North Texas

Friends Raising Money to Buy Van for Paralyzed McKinney Woman

Spring Break is here, and this weekend thousands of people will party for St. Patrick's Day, flooding bars and the parade route along Lower Greenville.

Alcohol can play a big part in the celebrations, and a McKinney woman knows the dangers of drinking and driving first hand.

Tonya Winchester was paralyzed in a drunk driving accident days after she graduated from McKinney North High School in 2005.

"We had been drinking that night," Winchester recalled.

Realizing she was too drunk to drive, she says she gave her keys to a friend who ran a stop sign at Standifer Street and Highway 5.

An 18-wheeler struck their SUV on the passenger side where Winchester was sitting.

"Everything that I had ever wanted, hoped for, dreamed for, just all seemed completely impossible at that moment," she said.

Winchester spent three weeks in a coma. She was diagnosed with a spinal cord injury that left her paralyzed for life.

She's now a motivational speaker.

But because she uses a wheelchair, getting into a van to travel to her events takes a least two people, and the process doesn't always go as planned.

"People cancel on me a lot, and so I have to cancel the events, the opportunities that have been given to me to make a difference which I live for," Winchester said.

Getting to her events – or anywhere for that matter – could soon get a little easier.

There's a program that modifies vans so people in wheelchairs can operate them on their own.

The problem: Tonya's van is too old, with too many miles, to qualify.

"I already have the license. I have everything. I just need the van," she said.

Friends are now collecting donations to buy Winchester, not a new, but a newer van so she can be independent in her mission to inspire others to make good choices.

"Not having to rely on people, that would be a game changer," Winchester said.

HOW TO HELP: Anyone interested in helping the cause can click here to donate.

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