MOBILE, AL (WLOX) - What was supposed to be a night out with friends to enjoy a fun, community event has left a teenage girl fighting to recover and her family grasping for answers.
Julia Usprich, a freshman at Pass Christian High, is lying in Mobile’s USA Medical Center after enduring an emergency brain surgery and multiple procedures, all aimed at saving her life after she was hit by a car Friday night.
Julia, 14, was leaving Christmas in the Pass with a group of friends when the car hit her on Highway 90 and kept going.
“It was the worst call anyone could get,” said Morgan, who shares guardianship of Julia and her twin brother with fiance Daniel Cohen.
“She asked me if she could go with some friends, I got the specifics,” said Morgan. “I told her it was fine. A few minutes later I got a text asking if a friend could spend the night and I said sure. Ten minutes after that I got a phone call from a stranger telling me there’s been an accident.”
Friends who were with Julia would later tell Morgan that they were waiting at the median to cross Highway 90 near Davis Avenue when the teenager was hit by the vehicle moments after stepping off the curb.
Julia was rushed to Memorial Hospital, then airlifted to USA Medical Center in Mobile where she underwent emergency brain surgery. Cohen was in Boston when it happened. He rushed home as soon as he got the call.
“She had to have a portion of her skull removed to allow relief from the bleeding and swelling on her brain,” said Morgan.
Julie came out of the surgery in stable condition but she remains unresponsive.
“They’re fixing what they can fix,” Cohen said. “That they can see and is fixable right now. But a lot of it is just time. But with the brain, they won’t know anything until she comes to.”
Three days later, Julia’s family is still anxiously waiting for her condition to improve.
“Our biggest fear right now is that she is not following any commands or doing anything purposely," said Morgan. “She moves around a little bit but doesn’t have a clear response.”
For now, it’s a game of patience as doctors and Julia’s family wait for her to wake up. Monday, Morgan said doctors were hoping to move Julia into the women and children’s intensive care unit at USA.
“Doctor’s don’t know what her capabilities are yet," said Morgan. "We’re all just taking it hour by hour. That’s all we can do right now.”
Morgan continued: “Over the past few days, there really hasn’t been anything. Today, she definitely has more movement when she gets disturbed. So that helped us. We felt really good about that.”
Along with the brain surgery, Julia underwent a number of other procedures to fix injuries to her legs.
“They fixed her femur Saturday morning, and that all went well,” Cohen said. “They put screws in her leg ,and that’s all good and done. She has to have her right tibia and knee repaired along with all the ligament damage in the knee. There’s bruising on the lungs, they said. Vertebraes are damaged. I don’t think they know to what extent yet.”
It’s another uphill challenge for Julia and her family after more than a year of adjustment. Julia’s mom died in October 2018, just one year after her dad. The 14-year-old and her twin brother have been living with Cohen and Morgan ever since.
Despite so much grief at such a young age, Julia has found joy in her new life.
“She plays the saxophone in the band and just really, really loves it,” said Morgan, who describes Julia as a quirky person who loves to read and has a great sense of humor. “She loves her friends and just has a heart of gold. She is always thinking about others and will give them hugs anytime they need one. She’s just a really good friend and such a sweet girl.”
In the meantime, Cohen and Morgan will continue to sit by Julia’s bedside, offering support and encouragement as her body heals. But while their focus remains on Julia, it has not stopped them from questioning the circumstances that led to the teenager’s injuries.
One thing Morgan does want to know is why there was not more traffic control measures being taken for Christmas in the Pass, a large event that draws thousands each year.
“There was a lot of foot traffic but there were no barricades or police officers there helping with traffic or helping people to cross the highway,” said Morgan. “No cones or speed restrictions or anything to help slow traffic. Why?”
Although it is a tragic incident, the family has still had some good come out of it.
“I can tell you the one big thing that gives me hope is the incredible outreach and support and love and prayers that we’ve gotten,” said Morgan. “From everybody in Pass Christian and Long Beach, from the entire community. We got prayers from Canada. It’s been unbelievable. There’s no words. It’s just been absolutely beautiful.”
It’s that support that is giving Julia’s family hope for her recovery.
David Hernandez, the man who is charged in the hit-and-run, was arrested shortly after hitting Julia. Police say Hernandez is a Honduran national who is in the country illegally. He’s charged with one felony count of leaving the scene of an accident causing serious injury. His bond is set at $200,000 for the hit-and-run charge, however, a hold has been placed on him for an immigration violation.
A close friend of the family’s has set up a GoFundMe account to help with expenses the couple will incur as they take time off work and travel between states. If you’d like to help, you can find that link HERE.