TAMPA, Fla. - During his decade of service in the US Navy, Richard Crook never saw combat. It wasn't until 20 years later, a month after his wedding, that he'd fight like never before.
"It just put the dagger in me," Crook said.
After 32 days in a coma, Crook finally woke up, paralyzed from the waist down and missing his left leg. Doctors told him that he was the victim of a hit and run crash on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
Tampa Police later charged Gerald Charles Selke with DUI and leaving the scene of a crash with injury.
Crook remembers leaving for an early morning bike ride in October 2008. After just 30 minutes, around 6 a.m., Selke crashed into him and sped off.
According to a police report, Selke called 911 and said someone stole his car, but later confessed to hitting Crook. Police say Selke was under the influence of cocaine.
Selke is serving a prison sentence, but will walk free in a month. For Crook, the sentence is far worse.
"That's when I did a lot of fighting," Crook said.
It took Crook 4 years to leave James A. Haley Veterans Hospital. Then, he had to move into assisted living, where medicines and bandages of all sizes now decorate his walls.
He found a glimmer of hope in his red Dodge Caravan, equipped especially for his needs.
"I'm off. I feel like a normal person," he said.
That is, until the door jammed. Crook learned the chain broke, which mechanics immediately fixed.
Now on a fixed income of $1,400 per month, Crook can't afford the $1,700 bill which also set him back on medical payments.
Plagued by a bone infection, doctors recently told Crook they'd like to amputate his right leg as well.
"Like, why me?" he said.
"The big thing for me is finding some kind of inner peace."
Crook set up a "Give Forward" account for anyone who wants to help him regain his freedom. He still remembers what freedom felt like on that last bike ride that almost killed him.
"I lived through this accident and people keep telling me there's a reason for it," he said. "Just don't stop fighting."
For more information on how to help Crook, visit https://www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/hkw2/richard-crook-medical-expenses-and-disabled-van-expenses .
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