Danny Cox, the Petaluma teenager who was paralyzed Aug. 10 in a Lake Tahoe diving accident, got a standing ovation at his homecoming Saturday at the annual Carousel Fund Casino Night.
Wearing a black athletic suit, Cox rolled his wheelchair onto the stage at the Petaluma Veterans Memorial Building as hundreds of guests in evening gowns and tuxedos cheered and clapped.
"We love you Danny," yelled one guest.
Cox smiled and said only a few words.
"Thank you to Arnie for everything he's done for me," he said. "Have a great night everybody."
Cox is one of several young people who will benefit from the proceeds raised at Saturday night's event. The Carousel Fund is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to raising money to help families with children who suffer catastrophic illness.
Cox, a former track athlete at Petaluma High School, was about to begin fire science classes at Santa Rosa Junior College when he broke his neck at Lake Tahoe in August when he ran into the lake and dove into shallow water. But the exact cause of his spinal injury is not known.
An estimated $400,000 in medical and rehabilitation bills will be covered by insurance. But there will be another $100,000 in expenses and supporters have been organizing fund-raising events to help.
Arnie Cohen, president of the board of directors of the Carousel Fund, said Cox's story has generated a great deal of interest among those who regularly donate money to the fund. The event, Cohen said, "is much bigger this year."
It was Cox's public appearance in Petaluma since being hospitalized, and Mayor Pam Torliatt presented him with a city proclamation welcoming the teen back to Petaluma with "heartfelt wishes for a speedy recovery."
Comedian Tommy Smothers, who said he learned of the event through Cox's grandfather, made an appearance to meet the boy. Smothers said he was impressed by the turnout and community support for the Carousel Fund.
"I do a lot of benefits," he said. "To think that this is just volunteers, that's powerful."
Cox was joined by his family.
His oldest sister, Emily Cox, said support from Petaluma residents has been overwhelming.
"It's deeper than just a town, it's a community in the truest sense of the word," she said.
Cox's mother, Maureen McGowen, said the response to her son's tragedy has been comforting.
After making his appearance, Cox took a break with his family, eating meatballs that his little brother helped him eat.
"It's a lot bigger than I thought," he said of the turnout for the event.
Cox said that now that he's back in Petaluma, he'll begin his rehabilitation at home.
"They're teaching me how to do it on my own," he said.