Debra Graziano doesn't want to disrespect her son's privacy. She'll only say: He suffered a severe head injury. Please continue to pray.
John J. Graziano, 22, a U.S. Marine who survived a tour in Iraq, is in critical condition at Bayfront Medical Center after a car accident in Clearwater. The crash received national attention because the driver, Nick Bollea, 17, has a famous father, wrestler Hulk Hogan.
Graziano, a 2003 graduate of Dunedin High School, has been friends with Bollea for years, since John had braces, his mom said in an interview with the St. PetersburgTimes outside the hospital Thursday evening. They met through their shared interest in auto racing.
But Debra Graziano doesn't want to talk about the events of Aug. 26, when Bollea lost control of his Toyota Supra near downtown Clearwater and smashed into a tree.
She doesn't want to speculate on whether the young men were racing against a silver Dodge Viper, as witnesses reported.
"That's irrelevant to me right now," she said. She hasn't contacted a lawyer and said the Bollea family has been at the hospital with her every day.
She said Terry Bollea, also known as Hulk Hogan, is so upset about the situation that she has to comfort him.
What's relevant to her right now is John. A man who doesn't use extra words, who loves chicken Parmesan and beer with lime and sleeps with his two miniature dachshunds, Rosie and Porsche, and his two cats, Chloe and Zoe.
She wants people to know that he's funny. When he was 11, he went on a trip from New York to Florida with his chain-smoking uncle, father and grandfather. "I feel like a Slim Jim," he said when he got out of the car. "A skinny, smoked piece of meat."
He is messy. He hangs his dirty underwear near the bathroom sink and blames it on his younger brother, Michael.
His mom knows why the military can't find Osama bin Laden.
"Because he's in here somewhere," she said, referring to his disastrous room.
In October, he came back from a seven-month tour in Iraq. He would have re-enlisted but knew it would make his mom crazy.
So he started working on elaborate T-shirt designs and made plans to restore a loft. He thought about moving to Nashville.
He started studying to work in the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. He really wants to be a firefighter but couldn't afford to go to school because he bought his mom a new car.
As a boy, John used to wear his uncle's Marine dress blue jacket. When he first tried it on, it came to his knees. A few years ago, it fit.
After losing a family member in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, he told his mom he wanted to become a Marine to do something he could be proud of.
He begged her not to talk him out of it.
He called her before he left for Iraq, and she missed his call. She's kind of glad she did because of the message he left.
"Hello to the best mother in the world," he said. "I'm getting on the plane but don't worry because I'll be back soon."
Tamara El-Khoury can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4181.
FHP: Bollea got no special breaks
A Florida Highway Patrol trooper denied giving Nick Bollea special treatment when he was caught speeding outside Miami last year.
In the latest issue of Rides magazine, Bollea, 17, brags about driving his silver Dodge Viper from Miami to Tampa and getting pulled over three times for driving more than 100 mph. He said he was let go the first two times because he was recognized as Hulk Hogan's son and ticketed the third time.
Lt. Doug Dodson, an FHP spokesman, said Bollea was pulled over on Alligator Alley Sept. 17, 2006, driving west in a 2001 black Mercedes at 100 mph in a 70 mph zone. Bollea told the patrolman he was rushing to a family emergency in Clearwater. He was let go with a stern warning, Dodson said.
Nineteen miles later, Bollea was clocked driving 115 mph. He was given a ticket for $305.50.
No charges have been filed in connection with Bollea's Aug. 26 crash. Clearwater police spokesman Wayne Shelor said no new information is being released about the ongoing investigation.
In an interview that aired this week on Inside Edition, Bollea's father, Hulk Hogan, said he drove up to the scene of the crash while following his son to a restaurant for dinner.
"When I saw the wreck, I didn't think anybody was alive," Hogan said.
He said his son suffered broken ribs, a broken arm and injuries to his neck and knees. "They were not racing," Hogan said. "Thank God."