MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A Minnesota Marine and Iraq War veteran, who was badly hurt in a hit-and-run crash, says he's back on his feet and ready to get back on his motorcycle.
On Oct. 27, 29-year-old John Byro nearly died after an unknown driver crashed into him and left the scene in the small town of Gaylord in southern Minnesota.
"It was pretty much guaranteed I was going to die," Byro said. "Anybody crashes a motorcycle at about 65 miles an hour, there is no way you are going to live through that."
Since the crash, Byro has been in either hospital care or rehabilitation.
But Saturday, for the first time, he was able to thank those who've supported him at the Madelia American Legion in his hometown. Strangers like Mike English, who is also a veteran and Marine, came to encourage Byro.
"As a fellow marine and brother marine...we take care of our own," English said. "We don't leave them behind."
The hit-and-run may have taken many of Byro's memories, but he is determined not to let the loss damage his spirit.
He offered handshakes, hugs and infectious laughter to all who walked in the door on at Saturday's gathering. He says he wanted to offer gratitude to those who helped him during his toughest battle at home.
After two tours in Iraq, Byro encountered an unexpected enemy on that rural highway, when the driver, who pulled out in front of him, smashed into him and took off, leaving Byro and his motorcycle broken on the road.
But Byro says he did what he knew – he fought. And he continued fighting, working to heal his brain injury every day since the crash.
"I am frustrated with myself by not being how I used to be, but when I stop on a day like today and think back to the things that I have been doing, I am pretty amazed," Byro said. "I mean, five weeks ago, I was in a wheelchair and now I'm walking around -- I don't even bring a cane anymore."
He also said that his memory has been returning. Even Saturday he remembered lyrics to songs he heard on the radio on the way over to his party.
However, Byro's father, Dave Byro, said the memory loss bothers his son.
"You take a straight-A student, somebody who is a very quick thinker, [he] can't remember people that he knows and likes; he can't pull back their name," Dave Byro said. "That bothers him, but that's all getting better."
Dave Byro says his son was studying law enforcement at Metro State. In fact, it was when Byro was returning home from classes that the hit-and-run happened.
Byro has made incredible strides at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center. He spends his weeks in rehabilitation, and on his weekends off, he plans his next step -- getting back on his motorcycle. He bought a new Harley-Davidson last weekend, and says he'll learn to drive all over again.
"I'm glad I bought one last week, and now I can't wait to get driving again and go pick it up. I am excited," Byro said.
You may just hear his laugh over the engine as he embraces a new road and a changed outlook.
"When I get out of the hospital, and I'm okay enough to get around, I'll get around to help other people out," he said. "Before I didn't used to be about helping people that I didn't know, didn't like or didn't understand. I wasn't about helping them. Now, a little bit of that in me has changed."
Byro says the only thing that really bothers him is that the person who hit him hasn't been caught.
The Minnesota State Patrol is still on the case. A reward of $5,000 is being offered for information leading to an arrest.
Byro says he hopes to be out of the VA hospital by June, and as soon as he can, he's planning a motorcycle ride with his friends.
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