October 3, 1997 in City

Love Pours In For Girl, 7, In Coma After Accident That Killed Mother

Julie Finnin Day Associated Press

Little Diana Valdez has a family after all.

Authorities had thought the 7-year-old girl, who was seriously injured in an accident that killed her mother, had no known relatives.

But as the little girl slowly recovers from Tuesday’s accident, her grandparents and father are at her side. The state says it has received numerous calls from relatives and others interested in adopting her.

The question now is who will get custody of Diana.

Until Thursday morning, state officials thought Harold Smith, Diana’s paternal grandfather, likely would get custody of the girl.

But a phone call to Diana’s social worker revealed that Smith has a criminal history, said Karen Sheppard, a spokeswoman for the State Office for Services to Children and Families.

The agency filed a petition Thursday for temporary custody of the child, Sheppard said. A hearing was scheduled for Friday.

“He apparently told the social worker Wednesday that he did not have a criminal history, which was also troubling,” Sheppard said.

Sheppard would not release details of his criminal history. “What was detailed on the criminal record was enough to cause us to be concerned about him,” she said.

Also at the hospital is Diana’s father, Jason Smith, who arrived in Portland Wednesday. Diana’s grandmother, Reba Moore, said she did not know where he had been living. Moore said her son would live with one of his parents, who recently divorced, and look for a job.

Doctors said Thursday afternoon that the girl was still on life support in the intensive care unit at OHSU Hospital but that she was in a lighter coma and was beginning to respond to people around her.

Moore spoke briefly with a reporter. She said the girl’s original name was Vanessa Smith and that Tabert had changed it to Diana Valdez. She said the girl appeared to recognize her voice during a visit Thursday morning.

Doctors didn’t know if the girl would recover from the coma and said it was too early to tell if she had permanent brain damage.

“While Diana has suffered the worst fate that can befall a child - losing her mother - we want the community to know that Diana has many family members who love her and will help her for the rest of her life,” the girl’s grandparents and father said in a written statement on Thursday.

The family said money that had been donated to a trust fund for Diana at U.S. Bank would be used for Tabert’s funeral and Diana’s care.

Diana and her mother were walking to school in southeast Portland Tuesday morning when they stopped to tie Diana’s shoe.

Tracy Mohun, who was walking half a block behind, said a Pony Express delivery van drove onto the sidewalk and hit the two from behind, bumping and dragging them over a paved driveway.

The driver of the van, William S. Colton, 37, of Milwaukie, told police he choked on a soda as he was returning his van at the end of a shift. He suffered minor injuries.

In the past 14 months, Colton has received two speeding tickets and was cited following an accident, the Portland Police Bureau said.

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