Facing prison, armless man stops driving
Vail, CO Colroado
LAND O’ LAKES, Fla. ” There was a time when nothing could keep Michael Francis Wiley from behind the wheel ” not even a triple amputation that makes simple tasks like tying a shoe impossible.
Even police, who busted Wiley so many times that it’s now a felony for him to drive, couldn’t stop him.
But now he is at the end of the road: He is scheduled to face a judge Friday for sentencing on a new round of felony traffic and drug possession charges.
Prosecutors want to put him in jail for five years, and this time, Wiley says he’s turning in the keys for good.
“I’m beat. The white flag is up,” said Wiley, 40, from behind thick glass in the Pasco County Jail. “You can only bang your head against the wall so long before it hurts.”
Wiley lost his arms and most of his left leg in a 1980 accident when he was 13. He fell off an elevated train platform while fooling around at an abandoned switching station in New York City, and grabbed a live electrical line to break his fall. He touched metal while trying to regain his footing, and roughly 11,000 volts of electricity surged through his arms and legs.
He learned to live without limbs. He taught himself to drive. He starts the car with his toes, shifts with his knee and steers with the stump of his left arm. He turns on the lights with his teeth.
Driving, he says, is one of the few things that lets him feel free and exert his independence.
“I’m an excellent driver,” Wiley said. “It is something I can do well by myself. I’ve been thoroughly tested by the department of motor vehicles and I passed with flying colors.”
On that point, authorities disagree. His clashes with authorities over his driving habits date back two decades.
He once had a valid license, but it has been suspended several times for motor vehicle and drug infractions. Wiley has said he turned to drugs ” both prescription and illegal ” to numb his chronic pain.
He’s been accused of everything from sneaking drugs into jail in his prosthetic leg, possessing marijuana while driving to kicking a Florida Highway Patrol officer investigating a crash. He’s led police on chases.
He has 12 convictions for felony driving with a suspended license since 1996, according to Florida Department of Corrections records. And though he’s served prison time for five of them, until now, it’s never been enough to keep him off the road.
“It’s something I can do independently. I know it’s wrong, but it’s something I can do by myself,” Wiley said.
Wiley was already facing felony charges of driving without a license on May 8 when a police officer spotted him behind the wheel of a blue Ford Explorer at a convenience store. The officer told him to wait while he ran a license check.
He put the truck in gear and sped off, according to the arrest report. Officers pursued, but called off the chase because the Ford was zipping through oncoming traffic in a “reckless” manner. Wiley was arrested the next day and charged with fleeing.
Wiley won’t discuss the specifics of his case, but said fear of drug withdrawal is one of the reasons he fled.
In June, Wiley entered a no contest plea to a variety of driving and drug charges. He plans to ask the judge for mercy and hopes to get sentenced to a drug treatment program. His attorney, John Hooker of Tampa, said it is unlikely Wiley will avoid a prison sentence.
“It’s sad to say. I just hope the system has not given up on him,” Hooker said. “He hasn’t hurt anyone but himself and his family.”
When it’s all over, Wiley plans to go somewhere far away, where police won’t recognize him on site.
“I don’t like the idea that I’m Pasco County’s most notorious driver. That’s hype,” Wiley said. “I’m not public enemy No. 1. I’m just a regular guy with some handicaps. I made a few mistakes. I’m sorry and I’m paying for them.”
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