Denair teen will get $1.28M in crash settlement

A former Denair High School student hurt so badly in a 2008 car crash that he can only blink one eye to communicate will get $1.28 million from a settlement finalized Tuesday in Stanislaus County Superior Court.

Vicente Hernandez, 17, who was a passenger, is almost completely paralyzed and minimally responsive, said his attorney, Carlo Garcia of Modesto.

"There is no amount of money, no figure that can bring the boy's life back," Garcia said. "It's very sad."

The lion's share of the settlement, $1 million, will be paid by Michael Tenente, owner of TML Trucking in Clements, whose freight truck allegedly was parked three feet into the roadway when the collision occurred near the high school. A lawyer with a Glendale firm who represents Tenente did not respond to a phone call Tuesday.

The driver of the car, fellow Denair High student Jamie Lynn Heilman, was driving south on North Quincy Road near East Taylor Road at 7 a.m. April 14, 2008, when she drifted right and smashed into the tractor-trailer. She was taken to Doctors Medical Center in Modesto and treated for a fractured hip and cuts and abrasions to her head.

Heilman will pay $25,000 of the settlement. A California Highway Patrol report estimated Heilman was driving 40 mph, "too fast" for the road conditions, and failed to slow down to avoid hitting the truck.

The settlement includes roughly $256,000 to be paid by ranchers Roger and Patricia Smith, whom Garcia alleged "allowed a dangerous condition to exist by permitting ... or encouraging" the truckers to park on the roadway next to their property on North Quincy Road.

Garcia said Hernandez's condition has improved since he was brought to the hospital in a coma.

"He's made a lot of progress," Garcia said. "As little as it sounds, it's a lot of progress."

Hernandez is one of 17 children. His parents make the trip from Stanislaus County to a hospital in Saratoga, near San Jose, four times a week to visit him.

Hernandez's family could not be reached for comment.

"(His) parents are extremely saddened and harmed emotionally by this," Garcia said. "They have suffered and they continue to suffer. They've lost everything; they have nothing. They're trying to do the best for their son."

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at or 578-2337.