ATLANTA—Jackie McGuirt will never forget the day an intruder entered his tire store and tried to ruin his life, but ultimately failed.
It was the day after Thanksgiving, Nov. 23, 2001, and Mr. McGuirt, owner of McGuirt Tire & Service in Ridgeway, S.C., was getting ready to close his store. Ten minutes after sending his two employees home, he went into the dealership's back room to shut off the lights. Emerging from that room, he was greeted with a gun to his face and a robber's demands to hand over the store's money.
The next thing he remembers, after revealing the money bag's location, is a bullet ripping into his shoulder, then losing all feeling in his lower body.
The gunman lingered in the store, pacing back and forth and shooting out the dealership's security camera, but he left the wounded Mr. McGuirt alone.
“I'm sure that he thought I was dead because I was paralyzed instantly and couldn't move my feet,” Mr. McGuirt recalled. “I could barely use my fingers. I could bend them, but I knew I didn't have any strength to hold on to anything. So I laid there and played dead.”
Before the assailant left with cash, sales receipts and Mr. McGuirt's pickup truck, he lowered the storefront window's blinds—a move which may have helped save Mr. McGuirt's life. Nearly an hour later, his daughter, Susan, came looking for him and knew immediately that something was wrong because her father never lowered those blinds. She found him still conscious and called 911.
That event has left Mr. McGuirt, 58, paralyzed from the underarms down and hospitalized since—most of that time at the Shepherd Center Hospital in Atlanta, which has a reputation for spinal injury rehabilitation.
Darryl Cook, 19, was arrested and charged with armed robbery, assault and battery with the intent to kill, grand larceny of a motor vehicle and attempted kidnapping, according to the Sixth Circuit Court of South Carolina. He is being held without bond and is awaiting trial, according to John Justice, the court's solicitor general.
Contacted while at the Shepherd Center, Mr. McGuirt told Tire Business that he has no feeling or movement in his lower extremities except for some occasional, involuntary muscle spasms. Doctors have ruled his spinal injury as incomplete, meaning he has a chance of recovering motion, but they can't guarantee that prospect. Though he still has the use of his arms—they're “extremely sore and painful”—and he's slowly gaining the strength to hold onto objects again.
The shooting also forced Mr. McGuirt to sell his tire business in December because he had no heir or employee to manage the store in his absence.
“I think it's for the best that I did sell, but I'm going to miss it because it's been there for 22 years,” Mr. McGuirt said. He purchased the two-bay store in 1980 after working 15 years at Miller's Tire Service in Columbia, S.C. McGuirt Tire carried Michelin, Uniroyal, Firestone and some private brands and performed mostly oil changes and tire service. It posted annual sales of $500,000.
The family now is using profits from the sale of the store to pay for Mr. McGuirt's medical expenses, which could range between $200,000 to $500,000 during the first year. His wife, Joan, had started a new job at the time of the shooting but quit in order to be at her husband's bedside in Atlanta.
Now, the family has no income or health insurance, and Mrs. McGuirt must care for her husband and their son, Eddie, 29, who suffers from autism. “It is awful and overwhelming,” she said. “It's just turned my world upside down….All of it has just been really, really hard.”
Indeed, Mr. McGuirt admitted that, since the incident, his life since has been more than challenging. But he believes “there's always hope.” Though he wonders why so much has come crashing down on him, he said he refuses to dwell on any negatives.
“I'm still the same person that I was,” he said. “I just don't have legs. That's the way I have to look at it.”
He also holds no bitterness towards his attacker. If anything, he said he feels sorry for the accused perpetrator and has asked people to pray for the young man because “he has no value for human life.”
“He's changed my life for the rest of my life and my family's too, but it's such a shame that he's ruined his life also,” Mr. McGuirt said. “I don't have any malice against him, I don't hate him by any means because if I want to be a Christian I can't hate anybody.”
On Feb. 12, Mr. McGuirt was released for outpatient therapy at the Shepherd Center, which is scheduled to continue for two to three weeks. Meanwhile, Susan McGuirt has overseen modifications that had to be made to her parents' home for wheelchair access and medical equipment.
During his hospitalization, Mr. McGuirt has undergone intense physical therapy and attended classes on how to live a normal life with paralysis. Those days have not gone without him battling multiple infections and running high fevers, but he said he has been depending on a person greater than himself for hope and endurance.
“My faith in Jesus Christ is what keeps me going each day,” Mr. McGuirt explained. “And I think when you have an injury like this, it's a day by day thing. Some people do recover and some don't, so you just keep the hope that you will get something back.
“I just think that God has a plan and that he will take care of us. I don't know what his plan is. Sometimes his plan is a long-range plan that we can't see. But I just believe that he has a purpose for me or I wouldn't be here.”
Counting his blessings, he said he's thankful that Eddie, who would normally be with him at the store during closing, was visiting with a friend the night Mr. McGuirt was shot. He recalled that when he was shot, he prayed for a second chance at life.
“As I was falling, I said 'I'm not supposed to die like this. That's the first thing that went through my mind. When I hit the floor, I just asked the Lord to let me live long enough to see my family, to tell them I loved them once again. He did that and a lot more.
“I'm not saying it's easy because I believe in him, because it's not easy,” Mr. McGuirt said. “It's just that he does provide the strength.”
Mr. McGuirt's faith and character have inspired some in the tire industry to try to reach out to the family. David Crocker, a customer service representative with Heafner Tire Group and friend of Mr. McGuirt's, is heading a fundraiser for the family. Heafner has established a fund at the Bank of Ridgeway to collect tax-deductible contributions for the McGuirts. (See story below.)
Mr. Crocker also is organizing a March 18 golf outing at the University Club in Blythewood, S.C., to raise funds for the family's medical expenses.
“Anything we're doing right now ain't even a drop in the bucket compared with what's going to be needed,” Mr. Crocker told Tire Business. He said that he will never forget how Mr. McGuirt gave up a Saturday afternoon to take Mr. Crocker's young daughter and her Indian Princess group from the YMCA on an arrowhead hunt in Ridgeway.
Comparing Mr. McGuirt to the Biblical story of Job—a good man who lost his wealth, children and health suddenly and without explanation—Mr. Crocker said he's impressed with the former dealer's upbeat attitude and the kindness he has shown customers. Some came into his store broke, yet still received services free of charge.
“He has impacted a tremendous number of people in the Ridgeway community as well as beyond that by just his kindness,” Mr. Crocker said.