Pee Wee coach fights for life after collision
By Deanna Boyd
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

FORT WORTH - It should have been one of Andrew Pichardo's happiest days and one of his father's proudest.

The 12-year-old boy, a Pee Wee football quarterback, and Alexis Pichardo, one of the team's coaches, were on their way to a west Fort Worth Pee Wee football field Saturday. There, charter buses were waiting to whisk them and fellow teammates of the White Settlement Senior Blue Cubs to the Pee Wee Football Superbowl in Aledo.

It was to be Andrew's third time playing in the prestigious championship game.

But a wreck en route in the 9400 block of White Settlement Road left Alexis Pichardo, 41, partially paralyzed on his left side and fighting for his life at a Fort Worth hospital.

Police said a man speeding in a Saturn from a gas station where he had failed to pay for gas ran a red light and collided with the Pichardos' Buick, causing the Buick to flip more than once before coming to rest upside down. The Saturn driver, James Luedtke, 18, fled the scene but later returned and was arrested, police said.

On Tuesday, as officials filed a charge of failure to stop and render aid against Luedtke, Alexis Pichardo underwent about four hours of surgery at Harris Methodist Fort Worth hospital in attempt to relieve pressure on his spinal column.

Andrew Pichardo suffered only minor injuries in the wreck but major emotional scars, said Peggy Pichardo, the boy's mother, as she sat in the brisk wind Tuesday afternoon outside Harris Methodist with her sister and niece.

"He asks if his dad is going to die, and if he's ever going to walk again and when," Peggy Pichardo said. "But nobody has those answers."

Peggy Pichardo, her father and her other son, a 13-year-old, were just minutes behind Andrew and Alexis Pichardo when the wreck occurred.

"We wanted to see them get on the bus. We were going to do a spirit line," she said. "It was Andrew's last year of Pee Wee and my husband's last year of coaching and his first to be coaching when they went to the Superbowl.

"When we rounded the corner and saw dust and dirt flying through the air and people running to the scene, we didn't realize then it was my husband. When we got closer, we did."

Andrew Pichardo, unable to wake his dad, undid his seat belt and crawled out of a car window. When his mother pulled up, the boy was standing with his arms crossed next to the car, in shock and not sure what to do.

"My husband was hanging upside down and didn't move," Peggy Pichardo said.

While Peggy Pichardo went with her son to Cook Children's Medical Center, Alexis Pichardo was taken by helicopter ambulance to Harris Methodist. There, doctors determined that he had suffered a spinal cord injury, a fractured vertebrae in his neck and a severe scalp laceration from his right eye to the nape of his neck.

Peggy Pichardo said it is unknown whether her husband's paralysis on his left side is temporary or permanent.

"He has some sensations but limited control," Peggy Pichardo said.

Peggy Pichardo said she would like to see Luedtke receive the maximum punishment -- five years in prison -- for failure to stop and render aid. She called the $5,000 bail imposed by a magistrate "inappropriate" and said she wants the man to be charged in the injury of her son as well.

She said that had her son not been wearing his seat belt and football pants with padding, she believes he would have been as severely injured as her husband of 16 years.

"I believe it was a blessing that the injuries went to my husband to spare our son," she said.

Traffic investigation unit Sgt. Charlie Ramirez said the investigation of the wreck is continuing and detectives are still considering adding and upgrading charges against Luedtke, who remained in jail Tuesday.

The wreck is even more painful to the Pichardos and other family members because of the loss of Pichardo's nephew, Brandon Grisham, in a traffic accident in February 2001.

Grisham, an 18-year-old Crowley High School senior, died from injuries suffered when he lost control of his GMC pickup while swerving to miss a car that had cut in front of him. The pickup spun across the median and was struck broadside by another pickup, rupturing the truck's side-mounted gas tank.

The teen's mother, Dorothy Grisham, called her brother-in-law's wreck "deja vu."

"He's the best guy in the world. We're just like brother and sister," Dorothy Grisham said. "I had leaned on Brandon a whole lot. Once he died, Alexis took over. He started saying, "I've got two wives to take care of now."

Michelle Grisham, Brandon's 15-year-old sister, said losing her uncle would be like losing a father.

"Uncle Alexis will make it," she said confidently. "He's strong. He's a tough cookie."

Waiting for Alexis and Andrew Pichardo are two trophies. The Cubs won their game Saturday afternoon, dedicating the victory to the father and son.

Deanna Boyd, (817) 390-7655