Brian Vargas, who lives at the Emporia Rescue Mission, was getting off the L-CAT bus Tuesday morning at 12th Avenue and Whittier Street, when he heard a loud boom. A minivan crashed into the rear of the bus.
“So, I jumped off onto the sidewalk right when I went through the doors, and I heard (female screams from the bus),” Vargas said.
He got the five passengers and the male bus driver off the bus because the van’s hood was on fire, Vargas said. He grabbed a fire extinguisher from the bus.
“The (male) driver kept on trying to start the van, and I told him he didn’t have time to do that because it might blow,” Vargas said. “... I had to get him out of the van first because he was in shock, I guess. … I got him out on the sidewalk, so I put the fire out, but then it reflamed again, so I had to crawl underneath and got it out.”
Everybody was kind of in shock when the accident happened, he said.
After he put the fire out and made sure everyone was all right, he asked the bus driver if he needed Vargas as a witness, and the driver told Vargas, “No, thanks for helping.”
Vargas said he then walked to Abundant Harvest, 1028 Whittier St., where he volunteers cleaning the kitchen and helping in the thrift shop.
He has been at the rescue mission for about a week and a half, said Vargas, who had been there once before when he came to Emporia about a month ago. He cooks for the mission’s residents, and he enjoys holding that position.
“A lot of guys are out job hunting, and guys are working, so, through donations, we are able to have a hot meal,” he said. “I’m fortunate enough to be blessed to be here, so I don’t mind doing anything and everything.”
Vargas, 49, was born in Leavenworth and worked in construction — mainly as a carpenter ?— all over the Midwest.
On Oct. 7, 2011, he said he was involved in a terrible motorcycle accident while driving a Suzuki 1400.
“I had metal put in the front clavicle, back scapula, eight broken ribs,” Vargas said. “... I have been through now six operations. I got an infection while at (a hospital) in my intestines. So, I am still dealing with that. That’s how I got down on my luck. That’s how I lucked out, so to speak, to come to Emporia. … I was actually just drifting through with no direction. I sold all of my belongings, out of money. Waiting on disability to be approved. Waiting on a hearing. So, I still got more surgeries scheduled.”
He almost died twice, he said. When his stomach perforated on May 4, 2012, KU medical surgeons did emergency surgery, and they put a colostomy bag on him.
“I went from 180 down to 124 pounds,” Vargas said. “I was in ICU for six weeks. I didn’t eat solid food.”
He is now 180 pounds, but a lot of it is fat because he has not been able to burn it off, Vargas said. He is not able to work yet, except for his volunteer work and his cooking duties.
“I have to go to a vocational rehab most likely if I am able to seek different work for me because the only thing that I know is construction and carpentry, so I am probably never going to able to go back to that … because of the situation that I have,” he said. “I keep reoccurring and my body doesn’t function normally.”
He has a Social Security disability attorney with the Parmele Law Firm in Topeka to try and get disability. He has had two denials.
“When I got the first denial, I went straight and I got a lawyer, and they said, ‘Expect that. There is such a back log of people waiting, and the courts are clogged with the cases,’” Vargas said. “I am just waiting on a hearing date now.”
He said he is going to talk with the surgeon of the original trauma team at the KU Medical Center who saved Vargas’ life in January about whether he again requires a colostomy bag.
Vargas said he never was in rescue missions before he arrived in Emporia.
“I knew they existed, and I have seen homeless people, but there are some really good guys that come through here, just down on their luck,” he said. It could happen to anybody.”
The rescue mission helps the male residents build a foundation and hopefully to better themselves, Vargas said.
“I was glad I could help,” said Vargas when referring to Tuesday’s accident. “I just want to say that it wasn’t me that did it. God told me to help people in need, and people are helping me at the rescue mission, and it is just part of life. When you see a situation like that, you need to help somebody.”