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"He did give up his life and he was a hero:" Survivor of deadly New Year's morning attack speaks for the first time

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Photo: Video by kgun9.com

"He did give up his life and he was a hero:" Survivor of deadly New Year's morning attack speaks for the first time

By Justin Schecker. CREATED Mar 12, 2014

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - For the first time since a deadly and deliberate hit and run nearly killed her on New Year's morning, Valerie Calonge is speaking out about the night that changed her life, her recovery and her hero.

"Before I wasn't able to go into the chair, now I can kind of pivot into the chair," Calonge said in an exclusive interview with 9 On Your Side at a local rehab center.

Calonge is focused on building up enough strength so she can learn to walk again. Most of the injuries she suffered from being run over by a car are on the right side of her body.    
 
"Just seeing her stand up on her own, I mean to me that's a miracle," Calonge's mother Victoria said. 
 
A miracle made possible by the emergency room surgeons at the University of Arizona Medical Center.
 
"They did everything they could to make sure I lived," Calonge said, "because I almost died." 
 
"I always remember what I said at the time, which is well, if they could save Gabby Giffords, they could save my daughter and they did," Victoria Calonge said.
 
But there's another man Calonge credits for her survival: her boyfriend Patrick Balbastro. She found the strength in the interview to stand up and show us her shirt with Balbastro's picture on the back.  
 
Inside her rehab room, Calonge's nightstand is covered with photos of Balbastro.      
 
"When I think about things or about how hard it is, I look at his picture to help me cope," Calonge said. "And then just to see him smiling it makes me laugh, makes me smile. I wish he was here next to me."
 
Calonge and Balbastro rang in the New Year at Casino del Sol. During the drive home, they spotted Michael Leday assaulting Cindy Burnett in the 2200 block of East Sunland Vista. 
 
"There's somebody out in the middle of the street," Balbastro said, according to transcripts of 911 calls 9 On Your Side obtained. "A black male and a female. They're fighting...I guess he's abusing her." 
 
Police say Balbastro got out of his car and Leday attacked him. During the confrontation, Calonge also exited the car. Leday got behind the wheel of Balbastro's car and repeatedly ran over all three of his victims, killing Burnett and Balbastro and critically injuring Calonge.     
 
"I don't know if it is in the back of my head or just traumatizing and I don't want to remember," Calonge said, "but I just don't really remember much."
  
But she recalls one lasting image of Balbastro from the vicious and violent attack.      
 
"I see him pushing me to where I wouldn't try to get as much of the trauma that he did," she said. "All I remember was the arm stretched out at me and saying goodbye like that."
 
Now Calonge's hero is in heaven and forever in her heart. 

"He did give up his life and he was a hero," Calonge said. "I mean he's my hero. He'll always be my hero. A hero that's missed."

U.S. Marshals found Leday hiding in Kansas City. He has been extradited back to Pima County and he's charged with two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder, plus other charges. 

Justin Schecker

Justin Schecker

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Justin Schecker reports for KGUN 9 ON Your Side at 5:00, 6:00 and 10:00. He joined KGUN9 in September of 2012 and spent his first year in Tucson covering overnight breaking news for Good Morning Tucson.