IKE — Stretching from ear to ear, a smile keeps growing on Bobby Runnels’ face. Last week Runnels faced an uncertain future after a hit-and-run and fire destroyed the workshop he used to make ends meet.
A sports utility vehicle, traveling along Farm-to-Market Road 878 on Aug. 17, left the roadway and crash-landed on its side near the Runnels’ shop. The vehicle then caught fire and flames quickly spread to the shop, ultimately catching Runnels’ truck on fire. The shop and the truck were destroyed.
When community members heard about Runnels’ situation, they immediately stepped up to help the disabled veteran and his family. Runnels’ friends, Joe and René Roberts, set up a GoFundMe account to help Runnels recover. On Aug. 21, the account, which is hosted on a crowdsourcing website, had about $700 in donations. As of Thursday, the account had $2,145.
Runnels, who lives on limited income with his girlfriend Julie and takes care of his disabled mother Opal, severed in the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division in the 1980s. He is a member of the American Legion Chris Kyle post 388 out of Midlothian and is a Sergeant at Arms with the American Legion Riders.
“It is hard to be on the other end. It is humbling to be on the other end and receiving. We are so used to being the ones out there raising money for our fellow veterans and doing other things,” Runnels said. “I can say thank you a thousand times and it does not express how I really feel. Putting that into words is so hard to express how overjoyed you are and how enthusiastic you are with the things that are coming out.”
Along with the loss of the shop and his truck, Runnels lost many other items in the fire, including welding machines, hand grinders, belt grinders, assorted tools, a deep freezer full of food and a water pump, which supplied well water to his house. Luckily, firefighters were able to keep the fire from spreading to the house, which was located behind the shop.
René said seeing the donations come to help Runnels and his family has helped to restore her trust in people.
“I was loosing faith in society. It has gotten so negative that this has shown me that there are some good people that are out there,” René said. “They are harder to find but they are out there.”
The funds donated through the GoFundMe account will also be help replace the septic system that is in need of replacement, so Runnels can remain on the property.
At the time of the accident, Runnels was repairing his pickup truck, but the fire damaged truck beyond repair, leaving Runnels with the only option of scraping it. The other vehicle he had was a motorcycle but it recently broke down, leaving him without transportation.
On Sunday night, a fellow military member contacted Runnels to donate his vehicle to him after reading an article in the Daily Light about the incident. Runnels said the person making the donation is active duty military and grew up in Waxahachie.
“Oh man, I was speechless. You don’t have words to express the feeling of relief that you have something you can rely on,” Runnels said. “Of course, I have the bike, but I have to worry about weather it is raining or snow or ice or whatever.”
Runnels was expected to make a trip to Waco on Thursday to pick up the 1999 Ford Ranger Pickup. A few minor repairs need to be made, but the vehicle has a title and is inspected. Several local businesses, along with the American Legion, have also helped Runnels reconnect water to his home. Home Depot donated the tank and all the plumbing.
“The American Legion post commander and the adjutant gave me a call and said they were up at Home Depot getting the stuff and wanted to know the specifications. I went up there and met with them. They had already started talking through the customer service and the manager. They wrote it off as a donation,” Runnels said. “They didn’t have the pump in stock and it would have to be special ordered and that would take to two to three weeks out. I had already been to Tractor Supply and knew that they had the pump. We went over there and talked to their manager. She said we could have it at cost, which was a lot. It cost $150 for the pump as opposed to $289. That was still a great mark down and all of that was purchased by American Legion Post 388.”
A large clean-up is also planned for Saturday with the American Legion Riders, who will be volunteering their time.
“We have already hauled off two loads of scrap iron. We carried it one day and then next day we carried all of the machinery and the electric motors. Basically the contents of the building we hauled it off Sunday,” Runnels said. “Now, really all that is left is a few pieces of scrap. I have got an air conditioner that I have got to haul off and stuff like that.”
Runnels said he still needs a few things to help him rebuild like the use of a dump trailer to haul off debris from his property, lumber and a wheeled walker for Runnels’ mother. The fire destroyed one of the walkers and the other was damaged.
Runnels and his girlfriend plan to use some of the money that they have received and assist another person in the near future.
Runnels said he is thankful for the support he has received, but is even more grateful that no one was killed or hurt in the incident, which is still under investigation by the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Runnels said he was told Monday by DPS officials that they have found a vin number for the vehicle and they found the owner’s name, but it was not the driver who was driving the vehicle at the time of the accident. Currently, DPS is searching for the two individuals who fled the vehicle after the crash. Those who might have any information about this incident are encouraged to call DPS at 972-923-6670.