UPDATED: Suspect arrested in Valdez collision

Sandra Arias

Police arrested a 28-year-old woman on suspicion of causing the hit-and-run accident late last Friday that sent pedestrian Joshua Valdez, 22, to the hospital with numerous broken bones. 

Sandra Arias, 28 of Morgan Hill, was arrested Thursday after a tip from the public linked her to the collision, according to Morgan Hill Police Sgt. Shane Palsgrove. The tip indicated that Arias’ car, parked near the corner of Butterfield Boulevard and Jarvis Drive, had fresh damage to the front end. 

Valdez, the man who Arias allegedly hit with her vehicle, remains critically injured and in a coma due to a head injury he suffered as a result of the accident. However, he has become increasingly responsive to commands to squeeze his mother’s hand, and even to wiggle his toes, according to longtime friend Josh Diget of Gilroy.  

Police examined Arias’ car and determined the damage to the silver Volkswagen Beetle was consistent with a collision with a pedestrian, Palsgrove said. Investigators followed up with Arias at her residence at Terracina Apartments, on Butterfield Boulevard near Dunne Avenue, were able to match evidence found at the scene of the accident – Butterfield Boulevard and San Pedro Avenue – to Arias’ vehicle. 

Police do not know why her car was parked at Butterfield and Jarvis when the caller reported seeing the damaged vehicle. 

Arias was out of custody on bail as of about 12 p.m. Friday, according to Sgt. Jose Cardoza of the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office.  

After her arrest Thursday, Arias was transported to the Morgan Hill police station where she was interviewed and later booked into Santa Clara County Jail on suspicion of felony hit and run, Palsgrove said. 

Valdez, a Morgan Hill resident, was found by officers patrolling the area lying unconscious, by himself, on the street near the scene of the accident about 1 a.m. Saturday, police said. He was transported to San Jose Regional Medical Center in critical condition with a head injury, a broken pelvis, broken leg, two broken shoulder blades, bruised lungs, road rash and other injuries. 

He remains in a coma and in critical condition, but his friends have reported periodic improvements in his ability to respond to external stimuli. Valdez was on a mechanical respirator until Thursday, when he was able to breathe on his own for at least a couple hours, according to Diget.

He has opened his eyes at least twice – once when he “glared” at a nurse who attempted to place a pillow underneath his leg, and once earlier this week when he “stared off a good couple of minutes” and went back to sleep, Diget said. 

Diget added that he and other friends of Valdez’ are “relieved” that a suspect was arrested, as they worried that the motorist who hit Valdez might have been from out of town and difficult if not impossible to identify. 

Police determined that Valdez was walking home by himself shortly before he was injured.  

Valdez has lived in Morgan Hill for about a year with his mother, but he grew up in Gilroy and that’s where most of his friends remain. Those friends held a vigil for the critically injured man Monday at the Morgan Hill community center. 

About 70 people attended, and raised about $300 for Valdez’ medical expenses by selling handmade ribbons and cupcakes. 

Another vigil is scheduled to start about 4 p.m. Tuesday at Christmas Hill Park in Gilroy, a frequent hangout spot for Valdez, Diget and their friends. 

Valdez’ friends describe the young man who graduated from GHS in 2008 as a helpful, loving, caring person who enjoys electronic music and has spent many hours serving his community by helping out at the homeless shelter and helping others in need. 

Diget set up a Facebook page titled “Prayers for Joshie” shortly after he was hospitalized. As of Thursday, more than 1,200 people were members of the page which had raised more than $1,500 for medical costs through a wepay.com account linked to the page.  

Valdez’ mother attended the vigil. She chuckled when asked what kind of person her son is.

“No kid’s an angel,” she said. “He’s smart, very intelligent and very outgoing.”

With his long hair and piercings he “doesn’t look approachable, but all you’ve got to do is say ‘Hi’ and he’ll hug you and give you whatever you need.”

She was impressed that less than three days after her son was hospitalized that more than 1,000 people had already become members of a Facebook page dedicated to sending prayers his way. 

“Everybody loves him,” Stacie said. 

When he introduces his friends to his mother, he always tells them, “Call her ‘Mom,’” she said. 

Diget and other friends of Valdez’ plan to have fundraisers and vigils as long as he is in the hospital.  

Valdez’ friends were “up all night” Sunday making ribbons and cupcakes to sell at the vigil. Friends from Santa Cruz to Hawaii have been sending get-well wishes to Valdez since he was hospitalized. 

The friends are also trying to raise awareness of Valdez’ condition, and get as many people as they can to say prayers and send thoughts his way in an effort to heal the young man who loves life too much and is too “stubborn,” in his mother’s words, not to recover. 

“The more positive vibes we send out the better he’s going to get,” said another longtime friend, Kaitlin Muraoka, of Gilroy. 

“He’s affected everyone here in a loving, passionate way,” Muraoka continued at Monday’s vigil. “He’s a big ball full of love and sunshine.” 

Valdez works at Del Monaco Foods in Morgan Hill, where he has worked for about the last six months, but he recently lost his health insurance coverage.

“This is the first real job he’s ever had,” Stacie Valdez said. 

He plans to go back to school, and study to become a massage therapist or sports therapist, his mother added. 

Valdez has “loved music his whole life,” and has produced electronic music on the computer, Diget said. 

He “loves Burning Man,” going on campouts, hanging out in the park and just about anything that “involves being outside,” his friend Carissa Pierotti, 22, said. 

“He enjoys life. He’s that person that reaches out to everyone,” she added. 

Diget, Muraoka and Pierotti wore freshly pressed T-shirts with Valdez’ picture on the front. They plan to make more of the shirts and sell them at future fundraisers. 

Muraoka called Valdez “the advice guru,” as he seems to be the friend to whom everyone turns with questions or personal dilemma. 

When officers found Valdez, he was unconscious but breathing, according to Hoefling. 

Valdez was walking home earlier in the evening, and had parted with a friend near the intersection of Church Street and San Pedro Avenue after midnight, Hoefling said. Valdez continued walking east on San Pedro Avenue. 

When paramedics arrived to the scene shortly after police found Valdez, they determined his injuries were consistent with a pedestrian being hit by a moving vehicle, Hoefling said. 

Donations for Valdez’ medical expenses can be made online through wepay.com/donations/donations-for-joshie-his-family.

Anyone else with information about the accident can call Morgan Hill police at (408) 779-2101. 

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