Ukiah man dies of injuries suffered in hit-and-run crash
Published: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 2:19 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 12:35 p.m.
A Ukiah man who was struck by a hit-and-run driver died late Tuesday night of injuries suffered in the April 19 crash just as investigators were developing what they hoped would be a lead in the frustrating case, family members and CHP officials said.
Jesse Ray Pieri, 26, never regained consciousness after a passerby found him lying on North State Street north of town just a mile or so from his childhood home, said his mother, Helen Hernandez.
Pieri suffered major head trauma and multiple fractures when he was hit, authorities said. Hernandez said he lost a lot of blood as he lay unattended in the road.
Pieri was taken off life support at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital on Tuesday afternoon, friends and family members said. He drifted away around 10 p.m.
“I don't understand the reason for it,” his mother said Wednesday. “You're not supposed to bury your child, but there must be a reason.”
In her grief, Hernandez rued what she said had been a difficult life for the son she raised mostly on her own in a house they lost to foreclosure last year, resulting in months of homelessness for the pair.
They stuck together, even making light of their situation — calling the Highway 20 turnout where they often parked at night their “bedroom,” while the “kitchen” was the Lake Mendocino day-use area where they cooked.
“He stood by me and wouldn't leave my side, and he overcame many adversities,” Hernandez said.
Born and raised in Ukiah, Pieri had learning disabilities and struggled with school, though with help, he graduated from Ukiah High School. It was a very proud achievement for both of them, she said.
His “first love” was music — heavy metal, which his mother loathed. Pieri found kinship with those who shared his taste and enjoyed listening to recordings and attending performances of a local metal band. He also was very proud of his long hair, his mother said.
Hernandez had been married for a period of time, providing her son with a step-brother with whom both were close.
Though not a major presence through much of his life, Pieri's father, Nick Valentine, of Scotia, developed a strong relationship with his son in the last five years.
“He was a real good kid, really liked by a lot of people,” Valentine said. “And a really hard worker.”
As a young adult, Pieri moved to Fortuna in search of work. But when Hernandez began having conflict in her marriage and eventually split from her husband, Pieri moved back to help out while attending Mendocino College.
It was at the community college that he discovered astronomy and fell in love with star-gazing, even acquiring two telescopes, one from his dad, his parents said.
Even when they were homeless, Pieri kept a telescope with him and would stay up late locating star clusters, planets and galaxies, and staring at nebulae, Hernandez said. He called star-gazing his escape, she said.
On the night he was fatally injured, Pieri had gone out to walk. Whoever struck him got away without anyone seeing anything that might provide any clues, the CHP said.
But a recent tip gave investigators hope they might track down the culprit, CHP Sgt. Braden Moffett said Wednesday.
Hernandez said she hoped so, too.
“I want that person to get justice,” she said. “They need to be incarcerated, because they left my kid to die.”
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