PUBLIC SAFETY FACILITY — Alex Petrakos’ back-to-school shopping list looked similar to that of most 11-year-old boys.
A new backpack was a must (his old one is too small to fit many of the things he carries in a brightly-colored shoulder bag), and the pairs of Levis and new shoes will replace old ones past the point of saving.
However, few such shopping trips are paid for by the Police Officers’ Association, the group that represents sworn members of the Santa Monica Police Department.
Last June, Alex and his mother Sunny Hively — her given name is Mary — were injured in a horrific accident on the side of Highway 60 on the way back from an Angels baseball game.
Alex was sitting inside the car when an allegedly drunk driver, Tina Marie Silva, plowed into the family’s vehicle while it was parked, disabled, on the side of the road.
The collision broke Alex’s hips and legs, and confined him to a wheelchair and then crutches for months. Hively was standing outside of the car with her other son, Maximillion, when the accident happened. She was released from the hospital in August, but still faces a long road to recovery that includes surgery on her right leg.
Maximillion, then a student at Lincoln Middle School, was killed in the crash.
Officer Jennifer Rodriguez, who belongs to the POA, heard about the accident a month after the fact.
Rodriguez taught the D.A.R.E. (Drug and Alcohol Resistance Education) program at Grant Elementary School. She read about the accident in an article by a local newspaper, and had a sinking feeling.
“I looked at my roster and found his name and said, ‘Oh no, this is one of my D.A.R.E. kids,'” she said.
Rodriguez spends a good deal of her professional time teaching children about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, especially drinking and driving. When one of those lessons impacted her student in a very real way, she decided to get involved.
She took Alex, his uncle and a friend out for a day to explore the Public Safety Facility and learn the ins and outs of SMPD’s newest facility. Alex got to put out calls on the practice dispatch channel, learn about the art and science of fingerprinting and spend time with the SWAT team and police dogs.
Rodriguez then took the trio to Pacific Park at the Santa Monica Pier to enjoy rides and games at PALpalooza, an event for children involved in the Police Activities League program.
Although they seemed to enjoy themselves and break out of the unnatural routine of recovery and readjustment, Rodriguez wasn’t satisfied — she wanted to make a more tangible difference in the lives of Alex and his mother.
“In the midst of that day, I was trying to brainstorm how we could give the child some more support,” Rodriguez said.
The community rallied around the family immediately after the accident, but as time passed the initial shock of the tragedy faded and help began to disappear with it.
That left them struggling under the weight of huge medical bills accumulated over the months in the hospital’s intensive care unit and other appointments, many of which Hively later found were not covered by her insurance.
At the same time, things at the family’s residence had gone untended for some time. Although Hively’s sister, Brenda Petrakos, stepped in and took care of Alex while his mother was hospitalized, things like dirty clothes had been pushed to the wayside by more pressing concerns.
It got to the point that many things had to be thrown away, Hively said Wednesday, and Alex was in desperate need of new goods.
That was something Rodriguez could sink her teeth into. She went to the POA president and requested a donation, something to help the family get Alex a few things to prepare for his first year at Lincoln Middle School.
Ultimately, the board approved a $250 donation.
“It was definitely a no-brainer for them,” Rodriguez said. “They agreed this was a particularly extraordinary cause.”
Alex, Hively and Rodriguez met at the Public Safety Facility after school on Wednesday.
Alex, for one, had goals. Skinny jeans only, please — his mom once had to cut the cuff of a pair of loose jeans out of his bicycle chain with his brother’s pocket knife, causing him to reject the style — and shoes that could double for school wear and a potential Nightwing outfit for Halloween.
Who’s Nightwing, you ask?
Alex has a YouTube video for you. (If you’ve never see it, he’s sort of an evolved Robin, a la Batman.)
He and his brother Max used to watch regularly-occurring shows on the online video-sharing service, like that of Ray William Johnson, which was updated every Thursday.
The pair also played Monopoly and video games on the Xbox console like “Minecraft,” a cube-world in which players can build shelters using 3D cubes to survive the attacks of oncoming hordes.
He still plays those games, mainly with online friends of his brother’s, and doctors just gave him the clearance to run and jump again so he can go out for his old spot on the Yankees Little League team.
It’s all part of transitioning back into the regular routine of reality, separate from the unusual obligations of doctors’ appointments and coping.
Alex is acclimating well at Lincoln, he says, sailing through violin lessons and his regular academics. Still, with his name comes recognition amongst his fellow students who attended school with his brother, Max.
“I’m ‘that’ kid,” Alex said succinctly.
Now he’ll be “that kid” in an awesome new hoodie, courtesy of the POA.
His mother appreciates the gesture and the help it brings to the household.
“It means a lot to us,” she said.