Local News

Saturday, Mar 08 2014 08:00 PM

Father remembers 6-month-old on eve of victims' march

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Four-year-old J'Layah Heath gives her mother, Faith Mozeke-Heath, a kiss as her father Donte recalls the Jan. 22 crash involving an alleged drunk driver that killed his infant daughter LayJah. Faith Heath holds LayJah's twin sister Jayah.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Parked in the drive of their central Bakersfield home, the Heath family SUV carries the message not to drink and drive along with a photo of the daughter they lost to an alleged drunk driver.

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BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer jkotowski@bakersfield.com

Donte Heath calmed his daughter the evening of Jan. 19 as she fussed while he strapped her into a car seat.

"Daddy's here, daddy's here," he softly told 6-month-old LayJah.

Related Info

VICTIMS' AWARENESS MARCH

To have posters made from photographs of local victims of violent crime, email the pictures to VictimMarch@co.kern.ca.us. For more information, email that address or call the Victim Services Unit at 868-2400.

Three days later he comforted LayJah again, in a hospital room and for the final time. Heath and his wife, Faith Mozeke-Heath, held the infant as her breathing slowed, her heartbeat grew weaker.

The time between strapping his daughter in her car seat and cradling her as she died mark "the hardest three days of my life," Heath said Tuesday. An associate minister at Saint John Baptist Church, Heath said his faith in God is what kept him from leaping through a window when the emergency room doctor told him his daughter wouldn't survive.

The Heaths say they have forgiven the alleged drunken driver who crashed into them and caused LayJah's fatal injuries. But, like families of many victims, they want him to face the consequences of his actions as they continue to try to put their lives back together.

They will be one of many families of victims of violent crime in Kern County expected to attend the 2nd Annual Victims' Awareness March on April 8. The event will begin at 5 p.m. at the Liberty Bell in front of Kern County Superior Court at 1415 Truxtun Ave.

More than 200 people attended last year's event, which has again been organized by the Kern County District Attorney's office.

"It's important for us at the DA's office to show the community and all victims and victims' families that they are not forgotten, whether the case is one month old or 20 years old," said Chief Deputy District Attorney Mark Pafford.

Several people will speak before the march begins at 5:30 p.m. The crowd will then walk from the Liberty Bell to St. Francis Church at 900 H St., where a candlelight vigil will begin at 6 p.m.

Faith, 31, said she is looking forward to the event because she will be among others who have experienced what she has, suffered the same type of loss. She's asking that God use her to help others with their pain as she continues to heal, too.

The Heaths had spent part of Jan. 19 at the home of Donte Heath's brother. They did laundry while watching the 49ers-Seahawks game.

It being a Sunday, Donte Heath had to leave at one point to conduct a service at Saint John Baptist. He returned afterward, and the Heaths prepared to head back home.

Traveling with them were LayJah and her twin, Jayah, as well as 16-year-old Darrious.

Faith drove to the intersection of South Union Avenue and Berkshire Road in southeast Bakersfield. She stopped at a stop sign.

Faith glanced in the rearview mirror and saw headlights rapidly approaching. She had no time to move before a Cadillac Escalade smashed into and pushed her car past the intersection and into the opposite lane of traffic.

Donte Heath, 41, said he'd been dozing. He described the impact as an "explosion" and as he opened his eyes he couldn't make sense of what he was seeing. Everything was spinning.

He briefly lost consciousness. When he awoke, he heard screaming. It was immediately apparent something was wrong with LayJah.

Donte Heath was able to get LayJah out of the car; his wife, Jayah and Darrious were trapped and firefighters needed to use the Jaws of Life to free them. As he held LayJah, he noticed she'd gone limp and her eyes kept rolling back into her head.

Three days later, she died. She was buried with her favorite toy, a stuffed bear that makes noise when you squeeze his paw.

Somehow, everyone else in the car escaped serious injury. The twin, Jayah, suffered no injuries at all, Faith said.

The driver of the Escalade, Alfredo Moreno, has been charged with crimes including second-degree murder and hit-and-run causing death or permanent serious injury. He's being held on $240,000 bail and is next scheduled to appear in court April 11.

Donte Heath recently went back to work at San Joaquin Hospital, where he strips and waxes the flooring. It's been difficult because a bell rings at San Joaquin every time a baby is born.

He hears the bells and his mind naturally turns to the baby he lost. Two bells go off when twins are born, making the experience even more personal.

Jayah, the twin, of course doesn't know what happened, but she can tell something is wrong. She and LayJah complemented each other, with LayJah rambunctious and always into trouble while Jayah is more reserved, holding back as she quietly examined her surroundings.

Always by her sister, Jayah sometimes doesn't seem to know what to do now that it's only her sitting on the couch or being held by her parents. Donte Heath said the twins' closeness was evident even when he and Faith first viewed them through ultrasound images.

"Every time they were together they were holding hands," he said. "Even in the womb."

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