The parents of a Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy who was injured by an alleged drunken driver in Paramount last month said she is in stable condition and recovering.
Dakota Palanca's mother and stepfather told KTLA on Wednesday that the deputy is strong. She has opened her eyes and is moving her arms, but remains hospitalized.
She was critically injured while responding to a call on Nov. 25. about a man allegedly acting erratically. The man ran to her window and began assaulting her before he got away, authorities said. As Palanca, 25, was running after him, she was struck by a Chevrolet Suburban. The driver was found a short distance away and arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. The man involved in the initial incident was also arrested.
Despite being in stable condition, Palanca has a long recovery ahead of her, her parents said.
After a recent scare at the hospital, Palanca's mother said her daughter took the incident in stride.
"I sat with her, and told her 'You are the strongest woman I’ve ever met in my entire life,'" Lori Hayden said. "She’s my pumpkin. She’s zippered to me, she’s been zippered to me since she was a baby."
"She is a born leader," said Palanca's stepfather, Rick Hayden, remembering how well she did in school.
Hayden said Palanca comes from a family of law enforcement officials — he and his wife are both in the field, as is her uncle. He recalled that Palanca was on a mock trial team in high school and he thought she would pursue a career in law.
"She walked in one day and said 'I want to be a cop,'" he said. "She never disappointed us. She always had a vision … as a result we have a hero deputy."
Palanca also holds a psychology degree from Cal State Fullerton and is a first lieutenant in the army. Her stepfather called her an "overachiever."
Hayden said what happened to his stepdaughter was an "unnecessary tragedy," but added that the outpouring of support from his law enforcement family, as well as the community has been "amazing."
He said Palanca received a letter from the daughter of a man the deputy encountered in the field. The note said Palanca treated the man like a human being and not like a criminal or "druggie," and that the daughter attributes her father's continuing sobriety to the way Palanca approached the situation.
Hayden said he wanted to thank the woman for sending his daughter those words of support.
The Lakewood Sheriff's station, where Palanca was assigned, held a BBQ fundraiser for the deputy Wednesday.