rush said.
The driver of the car, Leo Perez, said he was Padilla's uncle. Perez said his nephew had called for a ride home shortly after the time of the accident.
Hettick said several officers had to hold Padilla up because he could not stand on his own. One of the officers reached into his pocket and found a set of keys that matched the ignition of the van.
"He was incoherent and his eyes were nearly shut," said Hettick, who spent five years with VPD's DUI unit and the last six in the traffic unit. "He was basically passed out."
Rush said Padilla was taken to Kaweah Delta Hospital where he was treated for injuries and blood was drawn. His blood alcohol content (BAC) was 0.11. The legal limit is 0.8. Padilla also tested positive for methamphetamine.
Hettick said he contacted Brian Lovik on Sept. 30 to check up on he and his son's conditions. He said Brian was still suffering from sore ribs. Hettick said doctors had told Brian that Daniel would probably never walk again and would require 24-hour nursing care.
However, Daniel was released from Children's Hospital of Central California on Nov. 3 after a remarkable recovery. He returned to Wilson Middle School on Nov. 4 and can walk on his own power. He is continuing physical, cognitive and speech therapy.
Padilla is charged with two counts of driving under the influence and causing bodily harm, two counts of great bodily injury to another, one count of hit and run and one count of being under the influence of a controlled substance. Judge Ron Couillard upheld all the charges.
Padilla's arraignment was set for 8:30 a.m. on Nov. 21 in Department 7 of the Tulare County Superior Court. Deputy District Attorney Nicholas Schuller said Padilla might be looking at 11 years in prison.
"There is a lot of evidence linking him to the crime," Schuller said. "There is really no other explanation."