California 14-Year-Old Begins Recovery After Family Finds Him Listed as ‘John Doe’ in Hospital

Nathan Torres was hit by a car less than a quarter-mile from his home and suffered a significant brain injury, police said. It would be days before his family would find out what happened after he set out on a bike to go to the store.

Two days before Halloween, 13-year-old Nathan Torres borrowed a family friend's bike to go to the store. Police say minutes after he rode off, he was hit by a car less than a quarter-mile from his home in Hemet, California, and suffered a significant brain injury.

When Nathan didn't return, and no one heard from him, his big sister, Angelica Martinez, filed a police report. 

The teen was taken to Moreno Valley Hospital, where he lied all alone for five days. No one knew where Nathan was because the Riverside Health System had him listed in the ICU as John Doe, and they mistook him for a 20-year-old. 

The police report notes Nathan has a distinctive feature — webbed feet. Still, days passed before any connection was made.

How could there have been such a mix-up? According to Angelica, where they lived versus where the accident happened helped create confusion.

"So my mom lives at the border of Hemet and San Jacinto," she said. "But her house is technically Hemet, and the accident was only, I'd say, three blocks from my mom's house. But that's San Jacinto, basically. That's their jurisdiction.

"So it was a San Jacinto police officer that responded to the call and found my brother, and my mom reported my brother missing to Hemet," she continued. "So I think that's where things kind of went wrong."

Still, Angelica said, her mother had noted that Nathan was riding a red bike when he was last seen. 

"A red Gauntlet bike, which the Hemet officer explained to them that it was a red bike involved in the accident two streets down, not even a quarter quarter-mile. I don't know how they didn't connect the dots," Angelica said. "He contacted them, I'd say, four or five times. It's all listed in the police report. And each time, they said no."

She says that eventually, police were able to identify Nathan. But she doesn't think Hemet police handled things correctly.

"In my opinion, Hemet police didn't do their job," she said. "The officer that found my brother tried his best. And everyone thinks that we blame the hospital, but we in no way blame them.

"They did what they were supposed to do, and that's to care for my brother," she continued. "That's their only job. But even then, his nurses were trying to figure out who he was, and that's going beyond their job, considering he was in an adult ICU for five days."

A spokesperson for Hemet police told Inside Edition Digital that theirs and the San Jacinto Police Department do share information, sometimes several times daily, depending on the situation.

When asked why it took so long for Nathan’s family to receive the police report, they said they don’t know if they received their missing person’s report and that it’s unusual for missing persons reports to be released. They said they cannot comment on the collision report.

“This was an unfortunate set of circumstances which resulted in a short delay of being able to identify the missing juvenile,” Hemet police added. “The situation has been resolved, and we wish the juvenile a quick recovery.”

They said they would not comment on why it took so long to find Nathan.

Angelica is grateful to the San Jacinto police officer who didn't stop trying to find her baby brother.

"If he didn't continue pursuing trying to figure out who he was, who knows if we would have ever found him and been able to give consent to the surgery that he needed eight days later, which was a lifesaving measure," she said. "If he didn't get his skull removed, he wouldn't be here right now. That was their last lifesaving measure that they were able to do."

According to Angelica, they found Nathan just in time.

"His neurosurgeon said, basically when we got there, to say goodbye and that that was it. And for us just barely finding him, it was hard. It was heartbreaking seeing him that way, too. And then, three days later, I was there alone with him at the hospital, and he just started going downhill out of nowhere," she said. "He was doing great, and all of a sudden, we were losing him. The pressure in his brain was just getting too bad, and they said that after three days, the pressure shouldn't be going up. It should be going down."

Nathan was rushed into surgery, which he survived.

"He made it through, he fought, and they said it'd be about three months till he got his skull put back. He got it back, I'd say, three weeks after surgery, which was great," she said. "He's looking better now. His swelling has stopped, but he does have numerous parts of damage, including his frontal lobe. So it's not what we wanted, but he's still fighting, and he's strong."

Angelica says that Nathan, now 14, is doing better, but he faces a long recovery.

"So he's not in a coma anymore," she said. "He was partially put into a medically-induced coma, and partially it was because of the damage to his brain and the swelling. But right now, he's considered to be awake. We can tell when he's awake or asleep, but we're not really sure if he can comprehend when we talk to him.

"His neurosurgeons think that he can, but he doesn't so much respond to commands. If we tell him, 'can you open and close your eyes? Can you blink? Can you move your legs or your arms?' But right now, he can move his legs. He is moving them all over the place," she said. "Not his hands or arms yet, but he did have his surgery to put his skull back."

Nathan now has a permanent shunt in his brain because he can no longer drain the fluid from his brain on his own. He also has a feeding tube, had a tracheotomy and he is still on a ventilator at night.  

And it's a long road before he comes home.

"I know people say we should be grateful because he's alive," Angelica said. "And although we are very grateful, I mean, it comes with a price. He's never going to be who he was before the accident. Even with the best rehabilitation center and everything, he'll never be who we know him to be. But soon, he will be going to a rehab center in Loma Linda, so we're excited for that."

As expected, Angelica said her mom is taking everything hard.

"It's really just my mom, and I have younger siblings," she said. "I have a special needs sister that's only eight, and she's her 24-hour caregiver. So now, with my brother being this way, she will have to take care of both of them."

Angelica said her family is taking legal action against the driver who hit Nathan. "We've seen the car driving around, and it's just hard," she said. "It's right near my mom's house. And it's hard. But as far as that, I guess there's nothing we can do, and we're just going to have to live with that."

In a statement to Inside Edition Digital, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office — which the San Jacinto Police Department falls under — said the driver stayed on the scene, and neither alcohol nor drugs appeared to be a factor, although they are still awaiting the results of a blood test.

Angelica and her family started a GoFundMe to help with transportation back and forth, gas and lodging near the hospital. And hopefully, some of that money can also go to fixing up the house when Nathan eventually comes home.

"My mom will have to fix the house up when he does come home, which will probably be at least a year from now, to make it accessible for him because, without a doubt, he will be in a wheelchair," Angelica said. "I mean, maybe he'll learn to walk again, but for the most part, he will be in a wheelchair for who knows how long. And just taking a shower and just getting into the house, it's hard. And then having a car that's accessible for him to take him to appointments because he will for sure have tons of appointments with rehab and checkups and all that."

As for Nathan's outcome, Angelica said doctors are still unsure.

"I mean, the brain's still a mystery," she said. "Every injury is different. They told us to expect the worst, but hope for the best, pretty much because there's no telling. They've seen it go both ways.

"I'd just like to say that like prayers are what we need most of all," she added. "I know my mom appreciates that more than any money anyone could possibly ever give us. That's what will help my brother just to stay strong now."

Related Stories