It was as quick as the blink of an eye.
That’s how fast James Hammond, then age 5, was hit by a car, ripped out of his tennis shoes and away from his Mamma.
At first, Jaqueline Hammond didn’t realize her son had been hit. She turned to see what had caused the loud thud and looked down the street to hear tires screeching and see a car coming to a stop nearly a block away.
“I called for him, but when do I ever call for James and he don’t answer?” Hammond said, adding that he knew better than to stay silent. “(It’s) because he wasn’t breathing.”
As she raced down the street at 7:45 on Halloween night, Hammond could see her son’s body illuminated by the headlights of the car that had just hit him. He wasn’t moving. He wasn’t breathing. His eyes were open, and she couldn’t feel a pulse.
Valuable time was lost as they waited for emergency personnel to arrive. Hammond’s phone was dead. She yelled for someone to call an ambulance, but when no one did, she ran door to door, begging anyone she could find for help.
‘I’m still here’
James was placed on a ventilator and doctors gave him a 5% chance of survival. For four grueling days, James lay in a coma, as Hammond and the doctors waited for him to show that he wanted to live.
But Hammond knew her son would not die.
“There’s nothing we don’t know about each other. I think he knew, like I knew, he had to stay a while,” Hammond said. “They gave him all the help they could, because he chose to remind them, ‘I’m still here.’”
After a month on a respirator, James was given a tracheostomy. The loss of blood to his brain caused irreversible damage that keeps James from being able to breathe, eat or talk on his own.
James spent more than seven months in the hospital before he was able to go home. In that time, he gained more mobility, regained some of his spunky personality and even kicked a ball again for the first time.
But some wounds will never heal. James will never recover from the injuries to his legs. The hardest news to face is that the damage to his brain is so severe that it’s possible he will need assistance breathing and communicating for the rest of his life.
Critics and questions
In addition to the stress related to James’s recovery, Hammond has had to endure seven months of additional frustrations.
As word spread about the accident on social media, critics were quick to question Hammond’s motherly responsibility, claiming she let James play in the street and saying that James, who was wearing all black, ran out into the roadway.
The investigation into the crash continues, but police have not yet determined exactly what happened.
Hammond is confident that James did not run into traffic.
As the group prepared to cross the street, Hammond remembers that she held her youngest child, a friend pushed the stroller with the 3-year-old, one of the older girls held her 4-year-old’s hand and lastly a then-12-year-old held James’s hand. The group paused before crossing the street. Hammond went first and the others followed.
“No cars were coming still… As soon as we looked again… Boom, he just swept James up the street, out of his shoes, up the block,” she said.
The Lycoming County District Attorney’s office declined to comment on the ongoing investigation. Hammond said they haven’t spoken to her yet about the incident.
She also has yet to speak with the man who hit James with his car.
“The only thing I ever wanted — why I do interviews and post photos all the time — is just for him to see,” Hammond said, referring to the man who hit James. “You could have said sorry.”
The discrepancies in the case and lack of answers are two of Hammond’s biggest frustrations.
“I don’t know why my son got hit by a car. No, I can’t accept something happening to him that I still don’t fully understand,” she said. “What happened? … (Knowing) anything would … (be) better than nothing.”
But despite these frustrations, the community rallied around James and the Hammond family. Cards, gifts and well-wishes flooded in while he was in the hospital and, after he returned home, a parade of cars welcomed him back.
It’s a long journey ahead, but Hammond has hope that her son still has a bright future ahead of him.
“My son has so many (friends),” she said. “He’s just such a pure and genuine and happy person. It’s nice to see so many people care about him.”