For the first time on Monday, the mother of a 5-year-old hit-and-run victim is talking about the crash that nearly killed her daughter just days before the little girl's birthday.
"Carlie is a bright and wonderful little girl," Brittany Rodriguez said. "I love my daughter so much."
Brittany told NBC4 that Carlie has extensive injuries to her head and neck, including broken tendons.
"They pulled two ribs out from her side and they molded them into her neck along with a steel plate and bolts to hold her."
Carlie also has a traumatic brain injury and still needs a tube to drain fluid from her head.
After several surgeries, she is making remarkable progress, including opening her eyes this morning.
"It's just overwhelming happiness, I can't explain it," Carlie's father Aaron Rodriguez said.
Carlie was in a medically induced coma on April 26 as her family, including her two older brothers, celebrated her fifth birthday (pictured below) at Loma Linda Children's Hospital.
"We're just glad she made it through the surgery that morning," Brittany said.
Carlie suffered her injuries when her parents’ car was broadsided near Magnolia Avenue and Nelson Street in Riverside on April 22.
The driver of the black Ford Mustang that struck Carlie's family car left the scene on foot before detectives found him at his Oceanside home three days later. Authorities said someone falsely reported the Mustang stolen soon after the crash in an attempt to hide the driver.
Gamez is also accused of driving without a license. It’s the second time he has been cited for the crime, court records show. At age 15, Gamez was charged with driving without a license.
Aaron and Brittany told NBC4 they forgive Gamez, but they also believe he should have stayed at the scene.
The family is asking for help paying for their daughter's rising medical bills. Donations can be made at any Altura Credit Union under the name Carlie Rodriguez Fund, account no. 2382125, routing no. 322281235.