The 19-year-old who was T-boned by a driver fleeing Mission police last month is making a tremendous comeback, but the road to a full recovery is long and arduous.
Enrique Rodriguez went from fighting for his life at South Texas Health System McAllen last month to learning how to walk and talk again.
Kike, as his family lovingly refers to him, suffered massive head trauma Sept. 21 when the driver of a Dodge Durango rammed the passenger side of his BMW in San Juan.
That driver, later identified as 21-year-old Samuel Martinez Jr., had been leading police on a chase for about 14 miles before he collided with Rodriguez at the intersection of Business 83 and Nebraska Avenue.
Police believe Martinez and the occupants of a second vehicle were going to try to smuggle people into the country somewhere near Inspiration Road in Mission when an officer, who had already seen both vehicles the night before, tried to stop Martinez for a minor traffic infraction.
What ensued was a chase that eventually involved at least six different Mission police officers and two supervisors, and spanned roughly four different police jurisdictions — all over a broken license plate light.
It’s unclear how many more police officers from San Juan and other jurisdictions responded to the collision, but in the end, Martinez successfully ran away from police and fled to Mexico later that same day.
More than a month has now passed and Kike’s mother is still trying to make sense of it all.
“We need to know why a cop decided to chase an individual for 14 miles over a light and have that person, even after he crashed into him, not be able to apprehend him and still be able to get away,” Citlalli Rodriguez said last week. “And (now) my son is in this situation. I mean, we need answers.”
Rene Villarreal, who witnessed the crash, doesn’t understand how Martinez was able to evade police.
“It was the worst accident I’ve ever seen in person,” he said a few days after the collision.
“It happened right before my eyes.”
Mission police are not saying much.
“We were not given false expectations because obviously a lot of that has to do with the perpetrator being in Mexico, so (it’s) completely different justifications,” Kike’s mother said. “They just told us that they’re workin on it.”
Police Chief Roberto Dominguez, who previously told The Monitor the chase was being reviewed by the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, has not returned multiple calls for comment.
But police had a break in the case earlier this month when they arrested Valeria Moreno for hindering the apprehension or prosecution of a known felon.
According to a probable cause affidavit against her, the 19-year-old helped Martinez, her boyfriend, flee to Mexico.
Surveillance video shows she drove him to the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge at about 7:30 p.m. on the day of the collision.
A Mission municipal judge charged her with the third-degree felony and issued her a $25,000 cash surety bond. She was booked into the Hidalgo County Jail on Oct. 14 and released the following day.
“I think it’s a small victory for us as a family that this person has already been arrested. I know that the bond was not very high, but regardless, I mean, we need results,” Kike’s mother said.
Villarreal, an educator and a fitness instructor, was headed to the gym at about 5 a.m. that morning and had stopped at a red light at the intersection of Business 83 and Nebraska Avenue.
He could see police lights in the distance.
“I was approaching the light to take a right turn to go north to my morning job as a fitness instructor, and before I took a right, I noticed there was a police car following a large SUV, so I stopped,” he said Sept. 24.
Villarreal’s eyes were fixed on the approaching lights so he didn’t immediately notice Kike’s car heading southbound on Nebraska.
“I couldn’t see it,” he said. “I couldn’t foresee the accident.”
What he did see was the crash and the moments that followed it.
“The SUV ran the light and rammed the little car and literally pushed it about, I don’t know, like 30 feet,” he said. “It was like a loud impact and there were sparks. And the car ended up making a 360 and hitting up against the railing on that old car lot on the southeast corner of (Business 83).”
The SUV continued forward on the sidewalk of Business 83 and hit the fence of a business there, Villarreal said. Meanwhile, the one police officer who had been tailing the SUV parked directly behind it.
“And then shortly thereafter, I was kinda stunned and didn’t really know what to do or if I should do anything, but then I saw probably about 10 police vehicles all behind, all coming in pursuit, so I figured they had it under control. And that’s why when they say that the guy got away, it’s like, that guy had one job. You know? That police officer had one job,” he said. “I don’t know if he was torn between the guy who got hit — like ‘should I tend to him or should I follow the suspect’ — but there was so many cops in pursuit that no, it kind of boggles my mind that they lost him.”
Villarreal estimated it took “five to 10 seconds max” before an onslaught of police filled the streets.
“That’s where I stopped looking,” he said.
Kike arrived at STHS McAllen in critical condition.
“He suffered what we call a severe TBI (traumatic brain injury) so he was intubated initially to protect his airway,” trauma surgeon Carlos Palacio said last week. “We moved rapidly with him and we took him to the operating room with our neurosurgeon Dr. (Ameer) Hassan.”
Doctors were able to stop the hemorrhaging inside his brain through surgery, but that wasn’t what worried them most.
“What made it very challenging was the swelling that the brain gets right after the impact,” Palacio said. “So usually the worst day is day four. That’s why we have to be very cautious with the patients and put them down in what we call an induced coma… so that the brain doesn’t get that excited.”
Kike’s parents were hesitant.
“At that moment I asked the doctor, ‘Is that the best for him,’” Citlalli said. “He said, ‘yes, of course it is.’ And (he) pretty much said we’re not going to explore any other option cause this is what needs to be done for him.”
The following days were a blur of anguish, prayer and waiting.
“At the beginning when he was in a coma, the expectation was that he was going to come out of it and he was just going to wake up — and that was not the case,” Citlalli said. “And so those days were just excruciating for us.”
Doctors were honest with her and her husband, Jorge Rodriguez.
“There was a couple of days where I had to be very frank with the family and tell them, ‘I don’t think that he might make it,’” Palacio said. “I was reaching my point, my threshold or that ceiling of interventions that I could perform on him.”
He explained the three possible outcomes to the worried parents. One, he could make a complete recovery. Two, he could become “a vegetable” or completely dependent on machines to eat and breathe. Or three, he could become brain dead.
“They would always tell us, with brain injuries, we can not fix what’s already been done. We can only prevent more damage from happening,” Citlalli said. “And so, you hear all these things and you’re like ‘OK, so what’s the damage? What is that going to look like in six months? What is that going to look like in a month?’ And the doctor said, ‘Well, this is an hour by hour process. Cause he can be fine right now and you’re going to have days where he’s fine and then, you know, things might go south a little bit.’”
When doctors finally decided to wake Kike from the induced coma, his parents waited anxiously for their first-born to return.
“You expect, we all expect, (that) oh, you’re going to wake up — it’s just like when you wake up from a nap, and it’s not like that,” his mother said. “It’s a lot of not knowing and, I guess, a lot of guessing where he is at. Even though his eyes are open, you see that there’s something that’s not completely there.”
His doctors had a warning.
“He might not …recover as you expected,” Palacio said. “Some of these patients, unfortunately, despite all the medical treatments and surgical treatments that we have, they end up being or they become a vegetable. And that’s usually what happens with these severe TBI patients.”
TIME AND EFFORT
Citlalli and Jorge might as well have moved into the hospital with the amount of time they spent there before Kike was finally discharged last week.
“We’re always here. He’s probably like ‘ugh,’” his mother said two days before he went home.
“Yea, we’ll ask him if he’s tired of us or bored, and he just goes like this,” his father said, turning his gaze away. “Like ‘no, but yea. Take a day off.’”
The pair exchanged a look and laughed.
It had been almost a month since they first stepped foot in the hospital.
“We’re definitely lucky that we’re where we are right now,” Citlalli said as physical therapists readied Kike for his second session of the day.
He was completing his first week in rehab and was just days away from being discharged. At this point, Kike had said two words: hi and hello. It happened right after he stopped eating from a G-tube and ate pancakes, eggs and bacon.
“Where he was a week ago and where he is right now is completely different,” his dad said.
Celinda Reyna, a doctor of physical therapy, agreed. She developed a plan for Kike and began executing it the first day he arrived on the sixth floor.
“His progress has been remarkable for us to see,” she said as Kike practiced getting inside a replica of a vehicle, climbing up and down the stairs and walking on a treadmill. “And I have been working for twelve years.”
Reyna said Kike’s age and athleticism prior to the collision helped him remake those connections between his brain and his body. In high school, he was a straight-A student in the top 10%, participated in track and field, ran cross country and played the snare drum, his parents said.
“So his first day with me, when he was walking, it was myself and another skilled therapist having to walk him. He was in full extension, leaning back. He had no control of his body, his trunk, his legs,” Reyna said as Kike walked steadily on the treadmill. “And then to see him doing this is just remarkable to see.”
Still, there’s much work to be done.
“It’s going to take months,” Palacio estimated. “Some people (it) takes years, so it varies from person to person, right?”
Kike’s parents are unfazed. Citlalli is a stay-at-home mother and her husband quit his job as a construction worker at a nuclear plants in Arizona and Kansas to be by his son’s side. The company said his job is waiting for him once he’s ready to return.
But that’s not his main concern right now.
“So the next step will be just to get him to his outpatient (therapy) and make modifications at home to make it safe for him, and being there with him while he gets back to himself,” Citlalli said, noting that the funds the family received through their GoFundMe page will be used for Kike’s recovery. “The two things that they told us was, he’s young and he’s a male and he’s strong, and he has no other medical conditions, so we see him getting better.”
Palacio has high hopes too.
“It was a very rewarding case for all of us cause he was very, very sick when he got here and you see him now, it’s going to take time, but I think he’s going to get there,” he said. “He’ll get back to where he was before — I hope so.”
And when it comes to the criminal case and all of the other worries that have piled on, well, they’ll cross that bridge when they get there, Citalli said.
“The first and most important thing for us was, and has been, and is, for him to get better. But we will definitely visit that matter with Mission PD,” she said. “There’s people that need to be held accountable for what happened. And it’s not just the person that fled.”
Anyone with information on Martinez’s whereabouts is asked to call Mission Crime Stoppers at (956) 581-8477.