Story connects community, devastated family

  • Francisco Valdez, right, and his family, from left, wife Diana, son Francisco Jr., and daughters Yvette, Yurittza, and Yessenia, lost their home after being hit by an uninsured, drunken driver in December 2008. Community members donated more than $12,000 to help the family, which has since relocated to Rockford.

    Francisco Valdez, right, and his family, from left, wife Diana, son Francisco Jr., and daughters Yvette, Yurittza, and Yessenia, lost their home after being hit by an uninsured, drunken driver in December 2008. Community members donated more than $12,000 to help the family, which has since relocated to Rockford. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted10/4/2015 6:12 AM

A drunk, uninsured driver ravaged the family of Francisco and Diana Valdez of Hampshire on Christmas Eve 2008, taking their home and health, but not their spirit.

"We survived. God was always with us," Diana said.

 

The family was on its way to an Elgin hospital to visit Diana, who previously had a stroke, when they were hit head on.

Francisco suffered a broken back and other injuries and still needs a scooter. He has been unable to work, let alone return to his pre-accident construction job.

The drunken driver pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight years in prison. But James M. Palmer, now 43, only served half that because he got time off for good behavior and was released in summer 2014.

A judge awarded the Valdez family $2.7 million in a lawsuit against Palmer, but he had no insurance, no assets and was incarcerated.

Unable to work, Francisco and Diana eventually lost their Hampshire home to foreclosure.

After the Daily Herald spotlighted the plight of the Valdez family, the community stepped up, donating $12,000 and chipping in with other random acts of kindness.

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The Elgin-based Administer Justice, which provides free legal assistance to low-income families, set up a relief fund and worked to shield it from a list of creditors owed money by the family.

"It helped a lot. It really helped. We moved out here and made a life out here," Diana said. "I don't have the words. But I want to thank everybody and everyone. God bless everyone who helped us."

Diana said two of her children have purchased homes in Rockford, their younger kids are in high school and the couple hopes to buy a home again one day, too.

Diana said she and her husband are still depressed about their situation, but find comfort in their loved ones.

"This accident made my whole family come together," she said. "We're all still here."

Their Hampshire home, which Francisco built himself, was foreclosed upon and eventually sold in 2014.

"I knew it was going to go, but it was my house," Diana said. "One of these days when I win the Lotto, I'm going to buy that house back. My husband built it for me."

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