TODAY   |  November 17, 2012

Girl, 9, pens letter to drunk driver who left her paralyzed

“They didn’t think she was going to make it,” said the mother of Xitclalli “Chilli” Vazquez to TODAY’s Lester Holt. Chilli, 9, was injured after a drunk driver slammed into her family’s car. A year later, she wrote a letter to the man who left her paralyzed from the chest down.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> in a car days before her 8th birthday when a drunk driver crashed into her. for that man's sentencing hearing, she wrote him a haunting letter to make him understand what he did to her. but first, jenna is back with more on her story. good morning.

>> good morning to you. so that beautiful little girl right there spent 104 days in the hospital recovering from that accident and she wanted the man responsible to know how he changed her life.

>> hi jeremy. i am a 9-year-old, a 4th grader, so i was diagnosed as a paraplegic.

>> reporter: on july 9th in fort worth , texas, chili and her sister were going out to get their hair and nails done, where out of anywhere, jeremy, drunk, slammed head-on to their car. she was paralyzed from the chest down.

>> there are days that i cry because i can't do what i used to do.

>> reporter: at solis's sentencing last week, she tried to read her letter in court but couldn't control her tears. when her mom read it, no one else in the room, including the defendant, could control theirs either.

>> i had tubes through my mouth and nose.

>> reporter: solis pleaded guilty to intoxication, assault and was sentenced to ten years. he's eligible for parole in five. but for chilli, she'll always measure time as before the accident and after.

>> look at what i said and i said tell me how you feel. do you remember july 9th ?

>> the other message here is for all drivers, it's an obvious one, but it's a constant reminder. always think twice before drinking and getting behind the wheel. lester?

>> jenna, thanks. chilli and her mother are both here. can i call you chilli? is that okay?

>> uh-huh.

>> tell me about what happened. you were going to get your hair done and your nails done. what do you remember about that day?

>> that we had fun.

>> you were having fun until the accident, when you got to the hospital. do you remember anything about the accident? what's been the most difficult part? because in the letter that you wrote to this man, you really described all the things that went on in the hospital. tell me about the kind of therapy and the things you're learning to do.

>> therapy is an easy school. the hardest was x-rays.

>> x-rays every day, you wrote about in the book, right? and you call her your miracle child, because the news was really not good.

>> no. when i arrived at the accident, i saw everybody just waiting there. at the hospital, the doctor said it's best for you to call your pastor. they didn't think she was going to make it.

>> but she did make it. she's a strong little girl .

>> she went through four surgeries within a month.

>> very strong little girl . she went through all the x-rays and all the therapy. i know it's been a difficult road. but she found the strength to write a letter to the person that hit the car. were you surprised that she was able to put on paper all these thoughts?

>> no. i wasn't surprised at all. i know my daughter. she's going to let people know how she feels.

>> well, she did. she describes everything she went through. do you feel like reading a little bit of the letter? because you get personal to this person near the end. would you mind reading that to us?

>> all of it?

>> reporter: just maybe the part at the bottom there that's underlined.

>> i would like for you to meet me and my family. i have two sisters, i have two brothers, mom and dad . we have lots of fun and there are days that are bad because i have a hard time getting around. look at what i said and the words i said and tell me how i look and feel. how do you feel? today.

>> did he answer you? what was his reaction when that letter was read in court? do you remember?

>> i didn't read it.

>> i know the judge read it, but when it was read to you, do you remember what the man's reaction was?

>> everybody was tearing up in court. even the judge.

>> it was difficult. and this man's been sent away now for ten years.

>> yes.

>> chilli, how do you feel about this man spending ten years in prison?

>> to me, i feel like it's scary to me.

>> it's a long time. do you think that maybe you've sent a very important message to people who think they can drink and drive? what's that message?

>> to stop drinking and driving .

>> do you think you'll write him any more letters? what do you want to say?

>> i haven't thought about that yet.

>> but you want to stay in contact somehow. are you hoping that he sends you a letter back and answers and truly apologizes? is that what you want?

>> yes.

>> an apology? you must be very proud of her.

>> i am.

>> and what's her prognosis?

>> she was diagnosed as a paraplegic.

>> but still going through therapy.

>> still going to therapy. she believes she's going walk and so do i.

>> i know you both have some pretty difficult days.

>> yes.

>> well, thanks for stopping by. chilli, thanks for writing that letter because i think you send an important message that will hopefully resonate far outside that courtroom and that's a message for all of us. appreciate it.