From the time he was a toddler, Danny Cox loved running and jumping.

He would chase his older sisters around their Petaluma house, surprising them with his strength. Later, he would challenge his dad to out-jump him to tap the overhead signs in the grocery store.

At Petaluma High School, he became a star long-jumper, leaping 21 feet and placing 11th in the state high school sectionals in Berkeley.

But just weeks after he graduated last year, Cox was paralyzed from the chest down in a freak diving accident at Lake Tahoe.

Sunday, just three days shy of the one-year anniversary of his injury, Cox died in a single-car crash on Highway 101 south of Petaluma when his handicap-equipped car struck an oak tree along the highway. The cause is still under investigation.

A public memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Petaluma High School track, followed at 3 p.m. with a reception at the Mystic Theatre in downtown Petaluma.

His family asks people to wear yellow and black, Cox's favorite colors.

In addition to his athletic skills and broad smile, Cox will be remembered for his sense of humor, one that ranged from silly to gross.

"He was a huge goofball," said his father, Chris Cox of Petaluma. "Once when he was 10 years old, we were in the video store, and he said out loud, &‘Daddy, don't put me back under the stairs when we get home.' Or in public, he'd say, &‘Daddy did you get your special ointment for your groin?' But I enjoyed it. That was him."

His mother, Maureen McGowan of Petaluma, recalled when young Danny asked about the Tooth Fairy.

"He said, &‘I figured out who the Tooth Fairy is. It's you,'" she said. Her son had seen the baby teeth she'd saved. "&‘But I don't get it. How do you get into all those other kids' houses?'" he asked. "Oh, you think I'm THE Tooth Fairy," she silently mused at the time.

McGowan said her son was the most like her of all her children, siding with Mom in family disagreements.

Cox's father said he was a young man who was sure of himself, deciding on his own to not drink alcohol or take drugs, even losing some friends because of his stand.

After the devastating injury that partially paralyzed him last August, Cox didn't give up and depend on others. He took it upon himself to investigate how to outfit his car so he could drive again, using one hand to steer and the other to use a lever to control speed and braking.

He had an iPad installed in his car so he could control the booming stereo with its large touch screen.

Cox had received his driver's license less than two weeks before the fatal crash, passing on the first try using a special lever and hand-control with which he maneuvered his prized 2005 Dodge Magnum wagon.

For someone who loved running and jumping, the transition to being disabled was challenging emotionally and physically, his family acknowledged, and Cox struggled to stay positive.

After the injury, the greater Petaluma community rallied around Cox and his family, holding fund-raisers to help pay for medical care his insurance didn't cover. He twice went to Panama for stem-cell treatments, which resulted in marked improvement, his father said.

One of Cox's sisters, Emily Cox, 25, said her brother had a special way of looking at the world.

"He had an eye for aesthetics, and an eye for beauty in the way he saw life," she said. "He would go toward beauty."

Danny adored his younger brothers, Charlie, 9, and Jack, 2, even prioritizing them over the usual teenage pursuits, his family said.

Cox is survived by another sister, Sophie, 22, and grandparents Dan Marrin of Santa Rosa, Louise Wohltmann of Africa, aunt Joanna Marrin of Los Angeles, and numerous other aunts, uncles and cousins.

A golf tournament set for Sept. 9 that was originally planned as a fund-raiser to help pay for Cox's ongoing care has been revised into a memorial event to help his family pay off the remaining medical bills.

To play or donate items for the raffle or auction, contact Kelli Maciel at kellimaciel@hotmail.com.

— Lori A. Carter, The Press Democrat