Two lives forever altered on a roadway

Luis Jovel, 14, of Clarksburg, also known as Junior, was left paralyzed two years ago after he was struck by a speeding car driven by a police officer. His parents have outfitted their home to meet his needs and help him daily with his physical therapy and homework.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 25, 2010; 10:33 PM

Officer Jason Cokinos was about to leave his house in northern Montgomery County when he heard the traffic report. Route 27 was backed up. Better take Stringtown Road, he thought, before climbing into his police cruiser to drive to his off-duty job at a power plant.

Inside a modest, split-level house along Stringtown Road, 12-year-old Luis Jovel Jr. had gotten home from school. He ate a bowl of cereal and asked his dad whether he could walk to a friend's house. He headed down his long driveway and crossed a stretch of Stringtown where rural gives way to residential.

What happened next, on a sunny afternoon in April 2008 in Clarksburg, changed two lives forever.

"It's a picture in my mind that I never want to see again," said Cokinos, speaking publicly for the first time about the accident.

He was driving an estimated 56 mph, nearly twice the speed limit, and said the child darted in front of his car. He slammed his brakes, skidded 40 feet and struck the 82-pound boy, who rolled over his hood. Junior, as Luis is called, is now a quadriplegic.

"It's okay it was me," Junior told his mother. "I can't even imagine if it was one of my brothers or my sister."

Junior and Cokinos believe things happen for reasons. They tell themselves not to dwell on the past. They never have spoken to each other.

"I don't want to just show up at the door," Cokinos said. "I don't want to create any problems for them. I don't want to create any additional pain."

On the road

After Cokinos's car skidded to a stop that afternoon, he jumped out, grabbed a first aid kit and applied a bandage to the back of Junior's head. He felt no pulse and started chest compressions. Junior's father, Luis Jovel Sr., came running out of the house. He performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, taking in blood as he did.

The two got a labored breathing going. Medics showed up. Junior was taken away in a helicopter, barely alive.

He fell into a coma. Doctors determined his brain stem, a small area that translates thoughts to actions, was badly damaged. It was unclear whether the altar boy and youth football player would ever speak again.

On his way to visit him at Kennedy Krieger hospital in Baltimore one day, Junior's older brother Juan stopped at a Borders bookstore and spotted a spelling teaching tool for young kids: a board that held movable, magnetic letters.

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