When she looks in the mirror now, Margarita Jimenez sees a reflection of the woman she once was — before the crash, before the multiple surgeries, before all the relentless pain.
Two years have passed since the fateful night when Ms. Jimenez, a Riverhead native, was seriously injured as a passenger in an alleged drunken-driving crash. She suffered a broken vertebrae in her back, three broken ribs on her right side and a shattered cervical vertebrae. She’s undergone two surgeries in the past year — the most recent helped realign her spine.
“It’s definitely nice to be able to look in the mirror and look halfway normal again,” she said.
Ms. Jimenez, 28, has become a voice against drunken driving in the aftermath of the crash. On Tuesday, she gathered with friends and family at the Route 58 traffic circle with signs warning drivers of the dangers of drunken driving. She held a similar event last year — on the one-year anniversary of the crash — and hopes to hold one annually.
“I want to try to make a difference,” she said.
This year she raised money for Mothers Against Drunk Driving by selling hot dogs. Representatives of MADD sent Ms. Jimenez a care package with items such as T-shirts that she could distribute. She hopes to organize a walk next year to help spread MADD’s message on the East End.
The reminders of the crash are everywhere, Ms. Jimenez said.
“I can’t drive by a telephone pole without staring at it,” she said.
The crash occurred in the early morning hours of July 25, 2015. Ms. Jimenez was ejected from the passenger seat when the driver of the car she was in struck a pole at the intersection of Doctor’s Path and Northville Turnpike in Riverhead.
The mental challenge of overcoming the crash can be a greater challenge than the physical, she said. When nurses would ask her how she suffered her injuries, at times a rush of painful memories would overwhelm her.
“I had two panic attacks in the hospital,” she said. “It was really bad. I just couldn’t talk about it.”
Amelia Torres of Riverhead, a longtime friend of Ms. Jimenez, recalled seeing her in the hospital for the first time after the crash.
“All I could do was cry,” she said.
On Tuesday, Ms. Jimenez had the support of her three children: Raniya, 9, Jasiah, 6, and Vivianna, 5. Her father, Gilbert Jimenez, her boyfriend, Demetris Dozier, and other friends and family also stopped by during the four hours she spent at the traffic circle.
“We’ve definitely made it a well-worth-it day,” she said. “I’m very happy.”
Top photo caption: Margarita Jimenez stands alongside her daughter 9-year-old daughter Raniya on Tuesday night at the Route 58 traffic circle. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)