After a speeding car hit a single mother as she crossed the street with her children in November, she was left hospitalized for more than a month, leaving her unable to work or pay rent—until a group of Los Angeles Police Department officers stepped in to help raise money for the family in their time of need.
When Maria Torres was crossing the street with her children in South Los Angeles on the night of November 12, a black Honda ran a red light and slammed into her and her 11-year-old son, Efrain Silva. Torres was dragged underneath the vehicle for almost 60 yards as the vehicle tore skin from her body and broke the bones in her legs, arms, back, rib cage and collarbone. It was a horrific scene, but if it could be made any worse, witnesses say the driver—who is still at large—sped off from the scene while sticking his middle finger out of the window as the mother of four was left bloodied in the street.
“I slightly opened my eyes and could hear my children over me saying, ‘Mommy, please don’t fall asleep! Mommy, please open your eyes!’ over and over again,” Torres, 49, tells PEOPLE in Spanish through a translator. “At that moment, all I could think is, ‘God, please give me one more chance and let me live! I want to be there for my children.’ I just wanted to live and kept pleading to God to let me live.”
At the hospital, Torres says her whole body was in pain, and she couldn’t move her hands or legs. She struggled to grasp what had happened to her, and for a short time, she didn’t realize she was in a hospital.
“I would break down in tears because I am a single mother and need to work for my children,” says Torres, who works in a factory. “I wanted to get better so that I could return to work as soon as possible.”
Torres was hospitalized for more than a month before she was able to return home to Efrain and his three siblings, Eliezer Silva, 14, Ulises Silva, 13, and Sarah Silva, 16. Though she is still unable to walk, she can now lift her legs just inches off the floor. Her lacerations are healing and her body is scarred, and the pain still pulsates throughout her body, making it difficult to rest. Yet, Torres says her children are her primary caretakers, even if Efrain, who suffered minor injuries in the accident, still has nightmares and is afraid he won’t wake up when he falls asleep.
“My children have to help me with everything. They feed me, help me go up the stairs and give me my medication,” she says. “It was a very hard time. I am just grateful that I can push my own wheelchair now with my feet to get around in the apartment.”
Last month, South Traffic Division officers at the Los Angeles Police Department wanted to surprise the children with gifts for the Christmas, but soon found out the family was facing eviction because they were unable to pay their $850 monthly rent while Torres was unable to work at her factory job.
In order to help, the officers started a GoFundMe Page to raise money for the family, which has raised more than $38,000 since it launched on December 22.
“We never thought that the page would get so much support and that we would surpass our goal exponentially. I am truly grateful that many people came together in such a way,” LAPD officer Erika Gonzalez, who helped set up the fundraiser page after finding out about the family’s situation, tells PEOPLE. “Sometimes as a police officer, working in a high crime area, I lose hope in humanity from the constant exposure to negative situations. So, it is moments like this that really restores that hope.”
When the officers surprised the worried mother with the news that they raised tens of thousands of dollars for the family, she was overcome with emotion.
“I could not hold my tears back. Not only have I never had that much money or even imagined having that much money, but I could not believe that not only was I blessed with another chance to live,” she says. “I was also blessed with the generosity and kindness of many people.”
With this additional help, Torres says she plans to pay her overdue bills and move to the first floor of her apartment building so her children no longer have to carry her up the stairs. She says she is appreciative of the hundreds of strangers who have brought some relief to her family, and who have made her difficult journey toward recovery a little easier.
“I never thought that people who have never met me would care enough to give me money to pay rent, so I am truly touched by everyone’s kindness,” Torres says. “There are no words to express how truly grateful I am for everyone.”