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Petaluma teen struggles to recapture her life after Sebastopol crash

  • Personal trainer Jayme Larson works with Julia Bertoli, 16, who suffered brain damage and other injuries after she was hit by a car while walking in a Sebastopol crosswalk last summer.

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.

Julia Bertoli


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.

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