A long wait for crash victim

  • Woman allegedly struck by Apple Valley finance director still suffering four months later

RANCHO CUCAMONGA — More than four months after a hit-and-run crash on Interstate 15 totaled her car and resulted in injuries that necessitated ongoing treatment she can’t afford, Lola Espinoza continues to dwell on what-if scenarios.

She doesn’t normally drive at night, but Espinoza’s Volkswagen Passat was in the shop on July 20 and she had errands to run during the day. Her husband, Frank, let her use his Toyota Prius while he was at work.

She was driving to pick him up from his co-worker’s home when Marc Puckett — the Town of Apple Valley finance director who now faces a felony hit-and-run charge — allegedly hit the back of the Prius and subsequently fled the scene on foot.

Now Espinoza’s mind replays that day’s events and the crash ad nauseum.

What if the Passat hadn’t needed repairs? She said she would have been home with their four boys. What if she was at home that night? She said she worries a family could have been killed. What if her 12-year-old son had been in the car? She said she’s just thankful he wasn’t, even though she begged him to go with her.

I don’t like driving alone at night. He loves being with me, and he goes everywhere with me, Espinoza told the Daily Press. He usually sits in the back (seat), but for some reason, he didn’t want to go this time … God was totally watching him.

She said the most nagging questions surround the lengthy investigation conducted by the California Highway Patrol and the public stature of the man who she said slammed into her and left her hurt at the scene.

I just don’t get it, why it took so long for them to come up with something, Espinoza said. For the first few weeks, I felt like I was losing my mind because I couldn’t grasp it. I know people do hit-and-runs, but from someone with his power — I couldn’t believe it.

Rancho Cucamonga CHP officials forwarded the case to the San Bernardino County District Attorney for review in September. DA spokesperson Chris Lee said a follow-up investigation was requested shortly thereafter. The case was back with the DA by Oct. 26, according to Rancho CHP Officer Jesus Garcia.

Last week, Lee told the Daily Press it’s not uncommon for his office to request further investigation.

Initially (the case) was turned down based on what was submitted (by Rancho CHP), Lee said. Further investigation was requested and that was submitted to our office. I don’t want to give the impression that law enforcement isn’t doing their job. That isn’t the case. But when looking from a legal perspective, that thing happens sometimes. That’s nothing out of the ordinary. Each case has its own set of circumstances.

Rancho CHP officials declined to comment further for this story.

The July 20 crash occurred just south of Foothill Boulevard on southbound I-15 at approximately 11:30 p.m. The Cadillac careened off the freeway after impact and went down an embankment, stopping in a flood control channel, according to previous Daily Press reports.

Puckett, who previously denied hitting another vehicle, said he left his car to seek out someone with a cell phone because his was dead. He walked down the embankment, borrowed a cellphone and called his son, who arrived later to pick him up.

Meanwhile, first responders attended to Espinoza, who said she never saw Puckett’s Cadillac before the crash and wasn’t initially aware he allegedly fled the scene.

The fact that I was worried about him gets me mad. What a jerk, she said. When I found out the guy left, I was pissed

Espinoza said her back and neck were injured in the crash. She has a 1-to-2-millimeter bulge between her C3 and C4 vertebrae, a 3-millimeter posterior rightward bulge between her C5 and C6 vertebrae and a 1-millimeter bulge between her C6 and C7 vertebrae, according to medical records.

Espinoza, who is pursuing a paramedic’s license and is nearly finished with her clinicals, said she experiences sharp and numbing pain in her back that affects her ability to work.

I never had this (pain) before the accident, she said. I’ve always had a little back pain, but not like this where the 10 is a 10 out of 10 or an 8 out of 10 throughout the day … I was getting depressed because what if I can’t do my job? Do I have to look for another trade? It’s depressing, you know, because I don’t know if I am going to be able to do it. I’m going to do it, but I have doubts.

Part of her treatment called for cortisone shots in her back, but that was discontinued because Puckett’s insurance policy didn’t cover the cost, according to Espinoza.

I had to put everything on hold, she said. He only has the minimum on his policy, which was $15,000, and my treatment was more than that.

Puckett did not respond to a request for comment on his insurance policy.

In lieu of the shots, Espinoza has resorted to Epsom salt, Tiger Balm and paying $50 out of pocket once a week for massages. Still, despite the crash and more than four months of waiting for a charge, she said she tries to look at the bright side, which includes her children hugging her more.

I do see that ditch that he went down and it is pretty steep, and I’m glad I didn’t end up down there, Espinoza said. I got hit, but I’m alive. He could have killed someone else … I hope he faces the consequences so that he won’t do it again. I believe he hasn’t learned his lesson.

Source: Matthew Cabe, Daily Press