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Sanford burn survivor marks one year since fiery crash

Posted January 26, 2010

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— Exactly one year ago, Robert Leffer survived a fiery wreck on Interstate 40 in Raleigh that burned 80 percent of his body and nearly killed him.

The 49-year-old Sanford resident has undergone numerous surgeries and has more to come, but he is recovering.

On Jan. 26, 2009, doctors said Leffer probably had 48 hours to live. No one imagined that one year later he'd be alive and an inspiration to many.

Burn survivor gets hero's welcome Burn survivor gets hero's welcome

Leffer was driving a garbage truck along Interstate 40 near Wade Avenue when, authorities say, Osmar Guillermo Perez Vicente, then 28, cut across multiple lanes of traffic in his SUV, spurring a chain reaction of collisions. Leffer's truck flipped, landed in the woods and burst into flames.

"His head was on fire, his back, his boots, everything," said witness Clay Roberson, who used his own shirt to put out the flames on Leffer.

Since then, Leffer has had five surgeries and a nine-month stay at the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill followed by daily physical and occupational therapy.

"Sometimes I felt like I wanted to just give up," Leffer said. "If I gave up, I'd just be useless."

He pushed through the pain and was able to go home for Christmas. Friends, local businesses and fire departments across Lee County banded together to make the Christmas homecoming special for the entire Leffer family.

Leffer's wife, Amalia, and 2-year-old son Robert, spent most of their time in Chapel Hill to be near him as he recovered. All three were greeted in Sanford by a parade of fire trucks lining the way to their home at 1714 Riddle Road.

When they walked in the door, they saw a Christmas tree and gifts provided by volunteers and donations from the fire department, church groups and neighbors. A local furniture store pitched in to refurnish the Leffers' house, including a new, "big boy" bed for Robert, who had been sleeping in a crib.

"It means a lot. So much support, so many caring people," Leffer said. "I wasn't supposed to be alive, but I made it. I'm with my family. I'm here to see my little boy grow up!"

Vicente was charged with reckless driving with wanton disregard. He pleaded down to reckless driving to endanger and received 21 days of community service. He then was granted 21 days credit for times served.

Vicente was also charged with operating without a license. He pleaded guilty and received 21 days of community service. Again, he was granted 21 days credit for time served.

21 Comments

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  • pebbles262004 Jan 27, 2010

    I am so happy for this family that he made it through all of this. His little boy still has a father adn the wifea husband, mother a son and the list could go on. As for the person that did this to him He did not get what he deserved I mean come on 21 days and then it was served so all he got was nothing!!!!!!!!

  • Adelinthe Jan 26, 2010

    Before we overlook this earthbound angel -

    "Clay Roberson...used his own shirt to put out the flames on Leffer."

    Thank God for Mr. Roberson; may his life flourish and prosper.

    God bless.

    RB

  • stephoney Jan 26, 2010

    I heard you on the radio today, you seem like a man of integrity; someone we all can learn from! And the way you talk about your son is adorable. Good luck to you and your family as you continue on this journey!

  • lakjrt Jan 26, 2010

    I AGREE W/ MOST OF YOU.21 DAYS IN PRISION COMMITIED BY A ILLEGAL.HE SHOULD NOT HAVE EVEN BEEN TO START WITH,BUT THANKS TO GOVERMENT,THEN IT WOULD NOT HAVE HAPPEN.HE SHOULD BE PAYING HIS MEDICAL BILLS AND LOST TIME FROM WORK SINCE HE'S PROBALLY NOT PAYING TAXES.THATS THE LEAST HE COULD DO.

    DRIVER:GET WEEL SOON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • 3stoogesfan Jan 26, 2010

    May God bless you and your family, Mr. Leffer. As far as this no good driver, I hope you're made to compensate this family for the suffering you've cause them. If you don't know how to drive, stay off our roads!

  • sssh.. whisper Jan 26, 2010

    I am speechless about the man's "served" time.. This man should have been charged with assault with a deadly weapon (the car). For the victim, may you have a long and wonderful life with your family.

  • Dick Jan 26, 2010

    God Bless You, sir and Best Regards...

  • Just the facts mam Jan 26, 2010

    Another reason illegal immigrants need to be sent back to their home country!

  • nanasix Jan 26, 2010

    God Bless you and your family. I question if the authorities ever ran the man to determine if he is an illegal? His sentence was nothing,and should have been far worse (stronger). Guess he had a good lawyer that gets anything he wants in the courtroom. We must remember, what goes around, comes around.

  • Maddie girl Jan 26, 2010

    I wonder if it would still be a 21 day joke if the victom was a family member of whoever made this pitiful decision 21 days, WOW

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