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'We can't heal': Family wants justice for man who lost both legs to a suspected drunk driver

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office has yet to file charges against the suspected drunk driver that caused the accident.

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Nearly two months after Jeremiah Washington lost both of his legs during a car accident, the suspected drunk driver that caused the tragedy has yet to be formally charged for the crash.

Police arrested 47-year-old Jerry Odogui Hernandez following the accident on June 25, but he was released on bond two days later. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has not yet filed charges against him.

Life changed in a second

Jeremiah, a recently new father, was standing by the trunk of his brother’s car on June 25 when he was hit by Herandez near 46th and Glendale Avenues.

“Out of nowhere it was a full-fledged slam from behind,” said Jeremiah's brother, Nehemiah Washington. “It took me a minute to process what was going on. I looked around and didn’t see my brother.”

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The brothers had just come back from getting their hair cut and were about to get ready to go get food. Jeremiah had clothes in Nehemiah's trunk and had just stepped outside Hernandez slammed into him with his vehicle.

“I turned to the dude and asked him ‘you didn’t see me? I’m parked. My trunk is open. What’s going on?’ and I heard my brother screaming on the floor,” the victim’s brother said.

Nehemiah turned his attention to his brother and placed his head on his lap “to let him know everything was going to be okay,” he said. “I didn’t want him to see his legs.”

The younger brother FaceTimed his mom, Belinda Welch.

“Everything in his face said it all,” she said. “He had no words. He couldn’t speak. He flipped his camera on his phone, and I see my son laid out on the floor and his legs were mangled.”

Jeremiah was rushed to the hospital, his injuries so severe he had to be intubated. But doctors could not save either of his legs. They were both amputated above the knee.

“He’s in an emotional rollercoaster,” Welch said. “There’s times where he is okay and he’s talking, then there’s times where he just breaks down and cries.”

It’s been hard for Jeremiah to adjust to his new life, his mother said. Therapy has been difficult, and he is scared to hold and drop his baby son, she added.

“My child doesn’t have a life right now,” Welch said. “Especially knowing that this individual is still out here free.”

Seeking justice

Motherhood has a new meaning for Welch after no charges have been brought up against Jerry Hernandez, the man suspected of driving drunk that injured her son.

“I’m his advocate and I will fight for him,” she said fighting back tears.

On the day of the wreck, court records state Hernandez got out of his 1995 Isuzu Trooper, told witnesses “that he had been drinking beer” and left the scene “without attempting to provide aid to” Jeremiah.

Witnesses followed Hernandez and “held him on the ground until officers took [him] into custody and observed signs and symptoms of impairment,” arrest documents said.

During a post-Miranda interview, Hernandez allegedly told detectives, “He did leave his vehicle after it ‘stopped’ because he needed to use the bathroom.”

Glendale police recommended one charge of an accident with serious injury, but two days after the crash he was released on a $50,000 secure bond, where he only had to pay 10% to walk free.

The release order document stated Hernandez was “[dangerous] and flight risk,” and listed his criminal record which consists of four prior felony convictions, including Aggravated DUI and Unlawful flight.

In 2019, Hernandez served four months in jail for aggravated DUI.

On July 27, the department re-submitted the case to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. This time recommend four charges, including DUI, aggravated assault, and endangerment.

Documents in the re-submitted case showed the Department of Public Safety Crime Lab returned the results of Hernandez’s blood and “it was found to have a 0.109 BAC. Which is an impairing amount.”

MCAO told 12News in a statement they are reviewing the case.

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“Vehicular crime cases usually involve scene re-creation, toxicology reports, witness interviews, and evidence gathering that can take time to gather and assess,” the statement read.

Jeremiah's family wants justice.

“Nobody would deserve anything like this,” his brother said. “Even though he will have replacement legs, it’s not fair to him. He didn’t do anything wrong.”

12News attempted to speak with Hernandez at his home but was unsuccessful.

“There’s no healing right now,” Welch said. “We can’t grieve, we can’t heal. We can’t do anything. We’re stuck. We’re stuck until we know what the DA is going to do.”

Each prosthetic leg will cost the family an average of $50,000, Welch said. They have set up a GoFundMe account to help get him walking again.

“Growing up he’s always been inspirational, and he still is,” Nehemiah said. “The way he is fighting now, he still is inspirational.”

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