Aurora senior turns family tragedy into serious life lesson


AURORA | Onyi Ozoma has looked better than he did on Jan. 6.

Speckled with fake blood and rubber scabs, he looked like he had just been tossed through a pane of glass.

That was precisely the point.

Ozoma was one of two student volunteers who participated in a simulated car crash scenario at Rangeview High School to raise awareness for teen distracted driving.

Rangeview’s ZIP Code, 80013, tops the list for distracted teen driving accidents in the metro area, according to JJ’s LIGHT, a student-led nonprofit organization that aims to combat distracted driving and raise money for family members of those affected by it. That data was compiled by Children’s Hospital Colorado. The other ZIP Codes ranking in the top three on the list, 80011 and 80012, are also in Aurora.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that each day “over eight people (were) killed and 1,161 injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver.” And the federal website dedicated to distracted driving awareness reports that 3,179 people were killed and 431,000 more injured in crashes involving distracted drivers in 2014.

To try to combat those statistics, student-members of JJ’s LIGHT — short for Legacy Involves Giving Hope Together — helped organize a week-long distracted driving campaign that featured several simulations and discussions, and culminated with the live emergency simulation. Members of several emergency services, including the Aurora Fire Department and a Flight for Life Colorado helicopter, demonstrated how they may go about extracting someone from a wrecked car using the “jaws of life” to slice the top off of a Toyota sedan.

Local agents from Farmer’s Insurance also helped sponsor the event.

JJ’s LIGHT has become a fixture in the Rangeview community in recent years as founding member Kennedy Patti, now a Rangeview senior, has worked her way through the local high school. On top of raising awareness for distracted driving, Kennedy and her mom, Melissa, have helped raise money for students who have lost a parent to continue participating in extra curricular activities. Kennedy’s father, James “JJ” Patti, was killed in 2011, when he was returning from a day of golfing in Pueblo and fell asleep at the wheel.

The effort behind JJ’s LIGHT blossomed when Kennedy got to high school and learned five members of her freshman class had also lost parents.

“The need was bigger than Kennedy and her co-founder, Rachel Vincent, could do, so we got involved and started rolling with things,” Melissa said. “It’s been quite an undertaking, definitely with some heartbreak, but definitely for a great cause.”

To date, JJ’s LIGHT has handed out somewhere in the neighborhood of $6,000 in financial support to local students, according to Melissa. The charity has dispensed several scholarships to students across the state each year since incorporating as a 501(c)3 organization at the beginning of 2015. Two of the most recent grant recipients included a lacrosse player who lost a parent in Windsor, and a member of the Legacy High School marching band, Melissa said.

Kennedy Patti said she plans to try to continue her work with JJ’s LIGHT after she graduates from Rangeview this spring. She said her goal is to pursue a degree in family law at the University of Colorado-Boulder, where her father attended school.

Melissa said she would like to see the work continue after her daughter finishes high school, possibly having her son, James, a freshman at Valor Christian High School, take on some of the work.

“Hopefully it will just kind of take on a mind of its own and we can keep going, helping kids,” she said.