While serving in Iraq, U.S. Army veteran Sam O’Neil suffered a traumatic brain injury when a mortar round hit the guard tower where he was stationed near the Syrian border.
Back in Tucson, O’Neil now cares for his parents, his son, his niece and his nephew while receiving treatment at the Veteran Affairs polytrauma center. Until this week, he did it all without a car.
During a ceremony attended by more than 200 people Thursday morning, Caliber Collision and GEICO presented O’Neil with a refurbished Nissan Sentra at the GEICO office on Tucson’s east side.
“It’s incredible,” said O’Neil, 27. “We’ve been out of a vehicle for quite a while. It’s hard to even get groceries sometimes. It’s definitely going to help a lot.”
The car was donated through the National Auto Body Council’s Recycled Rides program, in which insurers partner with auto body companies to provide vehicles for needy residents.
“This is a really easy thing to do, compared with what you do,” Martha Furnas, regional vice president of GEICO, said to O’Neil during the ceremony. Companywide, GEICO has donated 41 vehicles through the Recycled Rides program.
In the last four years, Caliber Collision has donated more than 75 vehicles, worth about $750,000, said Bruce Dennis, regional manager for Caliber Collision. About 70 percent of the vehicles went to military veterans or their families.
“I think most of us probably take for granted getting into a vehicle in the morning, going to work, going to do our errands, taking our kids to school,” Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said during the ceremony. “We probably often forget how fortunate we are to have our transportation.”
After receiving the car, O’Neil thanked the Tucson community for its support.
“I know that there are a lot of other guys that gave way more than I did,” O’Neil said. “I appreciate that they cared enough to respond with this. I really wish that more people could get the attention that they deserve.”