Noe Garcia, longtime groom to Lava Man who lost his left arm in a serious automobile accident in the early morning hours July 23, is making progress at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla.
Trainer Doug O’Neill visited Garcia July 24. At his barn Wednesday morning he said, “He’s staying positive, hanging in there. He has a wife, four kids and a lot of friends, and that gives him tons of support.”
Garcia has cared for Lava Man for three years. He was headed to work early Monday when he was injured in the accident on Interstate 5 near the track.
O’Neill’s assistant trainer, Leandro Mora, said he talked to one of the Scripps officials late Tuesday and was told that Garcia was expected to be moved from the intensive care floor to a regular recovery room this week.
Garcia and his family have a home in the Los Angeles area. He was injured at about 4 a.m. when his vehicle was involved in a collision on southbound Interstate 5 just before the Via de la Valle (Del Mar racetrack) exit.
Garcia was traveling southbound in a Toyota Sienna van when it was struck by a Camaro driven by Heriberto Castillo of Oceanside, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Eric Newbury. Castillo's car drifted from the middle lane into Garcia's lane and Garcia was unable to maintain control.
The van overturned on its left side, severing Garcia's arm, which doctors were unable to save, Newbury said.
Castillo fled the scene and headed northbound on I-5 before exiting near Carlsbad, officials said. Carlsbad police spotted his car with a flat tire and arrested Castillo. He was charged with three felony counts: driving under the influence and causing injuries, driving under the influence with a blood-alcohol level in excess of 0.08%, and hit and run, Newbury said.
"He was intoxicated and there was alcohol in the vehicle," said Newbury, who was at the scene.
Castillo, 24, pleaded not guilty to all three charges during his arraignment Wednesday in Vista Superior Court in San Diego County.
A message left with his attorney wasn't immediately returned Wednesday.
O’Neill said a number of people, including some of his owners, his brother, Dennis, and others on the backstretch have begun brain-storming on a fund-raising event for Garcia, who has prepared Lava Man for three straight victories in the Hollywood Gold (gr. I), back-to-back Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) wins and last year’s Pacific Classic (gr. I). Garcia also groomed Sky Jack, another Gold Cup winner for O’Neill.
Temporarily replacing Garcia as Lava Man’s groom is Inocencio Diaz, who groomed the handicap star after he was claimed for $50,000 at Del Mar in 2004 until the horse joined O’Neill’s main string at Hollywood Park after finishing second to Rock Hard Ten in the 2004 Malibu Stakes (gr. I).
Lava Man has earned $5,189,706 in his career. The 6-year-old gelding was claimed for $50,000 by O'Neill three years ago at Del Mar.