The family of a Nogales firefighter killed in a hit and run accident last June, honored his memory at an organ donation event held in Tucson on Sunday afternoon.
The family of Sterling Lytle joined dozens of others families, as they dedicated patches that would be stitched onto a donor quilt for Donate Life Arizona.
It was a bittersweet day for the Barcelo Lytle family, as they remembered their son at the event, less than 24 hours before facing the man who has pleaded guilty to killing their son.
Jesus Zepeda is charged with Negligent Homicide after a hit and run accident that killed Lytle last June.
It happened in Midtown, after Lytle and a co-worker were driving home from a bar. Police say a car driven by the suspect was following them, while honking and flashing it's lights. Police say Lytle and his driver pulled over, when the suspect struck Lytle with his vehicle, ran over him, and took off.
Friends and family members posted more than ten thousand fliers across town to help find the suspect.
Lytle's family decided to terminate life support after several days, when doctor's told them he would never be the same.
"We were informed that he would have no eyesight, hearing, or knowledge of anyone. He would be a vegetable for the rest of his life had he lived," said his mother Sarah Lytle Barcelo.
Marta Godoy, a donor family advocate approached the family in the hospital. Lytle Barcelo said she was upset at first, because she was hurting inside. She was not emotionally ready to answer all the questions the organization needed in order to begin the process.
"Those are decisions that have to be made immediately, otherwise it is not possible to transplant the organs," said Godoy.
Dozens of Southern Arizona families attended the Donate Life Arizona event, bringing with them a patch representing their loved one. All of the patches would be sewn on to a special donate quilt.
Sterling Lytle's patch was pinned on the quilt on Sunday, amid dozens of other patches. Ordinary people who became heroes by giving life, even after their own tragic deaths.
What were tragedies for one family would turn into celebrations for others who got that gift of life in the form of a heart, liver, kidney, cornea, or tissue transplant.
Lytle's patch represented an old favorite T-shirt of his. One of his first fire department T-shirts, according to his mother.
Godoy said everyone should have the discussion of donating their organs with loved ones while they were healthy, so the decision could be easier if anything unforeseen were to happen.
"I always tell my mother, please, I want to be a donor. It is so difficult for a family to make that decision when they are suffering," said Godoy.
She also pointed out that it was important to register in the state in which you reside, as currently there is no "national" database, so it would take longer to track your records if you did not live in Arizona. Time was crucial in organ transplant procedures.
Staff with Donate Life Arizona said to date 40% of Arizona residents have registered to become organ and tissue donors.
One person can save the life of up to seven people through organ donations, and more than fifty people through tissue donations.
Lytle's family joined dozens of other families to promote organ donation just one day before facing Jesus Zepeda in court.
Lytle Barcelo said Zepeda had tried to communicate with the family. "I did receive a 5-page letter of apology from him. I felt it was more how the tragedy affected him and his family, not so much an apology to me," said Lytle Barcelo.
She said she was not satisfied with the proposed 4-8 year sentence he faced.
"4-8 years for taking my son's life. I think it's ridiculous. He is going to walk out of there in 4-8 years while my son is still in the ground after he killed him," said Lytle Barcelo.
Sentencing is expected to take place at 10 AM on Monday.
To register to become an organ and tissue donor, you can go to www.azdonorregistry.org.
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