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Paralyzed Valley man hits the road with new wheels

Posted at 11:09 PM, Aug 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-08 17:39:42-04

CHANDLER, AZ — It's been almost two decades. Some of us would probably forget the basics of driving by then, but not Marcos Castillo.

It used to be his favorite form of therapy, driving all across the west coast from Yuma, where he went to high school.

That is, until September 9 of 2001. The then "rambunctious" 18-year-old was spreading himself thin - going to school full time, while also balancing a full-time job, a girlfriend and high-school partying.

"One morning at 7 a.m., I fell asleep behind the wheel," he said.

Castillo crashed into a wall and was unconscious for weeks. He didn't wake up until after the 9/11 attacks. He suffered a major spinal cord injury, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

He moved from Yuma to Phoenix a few years later, met the love of his life, and took in her three children as his own. He's mastered life without his legs but still says his biggest challenge is getting around.

“Eight a.m. for me means getting up at three or four in the morning to get everything going and then see if I can find reliable transportation there," he added.

Castillo relies on public transportation on most days. “When I leave that door I’m on my own, which I usually am," he said. "A 15-minute ride to downtown Phoenix is going to take me two hours.”

Thankfully, he won't have to keep doing it much longer.

"We don’t come from a community that has amazing credit scores or a lot of equity or a lot of money, but we have a lot of grit and we fight for what we think is right. Luckily, I had people who were there who wanted to fight for me.”

Castillo, his family and friends helped raise just enough money to buy a van. That van is now being transformed into a car he can actually drive himself.

"He’ll come in and help the car wake up, the computer everything will light up and he will apply his brake with his joystick. He’ll sit in here and he’ll be sitting in his wheelchair," said Chip Stoecker with United Access, a company who designs and sells custom build cars for disabled drivers. Stoecker's known Castillo for years.

“Marcos doesn’t have this range of motion.... he doesn’t have the fine finger dexterity to change these knobs," he added. So every control will be wired into a new computer system built just for him.

Department of Economic Security's Vocational Rehabilitation program pays for the conversions. It's all considered medical equipment and covered through the Rehabilitative Services Administration to hopefully get people like Castillo back to work.

"I just wanted to be able to take my boys to wrestling practice I just wanted to be able to tell my daughter, yeah she can go to the dance and I’ll pick her up and drop her and her friends off all I wanted to do was be a good dad.”