On July 18, 6-year-old Amber Ward was run over by an uninsured and unlicensed driver while playing at the edge of the parking lot outside her father’s apartment in Carter County.
On Tuesday, her parents and stepfather held a news conference at the hospital where she has spent the past two weeks receiving treatment for her injuries. Their purpose was to give their account of the accident, to lament the driver’s failure to express remorse or take responsibility and to question law enforcement’s apparent inability to do more.
“We’re speaking for our daughter,” Amber’s mother Barbara Hardin told a group of reporters who met them in a waiting room at Niswonger Children’s Hospital. “There’s been all these rumors going around. People are asking us what happened. ... We want to let everyone know the truth. She didn’t run out. He didn’t see her. She’ll be OK but it’s going to be a long road.”
An accident report filed by Tennessee Highway Patrolman Dexter Lunceford states the child was sitting at the edge of the parking lot at 136 Country Garden Drive at 5:40 p.m. when a 1999 Ford Mustang driven by 28-year-old Fernando Cruz-Cruz entered the parking lot to park. “The pedestrian jumped up and ran into the right front of the car. The pedestrian was knocked down and the right front tire ran over the child.”
Lunceford’s report states Cruz-Cruz was charged with having no insurance, and a public information officer for the state Department of Safety said Tuesday that “the investigation is complete and no additional charges are expected at the time.”
Amber’s father, Jonathan Ward, who was in the parking lot when the accident occurred, said Lunceford met the family at the hospital 40 minutes after the accident but did not question him about what he saw.
Without asking any questions, Ward said, Lunceford told them “everyone agrees this was an accident.”
Ward said Lunceford also stated that Cruz-Cruz did not have a driver’s license but he could not be charged with driving without a license because the accident happened on private property.
“I didn’t say anything to him. She was here and they were working with her, and that’s all I was thinking about,” he said.
At the time of the accident, Ward said he was standing beside a boat in the parking lot and his daughter, who had been playing in the grass at the edge of the lot, came to him to show him what she had made with some flowers. He said the child went back and sat down where she had been playing and within moments he heard her squeal what sounded like a wet tire sliding on pavement.
Ward said he saw the Mustang continue another 12 to 13 feet but did not realize his daughter was under the car until she began screaming. He said he jumped in front of the car and banged on the hood to stop it. Then looked under the car saw his daughter and yelled to Cruz-Cruz to back up. “He looked at me like he didn’t understand why I wanted him back up,” Ward said. “He got out of the car and that was the last time I saw him.”
Ward said he went with his daughter in an ambulance while his wife, Jennifer Ward, remained at the apartment and listened as Cruz-Cruz spoke with a Carter County deputy and later with a THP officer.
According to Ward, his wife heard Cruz-Cruz tell one officer he did not see the child and tell a second officer she ran out in front of him. “If he did not see her, how did he see her run out?” Ward asked.
“We all know it was an accident. It’s not that he purposefully ran her down,” Amber’s stepfather Jonathan Hardin said. What the family does question is why Cruz-Cruz, who lives with his sister’s family in the apartment next door to the Wards, made conflicting statements to the officers, why he has failed to contact them to express remorse, to check on her condition or to offer any assistance with her medical expenses.
“I am a Christian and I believe he is also a Christian,” Ward said. “I have been waiting on him to do the Christian thing. But after two weeks ... that man has never knocked on my door.”
In contrast, Amber, who has so far been through seven surgeries to repair damage to the skin, muscle, tendon and bone that was torn away from her knee, ankle and elbow, said she wanted Cruz-Cruz to know, “He doesn’t have to be sad. I’m fine and it’s OK that he ran over me.”
Her parents said Amber’s doctors are becoming more optimistic that she will be able to walk and several churches and others in the community are assisting the family.
“A lot of people have told us, ‘if there’s anything we can do to help you.’ But it’s hard. How do you tell people we need bigger cars,” for the orthopedic equipment she will need, Ward said.
For anyone who wishes to help the family, an account has been set up at Elizabethton Federal Bank to accept donations. Donations should be made payable to Barbara Hardin and earmarked for the “Amber Ward Medical Expenses” account.