Jessica's Story

B. J. Hassell
Manager Victim Services
MADD Texas State Office

I had been working for MADD as a victim advocate for almost ten years when I received a call from Mark, the father of an infant girl injured in an alcohol-related crash. Ten years is a long time, and in those ten years I had seen the worst of the worst—there is nothing more horrible than watching a parent bury his/her child. But in January of 2003, I was confronted with something totally new to me…my first experience with a child endangerment case involving a parent as the offender.

I knew Mark would be calling, and I was confident, prepared, and ready to help him through his personal tragedy. Little did I know there was nothing that could have prepared me for the life-changing experience of working with Mark and his precious baby girl, Jessica.

On November 19, 2002, Mark dropped Jessica off for a short visitation with her birthmother. At the time, Mark owned his own courier service, and he needed someone to watch Jessica while he worked for a few hours. At 1 p.m., he received a phone call from Jessica’s grandmother informing him that there had been a terrible crash. When he arrived at the hospital, doctors informed Mark that he had about an hour to say goodbye to his only child. Two-months later, he was calling me, and two months after that he was sitting in front of me at my office. Miraculously, Jessica survived, though she was critically injured with severe head injuries and still in the hospital.

The pictures of Jessica’s face still haunt me, or perhaps the pictures of Jessica before the crash that haunt me the most. She was the image of perfection—an innocent child with sparkling eyes. As Mark handed me the post-crash pictures, I remember thinking, “She doesn’t even look like the same child anymore.” The bones around her eyes had been shoved into her brain. She was black, blue, and purple, and her face and head were swollen in an unnatural way from extensive re-construction surgery. As I looked at Mark, I knew our journey together would be a long one, but I embraced it knowing that Mark needed me in his corner.

After the crash, Mark was unable to work, spending seventy days at Jessica’s side in ICU, first at Brackenridge Children’s Hospital and then sixty-five days at Our Children’s at Baylor Hospital in Dallas. He could no longer afford his rent payments, lost his vehicle, and was completely financially devastated. We immediately began working on the Crime Victims’ Compensation Application in an effort to help Mark and Jessica. In a few weeks, Jessica would be released from the hospital and begin rehabilitation. Now daughter and father would have to start picking up the pieces.