OAKLAND -- The gravity of the situation set in as James Roda's friends drove to Highland Hospital early Saturday. They rounded Lake Merritt Boulevard, where they saw a woman outside a Mercedes, surrounded by police.
"It was a really stirring image," Alex Riddle said. "The windshield was completely smashed."
Police were arresting Meghan Zato, a 26-year-old law student accused of striking Roda, a 25-year-old Oakland resident, with the car as she tried to run down a group of vandals; the cracks in the windshield had been caused by Roda's head.
Minutes earlier, Roda was leaving the Ruby Room, a dimly lit bar at the edge of Lake Merritt, and crossing 14th Street when Zato smashed into him, knocking him about 100 feet, police said.
Zato, who earlier was kicked out of the bar, had her sights set on a group of graffiti vandals who attacked her after she confronted them for tagging a wall near the steps of the Oakland Public Library, according to police. Driving on the wrong side of the road, she instead hit Roda, whom she mistook for one of the vandals.
Roda, an innocent bystander, suffered severe head injuries and brain swelling and is now in a medically induced coma in the intensive care unit at Highland. The effects of the collision -- which may include paralysis, brain damage or memory loss -- may not be fully realized until he wakes up, which could take several weeks.
His father, Jeff, said surgeons removed a portion of his son's skull to relieve swelling. James Roda is unable to move his right side, his father said.
"If there's a miracle, that would be great," said Jeff Roda, 60, who lives in Oregon. "It's difficult to see him lying there. He doesn't have a scratch on him beside this. He didn't break a bone, didn't get cut. He looks completely normal, except ..."
Riddle has been among a steady stream of friends and family visiting James Roda daily in the hospital.
"We are all trying to stay strong and be there if anything changes," said Riddle, 24, of Berkeley. "We want him to feel our presence."
Roda, a Berkeley native who turns 26 on Saturday, took steps in the past month to turn his passion for cooking into a career, visiting culinary schools in San Francisco. He is a cook at The Original Red Onion in Alameda and has worked part-time recently at 3000 Broadway, where he worked with Riddle.
Roda's friends have set up a website to take donations to help cover his medical bills at https://www.wepay.com/donations/help-support-james.
Zato, a student at Hastings College of the Law, was charged this week with assault with a deadly weapon with an enhancement clause of causing great bodily injury and felony leaving the scene of an accident. She also could face a DUI charge once the results of a blood test are known, according to police. Zato is free on bail and returns to court Friday for a 9 a.m. bail hearing.
Her lawyer said Tuesday that he thinks Roda was associated with the vandals despite what police say, then added that his client did not intend to harm anyone.
The fact that Zato is free on bail saddened Roda's second cousin, 58-year-old Janet Windesheim, of North Berkeley.
"He is just loved. He's just a gentle, good kid," she said. "Poor James is lying there and she's out."
David DeBolt covers breaking news. Contact him at 510-262-2728. Follow him at Twitter.com/daviddebolt.
HOW TO HELP
Friends and family of Roda have set up a fund for people to help James Roda cover his medical bills. Donation jars have been placed at The Original Red Onion, 1222 Park St. in Alameda, and Ruby Room 132 14th St. in Oakland. People can also donate by visiting https://www.wepay.com/donations/help-support-james.