A man and his car travel the distance

Monday, October 5, 2009 5:34 PM CDT

Ever since Henry Ford introduced mankind to the automobile more than a century ago, it has given us the freedom to go when and wherever we please and helped us develop a better quality of life.

Three years ago, a car accident changed Lance Brune’s life forever, leaving him a quadriplegic - someone who has complete or partial loss of movement and sensation in all four limbs.

Through intense rehabilitation and his love for cars, Brune, 24, survived to drive another day. This is the story about a man, his car and the distance they have traveled together.

Brune’s interest in motor vehicles and mechanics started at an early age, after he saw his grandfather, Kenneth Brune, Sr., his father Kenny Brune, and his uncle, Keith Brune, race cars and loud fast mud trucks.

Lance was a typical teenager. He played football, baseball and golf for the Palacios Sharks. He looked forward to the day of buying his first car. He mowed yards on the weekends for several neighbors to raise $1,000 to purchase a 1968 Camaro.

“The reason I wanted a Camaro was because my dad had a ’69 Z-28 and my uncle, Keith, had a ’69 Camaro he raced,” Lance said. “Whenever it came time for me to have a car, I wanted a Camaro, too.”

Father and son found the car in Corpus Christi in 2000. Lance described it as amazing when he first saw it, because the previous owner revved it up for street racing with a 427 engine.

“I said to Lance, ‘No way you’re getting it as is.’ The owner said he had the original engine. It took us six months to rebuild the car,” Kenny said.

“It rode well. We built it for the highway to get me and my sister back and forth from school,” Lance said.

The pair rebuilt the dash and built pieces for the stereo system, installed a new transmission and cut the drive shaft to make it fit.

“We went through a few motors before we found the right one. We tore other vehicles apart to get other parts,” Kenny said.

Lance graduated from Palacios High School in 2003. After graduation, Kenny told Lance he had three options: go to school, get a job or enter the military. Lance chose the Navy.

In March 2003, Lance enlisted in the delayed entry program with the U.S. Navy as a machinist mate. He attended submarine school in Groton, Conn., and graduated in June 2004. He arrived at Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Hawaii, that July, and was assigned to the nuclear-powered attack submarine the U.S.S. Pasadena.

Lance received the Navy Achievement Medal. The knowledge he gained while conducting missions, the ports he visited and the time spent with fellow crewmembers during his first six-month deployment in Iraq in 2005, are all things he will never forget.

Brune was home on leave when he was in a single-car accident on Jan. 9, 2006, while riding home from Blessing. The driver hit gravel, lost control and rolled the vehicle. Brune, who was asleep in the passenger seat, was ejected from the car and suffered a spinal cord injury, fracturing vertebra five, six and seven.

“I woke up in a field,” Lance said. “The people who were with me said I was mad because I couldn’t move. They said I was awake and chilled out for having a broken neck.”