When he played football for Pilot Point High, Tommy Wheeler ran like cartoon character Fred Flintstone, whose trademark expression was “yabba dabba doo.” So, naturally, Wheeler earned the nickname of “Dabba,” and the name has stuck.
Folks are now rallying around Wheeler, 42, who lives and works in Pilot Point and coaches youth football. He was severely injured in a two-car collision on Sept. 14 on U.S. 377 south of Pilot Point.
Wheeler was flown to Medical City Denton and remained hospitalized this week. A hospital spokeswoman said Wheeler is in guarded condition.
He suffered multiple broken bones, internal bleeding and a punctured lung in the wreck. He has required multiple surgeries, and his left foot was amputated.
Wheeler is a great father and coach who would “give you the shirt off your back and do anything for you,” said Doug Webb, football commissioner for the Pilot Point Youth Sports Association.
“He’s helped me out, and I’ve helped him out, and we’re just good friends and colleagues,” Webb said.
Shawn Dollar, president and CEO of Sturm Welding in Pilot Point, where Wheeler works as the shop manager, said Wheeler is going to have a long recovery – about a year.
Wheeler is a single father of four children – daughter Trinity, 17, son Gavin, 13, daughter Tatum, 10, and son Carson, 8. The children are staying with their mother in Gainesville while Wheeler is in the hospital. Lots of people in the community have offered help to the children during this time, said Laura Riley, office manager at Sturm. Wheeler also has two brothers and a father in the area.
Northstar Bank in Pilot Point will have a barbecue lunch and bake sale to benefit Wheeler at 11 a.m. Friday. American Legion Post 550 in Pilot Point will sponsor a spaghetti dinner at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Pilot Point ISD has approved donation buckets at sporting events to help Wheeler, and donation buckets and orange boxes are available at businesses around town. A medical recovery fund in his name has been set up at www. youcaring.com/tommydabbawheeler-950008.
“The outpouring from the community is unbelievable,” Dollar said, adding other businesses have offered their help.
Wheeler has worked at Sturm since October 2002. “He’s a straight-shooter,” said Dale Dollar, owner of Sturm Welding, referring to Wheeler. “Everybody loves Tom. The outreach for him has been wonderful.”
Shawn Dollar described Wheeler as a friendly, considerate man whose life revolves around his children and work.
“He’s always willing to help out anybody in need,” Riley said. “He’s always offering a helping hand to anybody.”
Wheeler has been a youth football coach and was coaching Carson’s team this year. All four children have been involved in sports.
They’re all about sports, all about the town and being involved,” Riley said.
Pilot Point police released information Monday morning on the wreck that occurred on U.S. 377 Thursday that critically injured two people, including Wheeler.
A 2014 Ford Fiesta passenger car, driven by David King, 28, of Collinsville, was traveling north in the southbound lane and struck a 2005 GMC Sierra pickup, driven by Wheeler, who was traveling southbound. The debris from the impact hit a third vehicle, a 2013 GMC Sierra pickup, which was following the Fiesta and going north. Bryan Carter, 25, of Lake Dallas was in the third vehicle.
King was airlifted to Medical City Plano, while Wheeler was airlifted to Medical City Denton, police said. Carter drove away after the on-scene investigation was finished. King is in critical condition at Medical City Plano, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Pilot Point Assistant Fire Chief Bryan Cox said firefighters had to extricate King from his vehicle. Responders didn’t have to use extrication tools to get Wheeler out of his truck, but he did have to be pulled from the vehicle. Neither vehicle caught fire.
Cox said that, to his knowledge, both drivers wore seat belts. The speed of the vehicles is unknown.
The highway was shut down for about three hours, Cox said.
Two board members of the Pilot Point Youth Sports Association said Wheeler has had a huge effect on children in the community. This year, he coached a third/fourth grade football team before he got hurt.
Greg Evans said Wheeler has grown as a coach from his time when Gavin played youth and pee-wee football.
“He works good with the kids, and all the kids know him as Coach Tom,” Evans said. “I know some of the boys that are on his team, and they have a mind-set now to win a Super Bowl for Coach Tom.” (The Super Bowl is the championship game.)
He said he had a conversation with Wheeler before the wreck and said Wheeler was looking forward to continuing to coach the boys in youth football.
Denyse McCord said Wheeler’s effect also can be seen away from youth sports.
‘Tommy’s a great guy,” McCord said. “He’s always helped my dad at his work. My dad is J.W. Scott, and he loves to tinker, so he would always take stuff to Tommy to help build or figure out.”
McCord said Wheeler loves coaching and being around kids and is “just a good guy.”
“I hope the community backs him and helps take care of the kiddos because he has been a single father of the four kids,” she said.