Prior to midsummer, Alvaro Lamprea had just about everything he needed to be happy in life, he figured.
Never wealthy, the Colombia native nonetheless felt rich. He lived in Walla Walla, in a community he cherishes. He earned a living with his own handyman's business by painting, hauling trash, moving furniture and cleaning rain gutters.
He's also worked for area businesses, doing just about everything, he said. Plans called for him to open a car-detailing business in Milton-Freewater this summer.
Lamprea had the equipment he needed - a set of decent tools, a healthy back, two strong arms and two strong legs.
Today the 47-year-old is missing his left leg, suffers a wrecked shoulder and has a host of other medical issues, thanks to a sliver of time and a domino-like string of bad decisions.
Lamprea's only vehicle is a manual wheelchair. He is dependent on others to get from Milton-Freewater, where he is staying while searching for a place to live, to Walla Walla for a calendar filled with medical appointments.
All of which he reaches by getting there himself in his chair, rain or shine, mud or hills.
Life changes in an instant
"Watch out!" was the last thing Lamprea heard before his universe was sent spinning out of control by a drunken driver on July 11.
He was standing on U.S. Highway 97, near Moro, Ore., at 2 a.m. that day. Southbound traffic was stopped, the road ahead blocked as crews cleared the site of an earlier fatal car crash.
Lamprea, who is not a U.S. citizen but has legal residence status, was a passenger in a car driven by Cesar Fausto of Walla Walla. The men, along with three children - from age 16 to 4 months - were on their way to Bakersfield, Calif.
A semi truck was ahead, Lamprea recalled. That driver might know what's up, he reasoned. "You know, they have the radios and they talk back and forth."
As he stood by the side of the truck, he heard the driver's warning shout. And then … nothing.
According to the Oregon State Police report, that's the moment Scott Ekman, 26, from Vancouver, Wash., rear-ended Fausto's Nissan Sentra.
Driving a Dodge Dakota owned by Tim Roth of Wasco, Ore., who was a passenger at the time, Ekman had driven up behind the stopped traffic, hit the Nissan, then continued sliding south.
The semi truck driver had seen the oncoming disaster in his side rearview mirror. His shout, however, came too late for Lamprea.
Ekman plowed into Lamprea, pinning his leg between the truck and the Dodge's bumper.
While he lay unconscious, Lamprea lost a lot of blood, he was told. "I was in really bad shape."
The other passengers were taken to The Dalles for treatment of minor injuries. Ekman and Roth were uninjured, according to the crash report.
Lamprea, however, was flown to Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital with life-threatening injuries. There his left leg was amputated, and he was taken on to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
He was in a coma for a week and in the hospital for nearly a month, he recalled.
When he woke up the news went from bad to worse. Not only did Ekman not have car insurance, Roth had switched the Dodge Dakota to comprehensive-only insurance 20 days before the accident. The vehicle, Lamprea was told, was not even supposed to be on the road.
The insurer, Progressive, no longer returns his call, Lamprea said. "They refuse to talk to me."
A call to Progressive confirmed Lamprea has hit a wall. "Per your request, I've verified that Mr. Roth didn't have liability insurance with Progressive on the vehicle involved in this accident. Therefore, there was no coverage for the damages from the accident," the company replied in an e-mail.
Lamprea himself had no auto insurance, having just purchased a rig and in the process of transferring the title before driving it, he said.
He hired an attorney but didn't get far, Lamprea said. "He said he would work hard for me, then he dropped the case."
Likely because there appears to be no insurance money in the picture, he figures.
Ekman is facing five counts against him, according to the Sherman County District Attorney's office - assault in the second and third degree, driving under the influence of intoxicants, reckless endangerment of another person and reckless driving. He is scheduled to enter a plea Oct. 8.
Lamprea bears neither Ekman or Roth any ill will, he said last week as he went through a series of exercises at Providence St. Mary Medical Center's rehabilitation center. Even as both men were drunk and on the road, driving a vehicle lacking proper insurance, it's not his place to hate them.
His job is to overcome. And there is lot to overcome, Lamprea said - "I consider myself strong, but this totally changed my life."
‘He wants to get on with his life'
On this morning, Lamprea is under the watchful eye of physical therapist Mark McComas.
The amputation is below the knee, which offers more options, McComas explained as he put his patient through the paces.
Lifting his stump - covered with a patchwork of red skin grafted from his right thigh - with weight bands wrapped around forces Lamprea to squeeze his eyes shut.
The doing modified sit-ups look even more difficult for the slight-framed Lamprea, but it's all necessary, McComas said.
"We want to strengthen his left leg, his hip, his knees. We just want to gradually and slowly get him stronger, so when he gets a prosthesis he can walk with it."
The first fitting for a prosthetic leg is scheduled for a few hours later. "I kind of excited about it," Lamprea said with a grunt, struggling to finish one more set of leg lifts to appease McComas.
"Al has a great attitude," the therapist said. "He's willing to work hard, he wants to get on with his life. He's doing everything he can."
Even so, it was easier in the beginning, conceded Lamprea. He had weaned off all pain medications, but recently he had to resume using them to manage the increasing pain.
The flashbacks are worse. "If I see someone fall, I flinch. I see that truck coming." When he closes his eyes, the images come unbidden, the truck driver's warning ringing in his ears, he said. "I can see myself on the ground, bleeding. And that's not good."
Other things could be better, as well. Unable to work, Lamprea has limited income, aside from $330 a month in state aid, $200 in food stamps and medical care. He longs to find a place to live in Walla Walla, not only for ease in managing appointments but to be independent.
An application to Walla Walla Housing Authority puts Lamprea on a waiting list for subsidized housing, at the bottom of a list that may extend six years, he was told.
Returning to his home town of Bogota would worsen the situation, he said. "I can't go home without a leg. In my country, you pass 40 years old, you cannot get a job."
News this week added a heavy footnote; Lamprea's left shoulder is torn and may require surgery. "Who knows what will be left of me," he asked wryly.
Strengthened faith a silver lining
In a seeming dichotomy, his life has never been better, Lamprea emphasized. And he wouldn't trade being hurt if it meant missing out on another experience.
He was in the coma when everything changed. "I saw God. I saw his hands and his feet and he was carrying me. I went through a doorway without a door and when I lost sight of his hands, that was when I woke up."
His relationship with God had been sketchy, making the encounter even more surprising, Lamprea said. "I probably said ‘thank you' to God once a month, if I needed to."
Now that he has been in omnipotent hands, he is filled with love and excitement, he explained.
He's come to realize, it's all he really needs to be happy in life.
Sheila Hagar can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8322. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom.
A benefit account has been established for Alvaro Lamprea at Baker Boyer Bank. Donations can be made at any branch.