Local News

Raleigh man has new perspective on life after I-40 tragedy

Posted August 21, 2012 6:14 p.m. EDT
Updated August 22, 2012 7:24 a.m. EDT

— A Raleigh man critically injured in a collision on Interstate 40 says he's determined to live his second chance at life with meaning – the way his brother, who was killed in the wreck, did.

"I'm not going to live the way I used to – just day by day, doing whatever," Natanael Hernandez said Tuesday at WakeMed in Raleigh, where he's still recovering from the July 15 accident. "I'm going to live each day with purpose."

The 21-year-old was driving home from Jacksonville with his brother, Job, when, police say, Carolina Elizabeth Gonzalez Linares, 28, of Morrisville, slammed into their minivan head-on, at 65 mph, near the Jones Sausage Road exit.

A toxicology report showed Linares had a blood alcohol level of 0.25, more than three times the level at which drivers are considered impaired under North Carolina law.

Raleigh police had been looking for her after receiving 911 calls about a car traveling east in the westbound lanes of I-40.

Linares and 17-year-old Job died at the scene.

Hernandez suffered a severe brain injury and was in a medically induced coma to help with his healing.

After seven surgeries, his broken bones are healing, and he's become a star in rehab. Two weeks ago, he had trouble talking and remembering, and now, he's speaking again in full sentences.

"I’m feeling good, being motivated, just waiting to get out of here," he said.

Losing his younger brother, Hernandez says, has changed his perspective on life and has inspired him to live as Job had lived.

The Enloe High School junior was on the track and football teams and was a talented musician who taught himself to play the piano.

"His passion, his drive – that boy always had a future ahead of him," Hernandez said. "He had such great drive. I was the opposite. I just went through the days. Now, I’m going to live my life the way he did."

Hernandez says he wants to take classes at Wake Technical Community College and get a degree in computer engineering.

In the meantime, he is trying to remain upbeat and positive about his recovery while, at the same time, learning to cope with life without his younger brother.

"I loved him. I would have done anything for that boy," Hernandez said. "(I) cry every now and then, but it's OK. Tears are natural."