Teacher recovering from hit-and-run accident

KAPAHI — Janice Ferraz rode her bicycle every day, no matter where she went. She even bicycled to work at St. Catherine School.

“On Kauai, you always see certain people walking on a path or something, and she was always riding her bike. Janice was always about and riding her bike. That was her mode of transportation, by choice,” said Britt Cocumeli, principal at St. Catherine School.

May 4 was just another bike ride home for the preschool teacher.

And then, it wasn’t.

“For her to get hit by a car doing something she loves, it was really sad,” Cocumeli said.

Around 6 p.m., Ferraz was struck by a vehicle in a hit-and-run crash. She was medevaced to Queen’s Medical Center on Oahu after she fell off her bike, hit a reflector post and was left in a ditch as the driver fled the scene.

Ferraz’s pelvis was crushed.

“The first thing I thought was, ‘Holy crap, I just got hit by a car. Something hit me,’” Ferraz said from Wilcox Medical Center.

Blake Keller, 23, was arrested for first-degree negligent injury and accident involving serious injury the next morning, and has been released pending investigation. Keller did not respond to TGI’s multiple requests for comment.

Lying in a ditch, unable to move, Ferraz was trapped.

Ferraz fought through tears as she recalled moments from the worst night of her life.

“I was laying on my back and I said a Hail Mary and a prayer first thing. I had to see if I could move my arms. So I just started with putting one arm up, trying to raise it,” she said. “I wanted to get out for myself. I had to stay with my body. I didn’t want to leave it. I just had to stay with my body. It’s intense just to remember. It was so, so scary.”

Ferraz doesn’t like thinking about what happened. She prefers to focus on the positive, such as being able to see her loved ones by her side and being grateful for being alive.

Cocumeli, whose son was in Ferraz’s class last year when she taught fourth-grade, heard about the crash from a friend who lived near the accident. She dropped everything and made her way to Wilcox to be by Ferraz’s side.

“It was myself, my vice principal and the pastor of our church who went to pray with her. We were all there together,” Cocumeli said. “Janice is one of those people that is just a light. I always told her she has that healing energy when she is in a room. She brings a lot of positivity and joy. She always had a way of walking around the campus and just being grateful for everything around her. She always had these meditation moments and times of prayer.”

Prayer has empowered Ferraz to battle through the pain. The accident may have immobilized her body for now, but it has not disabled her mind nor kept her from the power of positive thinking.

“With negativity, the pain will only get stronger and stronger. My mom and I will sing some songs, read the Bible, do whatever to get back into positivity,” she said. “I don’t have these conversations. I try not to think about it. I don’t let my friends talk about it. That’s how important it is to stay positive because I have to avoid anything that upsets me.”

On the road to recovery, which could be six months, Ferraz looks forward to getting back to her classroom and the students who are waiting for her.

“I’m not ready to go see them yet. I want to look good. I don’t want to look scary to them,” she said.

Ferraz’s absence on campus was felt schoolwide.

“She loved being with the kids, singing and playing, and just having fun with them all day. Her being gone from our school has been a huge loss for us. We’re really missing her,” Cocumeli said. “When you were with her, she made you feel more appreciative of everything that we have. She really is a great, loving, kind person.”

Two 6-inch screws keep Ferraz’s pelvis together, which will be the lasting mark on her body from the crash. But even though her strong mentality is keeping her going every day, she can foresee the tough reality she’ll have getting back to her normal routine.

And that includes going back to one of her favorite activities.

“I don’t want to ride my bike. I’m scared,” she said. “Maybe I’ll ride it on the bike path, but I don’t want to ride it. In six months, I think I’ll be able to do everything again, even stand on my head during yoga, but I don’t know when riding my bike is going to happen. That’s probably going to be the last thing I do.”

While on Oahu receiving treatment, Ferraz’s children started a GoFundMe account, which she was not aware of. As of Wednesday, the page had raised $4,778.

Seeing support from friends, family and her local community has given Ferraz a new appreciation for life.

“It really opens my heart. I’ve always realized how much I’ve loved everybody, that’s easy. But I never realized how much everybody loves me back. My heart just opens so big, even to tears just to receive that much love. It’s amazing. I’ve never experienced this before.”

Ferraz said that she can walk, but only with assistance. She’ll have to learn how to walk under her own weight as she continues to recover. But Cocumeli knows she’ll back.

“She has kept her spirits up. She sent us a video of gratitude and of her singing that she’s so grateful to be alive. It’s her positive outlook on things that’s making a big difference for her.”

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