Toddler improving after being struck by drunk driver with four prior convictions

A toddler is improving after being struck by an alleged drunk driver with four previous DUI convictions.

Saphira Howerton, 2, was hit on a busy Santa Rosa street, after darting away from her great-grandmother in a parking lot.

She was rushed to a local emergency room, then airlifted to Children's Hospital in Oakland.

"I was just horribly heartbroken," her father Shane Howerton told KTVU, "because if I lost her, I don't know what I would have done."

Shane and wife April have spent every moment at Saphira's bedside.

Their daughter has a skull fracture, and bruised kidneys and lungs.

She has received a blood transfusion and is on a breathing tube.

"She's sedated, but she wakes when she's fussed with or a nurse moves her," said Howerton, "and she starts crying from pain and wants the tubes out."

Saphira and her 73 year old great-grandma were leaving an appointment at the Social Security office on Range Avenue.

They got to their car, and that's when Saphira darted away and stepped onto the busy street.

"Our two year old is adventurous, rambunctious, and she just escaped from my grandma and ran," said Howerton.

He and his wife, have tried to console the older woman.

"We don't blame her, we're not mad at her, we definitely know she's a very attentive grandma, what happened was, she turned her back for a second on a two-year old."

Howertson does blame the driver, Hector Cabrales Larios, 47, who police say was impaired when he hit Saphira and didn't stop.

"I wonder why he was behind the wheel, I really do," said Howerton.

Larios was tracked to his apartment nearby, with his white van parked outside.

Police say Larios has had a suspended license since 2013, after a DUI conviction.

But he went on to rack up three more DUI convictions, including a felony, a crash with injuries.

Saphira's family wonders how a different driver might have reacted in the moment.

"When she did run into the street, instead of being able to stop or be aware of what's going on, he simply hit her and kept going," said Shane Howerton.

"The human element should kick in, you should stop, and the fact he went home and laid down, just shows me who this person is."

Added Saphira's uncle, Raul Perez: "If you've been drinking don't do it, because my niece is in there fighting for her life."

Only last month, Perez and other relatives came from Southern California for Saphira's second birthday, celebrated on the Sonoma coast.

Now they're back, pulling for her recovery.

"Happiest little girl in the world, every morning she wakes up happy," said Perez, " and always laughing, never sad and that's why it's so hard for all of us."

On her hospital bed, Saphira has her favorite blanket from home.

As terrifying as this experience is, her parents are grateful.

Saphira's condition is stable, and there are no signs of brain damage or internal bleeding.

They know it could have been so much worse.

"I feel like we could be attending a funeral," said Shane somberly, " because she could have died. So I feel really lucky."

Relatives in Sonoma County have established a GoFundMe account for the couple because they will be missing work to be with their injured child.

The Howertons moved to the Bay Area from Los Angeles just six months ago, and got new jobs, but don't know a lot of people yet.

In just a day, $8,000 in donations have come in.

Cabrales Larios remains in the Sonoma County Jail on $300,000 bail.

He will be in court Monday afternoon on charges of felony DUI and felony hit-and-run.