Drowsy driver shares his story

Rusty Burris was paralyzed from the mid-chest down when he fell asleep at the wheel in 1990.

Rusty Burris was an 18-year-old recent high school graduate from Macks Creek on June 3, 1990, when his life changed forever.

He had been up for about 36 hours when he left his girlfriend's house and started to make the 30 minute drive home. The last thing Burris said he remembers is stepping off her porch and walking to his car.

He woke up a few days later in University Hospital in Columbia.

"I just remember waking up, I couldn't talk because I was on a ventilator, I didn't know what was going on, but I knew I wasn't where I was supposed to be," Burris said.

He had fallen asleep behind the wheel and wrecked his car just one mile from his final destination on Highway 54.

"I crossed over the to the opposite side, hit a driveway embankment and flipped my car...not wearing my seat belt. I went through the sunroof of my car and landed on the highway," he said.
"I had a broken collar bone, nine broken ribs, a fractured manubrium...both shoulder blades and a fractured neck."

After fighting complications from a punctured lung, Burris learned that he was paralyzed from the mid-chest down.

Burris had a passion for driving, and had owned his car just three months before the crash.

"When that nurse told me about my injury and that I would never walk and how my life would be different, my biggest fear was that I would never drive again," he said.

That passion helped him power through the physical therapy, and he was able to drive with a modified car less than a year later.

Burris, who is confined to a wheelchair, still lives with the lingering affects of his crash.

"When it snows I'm not able to dig my car out or shovel the driveway, I'm not able to mow my yard, not able to change lightbulbs in the house...There's a lot of things that I'm held back and I'm not physically able to do," he said.

Burris said his faith has helped him maintain a positive attitude throughout the process. While he still feels low sometimes, he tries to be thankful for what he is able to do and he knows that it could be worse.

"I don't need people coming in and doing my personal hygiene, and getting me out of bed and dressing me and feeding me and I know so many people that have to do that every single day. Who if their house was on fire they couldn't even get themselves out of bed," he said.

Burris now tells his story at schools. He says that he hates the term "car accidents" because he doesn't see the majority as accidents at all; rather, he sees them as the results of poor choices. By telling his story, he hopes to inspire people to make better choices.

Burris said he is still as passionate about driving today as he was before the accident, and he said kids marvel as he pulls up to events in his white Mustang, complete with hand controls.