New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
Ozzy Velez is “almost back to where he was,” according to his mom and grandmother.
The 9-year-old Volant boy and his 7-year-old friend, Octavius Stone, were playing outside the home of Ozzy’s grandmother on Thanksgiving weekend when they were hit by an out-of-control pickup. The vehicle climbed the embankment at 941 Winslow Ave., struck the boys and tossed them into the air, according to a witness.
Octavius died at the scene, Ozzy was flown to Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh.
Virgil E. Coonfare, 67, of 221 W. Moody Ave., the alleged driver, is charged with homicide by vehicle while under the influence of a controlled substance, aggravated assault by vehicle and driving while under the influence of a controlled substance.
He is free on $25,000 bond. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Feb. 7.
“Ozzy is healing,” according to his mother, Nataly Velez. “But he has a way to go.”
Doctors at Children’s Hospital have recommended surgery to remove scar tissue, skin grafts and other procedures.
He will be admitted to the hospital on Jan. 29, and is expected to remain until Feb. 6 or 7.
Velez said she, her mother, Barbara Brown of Winslow Avenue, and other relatives are scheduling time to have a family member with Ozzy during his hospital stay.
Frightened at first about what to expect, Ozzy has been talking to his uncle, Bob Brown, for his perspective.
“My brother was hit by a car about 25 years ago,” Velez said. “He went through a lot afterward. After talking with his uncle, Ozzy feels better now.”
Velez said she has gone through much with her son since the accident.
“There were nightmares, then sleepless nights. He’d ask what if this? Why not that? He thinks about what happened and worries,” she said.
She said he also shared his concerns with his pastor, Ronald Mounts of the Church of God on Highland Avenue,
“Nine-year-olds have different questions regarding the afterlife,” she said. “He worries about his friend: Did he go to heaven? Do you get to play in heaven? Do you eat there?”
She also notes that the day her son is expected to be discharged from Children’s Hospital — Feb. 7 — is the day of Coonfare’s preliminary hearing.
“He has said he wants to be there,” she said. “He said he wants to take the stand and confront Coonfare, to tell him what he did.”
She said she would prefer that he not do so, “since nothing he can say will make or break the case.”
Velez and Cynthia Clark, Octavius’ mother, said they are grateful to the community for the concern shown, prayers offered, support and gifts to both families over the holidays.
“Ozzy received get-well and Christmas cards from teachers and classmates and cards that included gift cards, signed only by first names, or signed “Santa’s Elf’,” Velez said. “Friends, neighbors, people from the church and people we didn’t even know — brought meals to the house and sent food.”
The families were also appreciative of contributions from the Cascade of Lights donated by the city, and organizers of the walk at Cascade Park in support of the families.
Cynthia Clark said she is especially appreciative of New Castle Mayor Anthony Mastrangelo, the New Castle school district, and police and fire departments who honored her son at his funeral.
“People have been so wonderful,” she said. “People I don’t even know come up, say they’re praying for me and hug me. Through this tragedy we are seeing the beauty of so many people.”
Clark said she is also grateful to the more than 600 people who have signed an online petition to revoke Coonfare’s bond.
“I want justice for my son and for Ozzy,” she said.
Noting that Octavius’ family no longer lives next door to her, Brown said anonymous strangers have left food, gifts, decorations and a six-foot-long Christmas stocking on the front porch of their house. She said she has collected the items and held them for the family.
“I miss them,” she said. “From my kitchen window I could see into their kitchen. I often saw Octavius and his little sisters sitting at the table having dinner or playing out in the yard. I wonder how they’re doing and I miss them.”
Velez said she is keeping a scrapbook for Ozzy including news articles as well as cards and other items received.
“This is all overwhelming for him now, but as he gets older he’ll understand, he’ll see things differently.”
“Everyone has been wonderful,” she said. “We’re just overwhelmed by the attention we’ve received. It’s comforting to know that people are there to catch you if you fall.”