Recycled Rides makes good use of wrecks

We teeter on the edge, sometimes.

This is especially true of the way we assume we’ll always be able to move from one place to another, simply because we have to.

It is how we live. By choice, maybe. Or because it is the only way we can get by.

Michael Decker lives like this in a lot of ways.

He’s 64 years old and lives in Amarillo, Texas, where he and his wife, Robyn, get by. He does some carpentry work, some cement work. It’s just enough.

He’s not complaining. Not by a long shot. It’s a big change from where he used to be.

“The Lord’s done some mysterious things,” Decker says.

Here’s the thing. Decker was a coke addict and an alcoholic for decades. He’s got the prison record to prove it. He’s one of those guys you hear about but don’t believe actually exist: He says he cleaned up and found God while locked up, and it changed everything.

This was in a U.S. federal prison in the Virgin Islands back in the 1990s.

“That’s where I came to know God,” Decker says.

He studied. Became a minister. Got out of prison and started counseling inmates all over Texas, then all over the Southwest.

Decker figures he visits between 30,000 and 50,000 inmates a year. He preaches the word of God, and he helps folks get off drugs and booze. He sometimes picks inmates up when they are released and gives them a ride.

And that’s a problem. Decker is not a rich man. Not when it comes to money, anyway.

He has been driving a 1998 three-quarter-ton Dodge pickup for 15 years. Given all the traveling he does, from prison to prison, it’s got 377,000 miles on it.

It’s got four-wheel drive and a V-10 engine and it gets 10 miles per gallon.

“It has been babied, fixed and babied, fixed and babied,” he says.

But it won’t hardly go anymore.

He heard about these incredible people, Michael Quinn and Earl Chittum. Quinn is a vice president at Caliber Collision Centers, a regional chain of body shops with two local centers. Chittum is a regional manager with GEICO, the insurance giant.

These two guys came up with an idea a few years ago that has changed lots of lives.

When a car gets wrecked, and if the cost of the repairs is more than the value of the car, it’s called “totaled.” The insurance company pays the owner the value of the car. The insurance company then becomes the wrecked car’s owner.

Typically, they will sell the wreck to a salvage yard.

But lots of those cars could be fixed, if only parts and labor weren’t so expensive.

This is where the body shops come in. They hatched a plan: The insurance company donates the wrecked car, and the body shop fixes it. They encourage parts suppliers and others to donate, too.

It’s worked out. Lots of insurance companies and body shops participate now. The program, a nonprofit under the direction of the National Auto Body Council, is called Recycled Rides and has gone national. It has donated scores of cars over the years.

Decker got off a plane here in Las Vegas last week and was whisked over to Caliber Collision’s location in Henderson.

He answered a few questions, teared up when talking about his wife, and pondered the drive back to Texas.

He tried to figure out the key fob for the 2012 Toyota Corolla he had just been given. The car, stolen locally last year and recovered after GEICO had already had paid off the owner, had less than 1,000 miles on it.

After he got home and cleared the snow away, Decker figured out that he ended up getting nearly 40 miles per gallon on the trip.

He will be able to do much more now, visit more prisons, transport himself and his wife from one place to another without worrying so much about how he will pay for it.

Because people he didn’t even know gave him a hand, Decker isn’t teetering anymore.

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