Family of hit-and-run crash survivor shares message of compassion and forgiveness

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Three days after a Riverton man survived a hit-and-run crash involving an alleged drunk driver, his family is sharing an incredible message of compassion and forgiveness.

Ricky Panh’s family said he was out with friends Friday night in downtown Salt Lake City when he chose to leave his car behind and walk to his brother’s apartment because he didn’t want to drink and drive. Ironically, he nearly lost his life after being hit by an alleged drunk driver near 300 South 300 West.

According to Salt Lake City Police Department, the crash occurred around 1:40 a.m. Witnesses told investigators the driver that fled the scene was going 40 miles per hour at the time of the crash and that there was front-end damage to the car.

Officers located a vehicle matching the description just several blocks away with three occupants inside. Probable cause documents stated the driver, Chauntel Garza, 22, failed a field sobriety test and was arrested for DUI and hit-and-run.

Meanwhile, Panh was transported to the University of Utah Hospital in critical condition. His younger sister, Sammy said it took her family 14 hours before they found out what happened to him.

“Ricky’s friends contacted me after they couldn’t get ahold of him,” she said. “We found his car at the restaurant and we saw a news article about a hit-and-run near my brother’s apartment. We started calling around different hospitals, but they didn’t have his name. Police told us it was because he was involved in a criminal investigation.”

Panh’s older brother, Narith flew in from Florida upon receiving the news that he was involved in a serious crash. He said Ricky was only able to communicate through writing on a whiteboard.

“Ricky was still on a breathing machine. It was a lot of tubes, so it was difficult to see him like that and not be able to talk to him,” said Narith. “He got hit on the same street that I’ve walked with him multiple times. It’s really hard thinking about that.”

Sammy said Ricky suffered multiple injuries including bleeding in his brain and a neck fracture. As of Monday afternoon, she said doctors put a titanium rod into his right leg during surgery.

“It’s real painful to think somebody hit our brother and just left him on the street there is the most difficult emotion to deal with,” said Narith. “There’s such a whirlwind of emotions going on. There’s anger, hatred, sympathy, sadness, happiness, and relief. But it’s really hard to just not be angry.”

Despite everything he’s went through, the Panhs said their brother is still thinking about others first.

“One of the things that really shows Ricky’s character is after he was finally conscious, I told him what happened,” said Narith. “His very first question was ‘Is the driver okay?'”

“He wasn’t even concerned about what he was going through. He just wanted to make sure everyone else was OK,” Sammy said tearfully.

They say their brother’s selfless personality is what’s pushing them to come up with the strength to move forward.

“At the same time, it’s important to realize that as humans, we’re imperfect and everybody makes a mistake. This person sure as hell didn’t plan on hitting somebody the night that they went out,” said Narith.

When asked if his family could forgive the driver who hit his brother, he said, “I’d welcome this person with open arms if they are willing to ask for forgiveness and accept the responsibilities. I’d want them to dedicate their life to making sure nothing like this ever happens again.”

“Honestly, I think Ricky is the one who would encourage me to forgive this person so I would lean on him,” said Sammy. “I know he wouldn’t want to hold any hatred in our heart because that’s the type of person that he is. If he could go through this and forgive, then I should be able to too.”

Ricky is expected to recover from his injuries, but he will have a long road before he is fully recovered. If you would like to help with medical expenses, you can donate to Ricky’s GoFundMe here.

“A letter to the driver that his my brother…”

Narith shared part of a letter he wrote to the driver that hit his brother, Ricky with ABC4 News:

“Dear driver,

I write this letter because I know it is the only way I can talk to you about how I feel. I know that if I were to look you in your eyes, my anger and rage would overcome the love I have in my heart for you as a human being. To be human is to be imperfect and we have all made mistakes in our lives. However, some of our mistakes are more costly than others. You are fortunate you will not have to live the rest of your life knowing that you took my brother from me.

While I can sit here in this hospital room and write this, it is only because my brother survived and will be on his road to recovery to becoming a better and stronger person. But let’s be very clear, he didn’t survive because of anything you did. You hit my lil’ brother and left him to die on a cold, dark street… all alone. The thought that another human would completely disregard my brother’s life like that is easily the toughest emotion to cope with. I can only imagine the events in your life that ultimately led you to make such a poor decision that night. We all have our demons and we all have different ways to cope. I hope you can find a better outlet in your life than alcohol.

You may never meet me, but you will feel my presence every day of your life. But today, you can know that my presence will only bring positivity and light to your world because my heart is full that my brother is alive. I will inspire you to live a better life, to be a better person, to do everything you possibly can to ensure something like this doesn’t happen to another family. You can’t go back and change your decisions from that night, but you have the opportunity to live a life worth living knowing that I have forgiveness in my heart. My forgiveness will inspire you to be an advocate and champion in our community to make it safer.” 

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