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Teen Julia Bertoli has no memory of the Sebastopol crash that nearly killed her last summer and sparked an outcry about pedestrian safety.

Asked to recall those events, the 16-year-old turned to her mother at the Petaluma apartment complex where they live and in a slow, almost childlike way, asks whether she died and came back.

In a way, she did.

The Julia that once loved to ride horses now walks with a noticeable limp, her right arm tensed at her side.

The Julia that could speak French with fluency can no longer read, or recall what was said to her five minutes ago.

The Julia that was quick to laugh is now quick to cry, as she vaguely realizes that whatever happened last summer took something precious from her.

"She wants to know why she looks different," her mother, Valerie Bertoli, said. "She looks at a picture and says, &‘I was so pretty. I'm ugly now.'"

The violent collision that reordered her life a year ago sent a shock through the small town of Sebastopol, where the Bertolis are a well-known family and where concerns about pedestrian safety had been raised for years, including at the intersection where Julia was hit.

A lawsuit filed by the family that accuses various government agencies of creating dangerous conditions that led to the crash also has sparked controversy over who should be held responsible for a crash that did not result in anyone being charged with a crime.

But at the heart of it is the story of a girl who was coming into her own and is now facing a very different future.

Wearing a black sleeveless shirt and psychedelic green pants, Julia could have been just another teen lounging by the pool this week. Her fashionable sunglasses were perched atop her head, revealing big brown eyes, which at the moment were trained on her iPhone.

It was only when she spoke or moved around that the extent of her injuries became apparent.

The force of the July 3 collision threw Julia nearly 40 feet, crashing her head-first into the pavement. She wasn't breathing when the first Sebastopol police officer arrived on the scene. He had to use a bag mask to help open the teen's airway until other medical help arrived.

At the hospital, doctors opened up Julia's skull to relieve pressure caused by internal bleeding. She also broke two vertebrae and had a fracture near her left eye, according to her family.

Valerie Bertoli was on her way to San Francisco to attend a baseball game when she got the call to go to the hospital.

She recalled those desperate days at her only child's bedside hoping that things would be all right.

"All you want is a sign, that she's going to wake up in two days or two months — something," she said. "But all you hear in intensive care is, &‘We don't know. We don't know.' So you worry."

Julia spent three months at Memorial before being transferred to Children's Hospital and Research Center in Oakland, where she began the arduous task of relearning how to live, including basic things like swallowing.

She finally went home to Petaluma in December, only to find that she didn't recognize what once was familiar.

As her daughter goes through the long and difficult rehabilitation, Valerie Bertoli struggles to pay bills and maintain her grip.

She and Julia's father, who lives in Texas, were separated at the time of their daughter's crash and have since divorced.

Valerie works part-time as an equestrian trainer. She has no health insurance, which contributes to mounting financial difficulties. The family receives some government assistance as well as help from Valerie's parents.

The family's lawsuit seeks damages for the cost of Julia's medical care, which their attorney, David Rouda, estimated to be $2 million as of January.

The crash and the lawsuit have brought renewed attention on pedestrian safety in Sebastopol, where Julia grew up and was enjoying her summer vacation last year after she finished her freshman year at Orchard View School.

As her mother recounted this week how Julia was last year looking forward to a month-long visit to France and spending the night with the friend she was planning to go there with, Julia interrupted to ask who the girl was.

"I'm so sad," she said, her brown eyes welling with tears. "I can't remember anyone. I'm sorry, but that makes me sad."

Julia was hit on Healdsburg Avenue, which is also Highway 116, at the intersection with Florence Avenue, at about 6 p.m. as she and her boyfriend and two other friends walked toward Analy High School to watch holiday fireworks.

The family's lawsuit, filed in Sonoma County court, blames Caltrans, the City of Sebastopol, the county and a number of property owners near the crosswalk for negligence.

The suit alleges that those who designed and maintained the crosswalk failed to take a number of steps to make it safer, such as better signage, improved striping, expanded no-parking zones and pruning and removing overgrown trees.

"The conditions of this crosswalk were a trap, not just for Julia, but for the driver as well," Rouda said. "What happened here was pretty much inevitable."

In 1999, a citizens group working with the City Council identified the intersection as one of several in Sebastopol that needed improvements for pedestrian safety.

But city officials said funding issues prevented them from implementing all of the recommendations. In 2006, a Sebastopol man suffered brain injuries after he was hit by a car as he walked in the same crosswalk where Julia was hit.

Steve Mitchell, a Santa Rosa attorney who is representing Sebastopol in the Bertoli case, said the city is not liable because the highway is the responsibility of Caltrans.

He said the Bertolis are trying to take advantage of the city's good intentions.

"What are they saying, that you wouldn't have been liable if you sat by and did nothing, but you are liable if you make suggestions for improvements and try to work with Caltrans to make them?" he said.

Steven Sheldon, who is named in the suit as the architect and part-owner of Florence Lofts, a mixed-use development at the intersection where the crash occurred, said he bears no responsibility for the conditions of the crosswalk.

"Something tragic happens, and then some people think that's reason to sue everybody in the whole world," he said. "It's extremely sad what happened to that girl."

The suit also names Linda Chilvers, the 65-year-old driver of the 2003 Toyota Corolla that struck the teen. Chilvers had left work at the Sebastopol Library and was on her way home to Forestville at the time of the crash.

Sebastopol Police Chief Jeff Weaver said this week that his investigators could not determine who was at fault in the crash and therefore did not recommend that any charges be filed.

California law states that motorists must yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. But pedestrians also are prohibited from walking or running into a crosswalk if an approaching vehicle is deemed an "immediate hazard."

"We had conflicting witness statements, therefore we can't definitively determine whether the car was so close as to pose an immediate hazard," Weaver said.

He said police estimated that Chilvers was driving between 23 and 28 mph, which is below the posted speed limit of 30.

A point of contention between police and Julia's family is whether the teen was talking on her cell phone at the time of the crash.

The police report cited several witnesses and cell phone records to conclude that she was doing just that. Police said the distraction was a factor in the crash.

Valerie Bertoli told police that she had been talking to her daughter around the time of the crash when the call ended abruptly.

But Rouda said that conversation took place prior to Julia entering the crosswalk. He said he has interviewed witnesses who said they did not see the phone to her ear as she crossed the street.

"The evidence shows she's not on the phone, and even if she was, there's nothing illegal about talking on one," he said.

Chilvers did not return a phone call this week, but in the days following the crash, the librarian sent a card to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital to express her sorrow.

According to Rouda, the card read: "I don't know if this is appropriate, but my whole heart goes out to each of you. I am so very sorry that this has happened. You are all in my prayers each and every day."

How far Julia will progress in her rehabilitation isn't clear. Her mother said doctors were amazed that she even survived the crash.

"They tell me to enjoy every single day," Valerie said.

Julia will begin taking special needs classes at Casa Grande High School this Fall, a far cry from where the teen was at prior to the crash.

But she's alive.

"This kid won't give up. I won't either," said her mom.

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