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Injured boy's family tries to cope; Child was struck while riding bike

Life, as you know it, can change in an instant.

It did May 29 for the family of Derrick Stephens Jr. of Cheektowaga.

That was the afternoon when three boys ran furiously looking for anyone at the family's Atwood Place home on Cheektowaga's west end.

"Are you Derrick's dad?" one of the boys asked anxiously upon arriving at the small, one-story home and finding Derrick Sr. "Derrick just got hit by a car. He's dead."

Derrick Sr.'s heart sank as he ran behind his house and through some yards to reach his 13-year-old son.

One moment, the energetic, ever-smiling Cheektowaga Middle School seventh-grader who'd once won the "Perfect Gentleman Award" at school was riding his bicycle, headed for a basketball game with friends at nearby Pine Hill Primary Center.

Next, his crumpled body lay on East Delavan Avenue at Marne Road barely clinging to life.

Derrick "coded" twice -- once at the scene when emergency crews battled to keep his heart beating, and later after arriving at Erie County Medical Center's emergency room, his parents told The Buffalo News.

"The first thing I said was 'Jesus, please don't take my son,' " said Cheryl Anderson, 39, Derrick's mother. "He came back. We could've lost Derrick. But, he's still here. His heart is still beating."

Almost two weeks later, Derrick remains unconscious in the intensive care unit at ECMC with a traumatic brain injury. He has a stable pulse but still has a machine breathing for him. Derrick's pupils don't respond to external stimulus.

"He's not responding to pain," said Derrick Sr., 55, who broke down in tears. "I'm so scared. I try to be positive, but I'm so scared."

"The only time I'm at peace is when I'm asleep."

Derrick Sr. said he had talked to Junior by phone just 10 minutes before the three boys rushed to the house.

What Derrick's parents know is he was just a block shy of the basketball court when, for some reason, his bike veered into the path of a car driven by Joniqua Tarrant, 19. The force of the impact ejected Derrick from his bike seat and head-first into the car's windshield.

He was not wearing a helmet.

Cheektowaga Police say Tarrant, who only had a learner's permit, was violating the law by traveling without a licensed driver in the car. Police also believe she was speeding.

"She will be issued a ticket for speeding and probably get a ticket for unlicensed operation pending the investigation," said Cheektowaga Police Capt. James Speyer.

Speyer said Tarrant was traveling westbound on East Delavan Avenue when eastbound Derrick "for some reason crossed in front of the car."

From the time Derrick arrived at the hospital, doctors braced the family for the worst. He's undergone numerous surgeries to relieve pressure on his brain and recently underwent dialysis due to kidney failure from the many medications doctors are using to keep him alive.

"A lot of the doctors didn't think Derrick was going to make it," Anderson said. "One second can change a family, turn everything inside out and upside down."

Derrick's family is by his side every minute they can be during the limited visiting hours of the ICU. His teachers and school principal have visited Derrick in recent days.

"Right now, there's nothing we really do but stand over him and look at him and talk to him," Anderson said.

Derrick's parents describe their son as "so loving and caring."

"If he sees you upset," Anderson said, "he gives you a hug."

He's fond of sports -- wrestling and basketball especially, and played for the Buffalo Bills team in an area Pop Warner football league.

An aspiring police officer or FBI agent, Derrick is a leader in his school and his neighborhood, according to his parents. "The street hasn't been the same since," Derrick Sr. said.

Added Anderson: "I've had all the boys around here crying."

The tragedy, said Derrick's mother, has brought her previously fractionalized extended family back together as they've rallied around the Stephenses in their time of grief.

"Good things came out of it, but look what had to happen," Anderson said.

Family members and friends started a website in Derrick's honor to help people offer wishes and donations to the Stephens family at is overdrawn ephens. Mounting medical bills are now likely far exceeding Tarrant's liability insurance coverage.

Financial implications aside, the family's pain over Derrick's plight is raw and agonizing. Derrick's parents feel it constantly. One of his closest "buddies" is his 8-year-old sister, Summer. Something is now missing from her life without his presence, said Anderson.

But there is still hope.

"He's still here. And that's a whole lot of hope for us," said Derrick Sr.

Now, the Stephenses pray. And they ask for many more prayers.

"Pray for my boy," said Derrick Sr. "Family, friends, strangers alike. Please, pray for my boy."