At age 8 and three-quarters, Jazzlin Mejia answers lickety-split when asked if she has an idea of what she might like to do as a grownup.
“I want to be a cop,” she said from her wheelchair, positioned just now before her latest art project at the dining table in her family’s small Petaluma apartment.
Jazzlin — or Jazzy, or Jazz — is aware that people in uniform rushed to her and her dad and to the drug-and-alcohol impaired driver who caused the horrendous, 2013 Sonoma Valley highway crash that so utterly changed everything.
A cop? People close to Jazzlin are thinking far less about what she may become than about what she is: a creative kid who’ll likely never walk again and has limited use of her arms and hands, but who’s grateful not to have died and who could use some help as she asserts herself ever more back into everyday life.
“She used to hide out a lot,” says her father, 29-year-old Gus Mejia, from his living room chair a few paces from where his daughter and fellow survivor busies herself. Mejia has healed from the extensive leg fractures and other injuries suffered when his Toyota, with Jazzlin buckled up in the backseat, was slammed head-on by a Jaguar that had crossed the centerline on State Route 121 not far from Sonoma Raceway.
A passenger in the Jaguar, 26-year-old Sergei Beoglozan of Ukraine, died at the scene. Driver Damodar Chandradas, 25, of San Francisco, pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter and 15 other charges and was sentenced to 25 years in state prison.
Jazzlin spent three months at Children’s Hospital Oakland for treatment of her injuries, the worst being a severed spine. For a long time after she returned to Sonoma County in a wheelchair, she had no interest in leaving home.
Today, her father said, she more and more often tells him and his wife, Nannette Andrade, “I want to go here, I want to go there. I want to do this, and that.”
“It wasn’t like that at first,” says Mejia, who works as a glazier at a Marin County ceramics manufacturer. “It’s time for her to be more independent.”
Jazzlin’s parents aren’t asking for more help from a community that’s already done much for them. They’re thankful for many donations and acts of kindness. And they’re fairly overwhelmed by what a group of school friends and neighbors led by Chris and Nina Gruener are seeking to do.
A son of the Grueners’, Wes, befriended Jazzlin in kindergarten at the Mary Collins charter school on the campus of Petaluma’s Cherry Valley School. Now the Grueners are rallying people to help plan and pull off a benefit stage show they hope will be so well done and prove so popular it will become an annual, sellout event.
All net proceeds would go to Jazzlin’s family.
“They haven’t the resources to absorb this tragedy,” Nina Gruener said. “Everything is so expensive. Even an upgraded wheelchair is thousands and thousands of dollars.”
She and her husband operate Cameron and Co., a Petaluma book publisher founded by Nina Gruener’s later grandfather, Robert Cameron, who was renowned for his books of aerial photographs shot above cities and landscapes.