ST. PETERSBURG — Cruz Cervantes recalls the excitement of his little sister, Jasmin, before traveling to Mexico with her parents and grandparents for vacation.
At 12, Jasmin Cervantes-Garcia was the princess of the house.
“She was just like my parents: cheerful, kind-hearted, but also very determined,” said Cervantes, 28, the oldest in the family, which includes three other brothers.
Determination is helping Jasmin slowly recover from the June 23 head-on collision in Mexico that killed her parents — Maria Angélica Cervantes, 45, and J. Cruz Cervantes, 50 — and her grandparents, Enrique and Alicia Cervantes.
While the prognosis remains delicate, her family said, Jasmin has begun to show slight signs of improvement.
Fractures to her right elbow and jaw have healed. She can open her eyes and move her arms and legs. Jasmin has begun breathing without a ventilator.
“These are important steps,” her oldest brother, Cruz, said in a recent interview in Spanish. “She looks at us, but we don’t know if she recognizes us or remembers what she lived through.”
For more than three weeks, Jasmin was hospitalized in Mexico in critical condition. A month ago, she was flown to Tampa and admitted to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.
Jasmin has a long way to go in her recovery. She’s unable to speak and suffered a serious brain injury.
“The damage to the head is severe but my sister is a strong girl, a fighter, and she doesn’t like to give up,” Cervantes said.
Jasmin was ready to start eighth grade classes at Summer School in Riverview and reconnect with her volleyball team. Friends and teachers have sent her messages, photos and drawings that adorn the walls of her hospital room.
“Get well soon Jasmin. We’re here 4 u,” says one. “Block the negativity. Strike the positivity,” another sign says.
In a couple of weeks, Jasmin’s family hopes to be able to take her to a rehab center for intensive speech and physical therapy.
In the meantime, the family is trying to process the immense pain and sorrow left by the death of their parents and grandparents.
They also have to overcome some legal issues. Cruz Cervantes must obtain legal custody of his sister — a requirement to be accepted into therapy. He must also fight to keep the family home in Wimauma.
It’s a heavy burden because money is tight.
Cervantes had to leave his job as a crane operator to take care of his sister and stay with her in the hospital. His other three brothers — Antonio, Jose and Daniel — temporarily work in construction.
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“It was something totally unpredicted,” Cruz Cervantes said about the crash in Mexico.
The family plan hadn’t planned a road trip from Tampa to Guanajuato, a central Mexican state. The family had decided to drive to Texas and then fly to Mexico for a one-week summer vacation. But the flight was canceled. So they continued the road trip.
“The cancellation changed all their plans. They didn’t have many options and they wanted to see the family,” said Cindy Garcia, Jasmin’s aunt.
On their way back to Florida, the pickup truck Jasmin’s family had driven crashed head-on with a passenger bus that was going the wrong way on a highway in San Luis de la Paz in Guanajuato.
Photos of the crash are silent testimony of the tragedy: The pickup truck was totally destroyed and embedded into the front part of the passenger bus. More than 21 bus passengers were injured, according to Mexican police.
The highways of Guanajuato are dangerous and have a high number fatal crashes, according to an investigation by the Mexican newspaper Milenio. According to Milenio, an accident occurs every four hours. This year, between January and May, 2,343 accidents were recorded. In total, 114 people died, an average of 22 victims per month.
Cervantes said his father was a responsible driver who was always aware of speed limits and traffic laws. The route was not new to him, either.
“He had been before and he knew the road,” Cervantes said.
After the crash, Garcia created a GoFundMe account that has raised over $49,000 to help with the 12-year-old’s medical expenses. Garcia said community support continues to be important as Jasmin recovers.
On Saturday, Jasmin’s family is holding a fundraiser in Wimauma.
On Sunday, Jasmin’s brothers, cousins and other family members will gather at the St. Petersburg hospital for a different reason.
It will be Jasmin’s 13th birthday.