Volume II, Issue 11, Page 1

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Dead Straight Ahead

ugust 20, 2006: A story that appeared in an edition of the St. Petersburg Times torched my interest. It was about a scofflaw, Michael Francis Wiley, a seeming miscreant  who had amassed no fewer than 50 traffic violations since 1984, the year before he got his driver’s license. Since then, I’ve read five more Times accounts of his escapades,  eagerly anticipating each one. He lived in the town next to mine, sort of like local boy makes bad. The day after the story ran, the cops popped him again for driving on the revoked list. How to keep this boy down? Forget about it.

At first, the magistrates presiding usually felt sorry for him and released him from jail on little or no bail. His license had been revoked or suspended at least 19 times. His escapades included a police pursuit on I-75 that ended when the Corvette he was commanding blew a rear tire at a buck-twenty. There were grand theft auto, kiting checks, marijuana and cocaine arrests, head-butting his wife, kicking a state trooper, and various disorderly conduct charges crowding his rap sheet. The act of driving, sometimes at excessive speed, was his desire, what he lived to do. Wiley had things to prove, to him and to the world.

In the scheme of it, this ought to be no real story—until you realize that Wiley has no arms and only one leg. Friends swear they’ve even seen him drive a stick shift! He lost what all whole-bodied people take for granted when he was 15 and running slightly amok in New York City. He and his pals were screwing around high above the ground on an abandoned train switching station. He stumbled and fell, grabbed a live wire (maybe 12,000 volts) three stories up, and got footing on a piece of metal, completing the circuit and electrocuting him. He was dead, he says, but that the impact from the fall brought him back. The docs had no choice but to amputate his arms at the shoulders and his left leg below the knee. A short time later, his family moved to Pasco County (about 30 miles north of Tampa) to get him away from city influences. It was already too late for Wiley.

In 1981, a Park Avenue shrink reviewed Wiley’s case: …suffers classic post-traumatic neurosis… Attempts to keep up a tough-guy front which is meant to say that nothing could really hurt him and that he was better than he was before the accident… His continued denial of his realistic state will produce more and more adverse effects…

Wiley has spirit, a lot of it. His sense of humor was not wasted, either. He went to a Halloween party as a shark attack victim. He drank beer holding the can in his teeth. He refused help in the men’s room, so his pals literally hosed him down. In 1985, he had a black-on-black 4th-Gen Monte SS with a wicked motor in it. He put the key in the ignition lock with his teeth and turned it with his toes. Although he has prostheses, he did not use them to drive because they got in the way of what he was doing. He drove with his stumps. He put 50,000 miles on it and blasted all the way to California and back with those stumps.

One night, he clipped another car and left the scene, stuff from his falling down like rain. The cops came to his house. Wiley is quite able of hopping two to three feet in the air to execute crazy flying kicks. He kicked the trooper in the knee and put him down. While in the back of the cruiser, he kicked the door into the trooper’s chest. The trooper added battery on a law enforcement officer to the hit-and-run charge. Nine years later, Wiley said ”It’d be kind of hard to live it down in the locker room, if a no-armed man put you on your ass twice.”

He says he needs pain medication and was caught trying to smuggle Xanax and Valium into jail in his prosthetic leg. He would get so frustrated in the slam that he’d torment the deputies. They responded with pepper spray, beatings, and left him in a holding cell for days at a time with no way to eat except scarfing his food like a dog.
            April 29, 2007: Wiley went to trial for his latest drug and illegal driving charges. The Assistant State Attorney liked to send him away for five years.
            May 9, 2007: Our boy was at it again, they think. He was supposedly spotted at a convenience store. He allegedly high-balled it out of there and eluded the cops for more than eight minutes high-speed. A minute later, the cops eye-balled the Explorer he was supposedly driving. He lost them again. He was awaiting trial on separate drug and illegal-driving charges.
            May 10, 2007: The cops nailed Wiley that morning. A judge denied bail.
            May 26, 2007: Michael Wiley didn’t wind up in jail. He was in a hospital for an undisclosed infection, thus missing his court date. The cops had a 24-hour guard on him.
            August 2, 2007: You might have seen this story. It was picked up by no less than 73 media outlets from the San Jose Mercury to the International Herald Tribune in France. “I don’t like the idea that I’m Pasco County’s most notorious driver. That’s hype,” Wiley told the AP. “I’m not public enemy No. 1. I’m just a regular guy with some handicaps. I made a few mistakes. I’m sorry and I’m paying for them.”
            August 4, 2007: Wiley faced a maximum 40-year sentence. He waived his right to trial, apologized to the court, and pleaded no contest. The prosecutor wanted 15 years and 15 years probation. A circuit judge in New Port Richey sentenced Wiley to 5 years and warned that he ever saw him again, he’d max him out. Wiley is 40 years old.

  I don’t condone what he’s done, but he never hurt anyone while he was doing what freed him from his physical confines. Behind the wheel, he was his own man. He was in control quite enough to be spectacularly out of control. Wiley says that he is waving the white flag and has given up driving. Considering Wiley’s track record, I wouldn’t bet on it. 

(Thanks to Jamal Thalji at the St. Petersburg Times for helping with this story)