A community united in its grief planned fundraisers and memorials even as the family of the fifth-grader killed in last week's traffic collision grappled with funeral plans.
The Los Banos Wildcats and Tigers youth football teams plan memorial games and a fundraiser at 5 and 7 p.m. Saturday at Pacheco High School's Veterans Memorial Stadium, 200 N. Ward Road. The proceeds will go to the family of 10-year-old Jayden Thomas, who died after being struck by a suspected drunken driver Saturday.
Jayden's mother, Maria Thomas, has been in Modesto, in and out of the hospital with her children and husband. She remembers Jayden as an avid sports fan; he played football and baseball for several years and was getting into basketball.
"He was just a well-rounded kid," she said. "He would talk to anybody. He was always able to make people laugh and smile."
Thomas said she was surprised by the outpouring of support Sunday when an estimated 800 to 1,000 people filled Pacheco High School's Veterans Memorial Stadium for a vigil in Jayden's honor. Many could be seen clutching candles with tears streaming down their faces.
"I want to thank the whole community, friends and family that have shown support, even though we're not physically there," Thomas said.
Jayden, a Los Banos Wildcats peewee quarterback, was killed before midnight Saturday on his way home from a football game in Manteca. Jayden and his family were riding in a 1992 BMW, struck on its passenger side by a 1991 Chevy pickup driven by Justin Nappi, 20, of Los Banos. Police said Nappi ran a stop sign at an intersection at Place Road and East B Street.
Thomas said she and daughter Ja'Leiah, 8, are mending from cuts and bruises. Jazlien, 2, was released Tuesday from the hospital, because of more extensive cuts along her hairline.
"She's doing well, back to her normal self, running around," Thomas said.
After initially being released, Jayden's father Demond has since been re-admitted with internal bleeding. Thomas said her husband is doing well, but his hospital stay has slowed funeral planning.
Thomas said she hopes the Los Banos community will take time to celebrate Jayden's life.
"We're going to say our last goodbyes," she said. "It's not (a time for) dwelling on his death, but staying positive."
Jan Whitehurst, Volta Elementary School principal, described Jayden as outgoing, friendly and having a great sense of humor. "He was very helpful, especially with younger kids," she said.
Jayden, a fifth-grader, helped younger children at lunch, sometimes with things as basic as putting a straw into their juice pouch.
Crisis counselors were on the Volta campus Monday to speak with children, Whitehurst said.
"Our focus today is to help kids and staff get through," she said.
Comments from well-wishers have since filled the Los Banos Wildcats Facebook page, and donations from local businesses for the family have begun to add up.
Family and friends set up an impromptu car wash Sunday to help cover Jayden's funeral expenses. Some reports have the fundraiser bringing in $4,000.
Erik Limon, a youth football coach, said many of those who attended Sunday's vigil had a connection to football, and some came from as far as Manteca and Modesto to remember Jayden on Sunday.
"It was our little community coming together," Limon said.
Thomas family friend Raylene Barton said she did not see the collision, but was on the scene soon after.
"It was very sad ... It was traumatizing," Barton said.
She remembered Jayden as shy, but a leader among his peers, who got along well with others.
"He was such a cute kid," she said, holding back tears. "His smile would light up a room."
Cmdr. Ray Reyna Jr. said Los Banos Police will aid the California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control to determine who may have provided the 20-year-old with alcohol. Reyna would not comment on whether the truck Nappi was driving carried passengers.
"This was such a tragic case and completely avoidable," Reyna said.
Nappi was arrested and booked on suspicion of felony DUI causing injuries and gross vehicular manslaughter, and is being held at John Latorraca Correctional Facility in lieu of $310,000 bail.
More fundraisers are planned this weekend to benefit the Thomas family.
Chili's Grill & Bar, 1905 E. Pacheco Blvd., plans to benefit the family with 20 percent of every meal purchased with a flier today. Some fliers will be available in the eatery, staff said.
The Los Banos Wildcats plan a car wash and bake sale Saturday, and friends of the suspected drunken driver plan a car wash Sunday. Both events will happen at Rooney's Liquor, 310 W. Pacheco Blvd., and benefit the Thomas family.
Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos enterprise.com.