Local veteran receives gift to change his life

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COLUMBIA - A local army veteran got the surprise of a lifetime Friday morning. Eric Collins was  handed a set of keys to a restored car. To top off the morning, legendary MU basketball coach Norm Stewart was there to present him with the keys.

Collins said he was totally shocked the group, Cars 4 Heroes, gave him the car.

"Well I knew they were giving away a car, but I didn't know it was happening that I would be receiving a car," Collins said. 

He now plans to visit his mother, grandchildren and other family members.

"I'm at an age where I don't have a big social life," Collins said. "If they were to look, see where my cell phone was, it would be not too far from the kitchen and the couch."

Collins said the car is a stepping stone for him. 

"Not only be a better person, but just a prouder American," he said. "This is good for the vets. This is good. I don't know I'm excited! I don't know what to do."

Collins served near the Iran border from 2004-2005. He needed a car after getting into a car accident 11 years ago. He told Cars 4 Heroes he hit a dead tree that went through the windshield. He was in a coma for three weeks. He has since been cleared to drive. He told Cars 4 Heroes, "I cannot run but now I can walk and type. I would greatly appreciate a car." 

Cars 4 Heroes has been giving the gift of transportation to veterans for ten years now. Terry Franz, or "Car Santa" as he's known, said he loves giving veterans cars because it's a form of stress relief for them. 

"It's like, 'I can get to the doctor now', or 'I can get a job', or whatever their situation is," Franz said. "It's kind of addicting to give it to them and see that relief."

Before the event, Stewart signed autographs for fans. He was in Columbia Friday to help celebrate the 1994 MU Basketball team that went undefeated.