Weeks after a hit-and-run crash in North Austin left 64-year-old Rogelio De Luna injured and without his motorized wheelchair, he received a new ride Wednesday with help from the Austin Police Department.
Along a segment of North Lamar Boulevard near De Luna’s neighborhood where he frequently travels by wheelchair and sometimes sells treats outside local shops, a driver in a pickup was caught on surveillance footage leaving a parking lot after hitting and running over De Luna multiple times on Sept. 3.
The incident left De Luna with multiple injuries, a need for stitches and without the ability to move around in the wheelchair he had relied on for two years.
“I don’t feel that great, but every day I’m making a little bit of progress,” De Luna told media on Wednesday through a translator, Cpl. Bino Cadenas with Austin Cops for Charities.
Following the hit-and-run crash, first responders remained concerned for De Luna after the grisly incident. As a result, the Austin Police Department’s charity began working to find him a new, reliable wheelchair.
“We wanted to pay it forward to him,” Cadenas said. “That is what Austin Cops for Charities is established to do, give back to the community we serve.”
Through partnering with Martin Mobility, a Central Texas medical mobility provider, law enforcement officials were able to present De Luna with a new motorized wheelchair Wednesday.
“We were thrilled to be involved with this situation for Mr. De Luna. We know how important it is for him to have this piece of equipment for his daily activities,” said Jim Conwell, with Martin Mobility, who walked De Luna through using his new ride.
Since the incident, others have given De Luna wheelchairs. Although he has been grateful for the support, none had proven to be a permanent solution and he has relied on a manual chair in recent weeks which has caused further strain on his body, especially his upper body, as he has been powering his own chair with limited strength as he continues to recover, he said.
“It’s been very difficult. The incident has caused me to lose a lot of strength; slowly I’m gaining it back,” De Luna said. “I’ve had the electric chair previously for two years, I’ve had to use a lot of my upper body lately for mobility, but I’m getting a little bit of strength day by day.”
Along with the wheelchair, community members have also started a GoFundMe campaign to help cover medical expenses. So far, more than $11,000 has been raised.
‘We’re going to be there to support him’
For Austin police officer Travis Von Holt, the first officer on the scene, knowing that De Luna is recovering and in good spirits means a lot, as typically there is little follow-up after seeing a person carted away to a hospital.
“We write the report and we go on to the next call, not ever knowing how the result is for the situation,” Von Holt said. “So, after being contacted that they made an arrest in this case and that he was going to be OK, that we want to try and get him a wheelchair, it’s a very satisfying feeling.”
The concern and community response comes after video surveillance footage showed De Luna riding his motorized wheelchair through a parking lot at 9200 N. Lamar Blvd. around 10 a.m. Sept. 3.
In the video, De Luna is seen putting his hand up signaling for a vehicle to slow down.
The vehicle, a white Chevrolet pickup that police say Pablo Avila-Banagas, 17, was driving, is then seen avoiding a speed bump and instead driving toward De Luna, before running him over several times, hitting a curb and leaving the parking lot with the victim’s wheelchair lodged in the pickup’s undercarriage.
While the pickup is leaving the lot, footage shows a fire truck driving on North Lamar Boulevard make a U-turn and pull into the lot where De Luna was on the ground.
On Sept. 9, Austin police announced Avila-Banagas had been arrested and charged with failure to stop and render aid and with injury to a disabled person, third- and second-degree felonies respectively, as well as with two misdemeanors in relation to the crash.
“You could not have scripted something so horrible to happen any better because the fire personnel were there, and they played a huge role in helping to treat Rogelio,” said Austin police Detective Donald Petraitis. “I can tell you that cases like this happen more often than people realize, the vast majority of the time there’s not a firetruck right there to swoop in.”
Since the arrest and original charges, Petraitis, the lead investigator on the case, has filed an additional aggravated assault charge against Avila-Banagas.
“Aside from the new the new charge and the new affidavit, the investigation is still continuing. And then on the other side of the house, Rogelio, he has a road to recovery still, and we’re going to be there to support him as a police department,” Petraitis said
For De Luna, the priority continues to be recovering from his injuries and regaining the strength and mobility he has lost since the crash.
He is also optimistic about a return to Mexico to see his wife in person, instead of having her on speaker while wearing his phone around his neck throughout the day.
“He would also like to thank the individuals that ran him over, he said, because without that incident all these good deeds wouldn’t have happened and there’s more good than bad,” Cadenas said on De Luna’s behalf.