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DWI Victims and Offenders Come Together in Effort to Help Stricken Child

By Katie Burford
Journal Staff Writer
    Kenny and Carla Laweka, whose 6-year-old son has been in a coma since a crash two years ago, said they had almost lost hope when help came from the most unexpected place: a man in a court program for drunken drivers.
    The story started May 10, 2003, when Carla Laweka was driving a pickup near Gallup with her son, Nicky, and daughter, Kayla. Suddenly a Dodge pickup rounded the curve and headed straight for them, Laweka, 38, said.
    "The more I tried to steer away, the more he kept coming toward us," she recalled.
    The two pickups collided head on. Although her son was restrained with a seat belt, his head slammed into the dashboard, causing his brain to hemorrhage.
    "The people that we were before the crash, we no longer are," Kenny Laweka, 39, said from their home in Albuquerque.
    Their vibrant, curious son— "He was at the age where the world was a wonderful place. His favorite questions to us were 'why?' and 'how come?' '' Kenny said— disappeared in a flash.
    The driver of the other truck, who was believed to be intoxicated, fled the scene. He eventually was found guilty of assault resulting in serious bodily harm. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
    Although Nicky remains in a coma, the Lawekas decided this summer to bring their son home to care for him.
    "We never wanted our son institutionalized," his father said.
    They learned the litany of treatments he must receive every day to keep him alive. They shuttled him to countless doctors' appointments.
    Then their car broke down, creating a seemingly insurmountable barrier on the already rough road they were traveling.
    "Our skies were the darkest. We had no hope," Kenny said.
    Then hope appeared, in the form of Jo Jo Chavez, a 37-year-old man arrested twice on DWI charges. Earlier this year, he had learned about the family through Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the organization where he was doing his community service with Metropolitan Court's DWI/Drug Court program.
    The program allows offenders to avoid jail time if they complete a rigorous treatment plan.
    Chavez learned that the family was desperately in need of a vehicle. Timidly, he offered his help and that of some of his fellow DWI court participants.
    "We thought, 'How is this family going to feel about us?' ... Someone like me wrecked their life," Chavez said.
    Instead they were welcomed as saviors.
    "They're just loving people," he said of the Lawekas.
    The group was able to get one of the family's cars working. Now, their goal is to provide them with a handicap-accessible van so they can take their son to medical appointments and also on outings to expose him to the outside world.
    To accomplish this, they have organized a food sale and carwash Saturday with proceeds going toward the van.
    "Because of Nicky we all came together," Chavez said Wednesday as the group assembled a food stall for the event.
    MADD executive director Terry Huertaz said she has never seen victims and offenders come together to this degree.
    "It's the most powerful thing that I've ever witnessed in my 10 years of MADD," she said.
    Chavez also helped finish construction of a special room for Nicky in the Lawekas' home.
    "Everything he says he's going to do, he does. He's a man of his word," Kenny Laweka said of Chavez.
    Nicky, who before his accident was looking forward to starting T-ball, has made advances and seen setbacks during the past two years. Recently his body became swollen, and doctors have been unable to determine an exact cause, Carla Laweka said.
    Kenny Laweka said that although doctors "paint a pretty bleak picture" for Nicky, they have also told the family that some random stimulus— a familiar smell, a relative's voice— might yet stir him to consciousness.
    They're holding out hope.
    "That's our goal: for him to someday wake up," he said.
    The fund-raiser for Nicky starts at 8 a.m. at 2323 Isleta SW, located north of Rio Bravo. A donation account also has been set up at Wells Fargo Bank.