‘Life is not the same’ for stabbing victim
The nightmares still bother Ana Orellana-Vasquez, and the scars on her hands and neck remind her of the knife attack that almost left her dead on New Year’s Day in 2003.
“Life is not the same, and I cannot work anymore,” she said through an interpreter in a recent interview.
Orellana-Vasquez has come back from the precipice of death, after the attack left the El Salvador native with no money, no way to work, no ability to care for herself and an uncertain future.
Her prospects slowly turned for the better through the love of her man and a network of neighbors, social workers and sympathetic lawyers who saw she needed a break.
“Ana had immediate and extended practical, emotional and legal needs,” said Brenda Collins of Nevada County’s Victim Witness Program. “She needed emotional support dealing with the trauma of the attack. She was unable to work due to her hand injuries (sustained by warding off the knife). She was traumatized seeing her scars.
“We all got an education in worker’s comp, plastic surgery and resources,” Collins said.
“I was taken aback by the circumstances of this situation, and it took the human element in many people to make this work for her,” said Jackie Renison, of the Placer County Victim Witness Program. She helped Orellana-Vasquez get compensation in her case, and said she is astounded at how many people had a hand in it.
“She’s a Spanish-speaking person from another country who didn’t know how to get services,” Renison said. “Just the fact she survived should tell us of her strong will.”
Badly cut up
Orellana-Vasquez, now 36, had been supporting Jose Saravia while working two jobs, according to Katherine Francis, who prosecuted the case for the DA’s office. He got angry when she sent money back to her children in El Salvador, and on that January night four years ago, he made her pay.
One of her jobs was at a downtown Grass Valley restaurant.
Sneaking in through the back door while Orellana-Vasquez was working, Saravia snatched up a 12-inch kitchen knife and attacked her. He stabbed her 17 times as she tried to avoid him inside the restaurant, finally escaping as Saravia fell with two major wounds of his own.
Grass Valley Police Sgt. Joe Matteoni helped investigate the crime scene.
As he interviewed her in the hospital the next day – heavily bandaged in the intensive care unit, but still able to relay her story calmly – Matteoni found himself admiring the woman’s determination, he said later.
He also took photos of her for evidence. “She was pretty badly cut up,” Matteoni said.
Saravia had attacked his wife on a Boston street in 1999, stabbing her twice in the face. He was sent to jail and later deported to El Salvador. He made it back to the United States, eventually hooking up with Orellana-Vasquez, who immigrated legally, she said.
Reliving the attack through the court process was difficult, yet she managed, Orellana-Vasquez said.
The attack “was so violent, it was a surprise that either of them survived,” Francis said. “It was a blood bath.”
A jury convicted Saravia, and a judge sentenced him to 24 years in prison without parole. Because he is 59, the chances are he will not get out of prison until he is in his 70s, and even then, he could get redeported, Francis said.
After the trial, Orellana-Vasquez’s real difficulties started as she tried to heal and get her life back together.
Jose Mejia lived in the same Salvadoran enclave in Auburn as Orellana-Vasquez. It’s a tight-knit community in which people take care of each other. Mejia began caring for Orellana-Vasquez right after the attack and stood by her through her 18 operations. Three more are expected in the future.
Mejia’s service bloomed into love. Now, they together are raising two of Orellana-Vasquez’s children, who arrived in the U.S. during the last few years.
To the rescue
Jeff Guyton serves as the unofficial patriarch of Auburn’s Salvadoran enclave, interpreting and handing out advice as needed.
“Ana had been to a number of lawyers looking to pursue a workman’s comp claim,” Guyton said.
But no one would touch it, saying her case would be construed as domestic violence. So Guyton, with his own practice in Nevada City, took the case himself.
“Occasionally, a case comes along where you don’t care if you make any money or not because you’re going to have to pay St. Peter at some point,” Guyton said.
With Orellana-Vasquez’s medical bills around $750,000, Guyton turned to a workman’s compensation attorney, who managed to hammer out a small agreement for $15,000.
That was enough to get the tenacious mother of six going again. The agreement and a settlement from the restaurant where she was attacked pay her $1,100 per month, enough to live on, coupled with Mejia’s wages.
Now, Guyton finds himself friends with area Salvadorans and enjoys going to their barbecues. He also maintains an amazed respect for Orellana-Vasquez.
“It’s been wonderful to watch the evolution of her person,” Guyton said. “This was a complicated matter for all involved.”
To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail davem@the union.com or call 477-4237.
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