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The truck a father left behind

Caliber Collision restores the only thing Georgetown teen has from his dad

Nicole Villalpando
Daniel Alcantara, 16, reacts in shock with his sister, Elizabeth Montes, 29, when he sees his completely restored 2004 Ford F-150 truck that was his father's. Both of their parents were murdered in 2011, and the truck is the only thing they have left of them. Caliber Collision restored the truck as part of its Recycled Rides program. [JAMES GREGG/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Daniel Alcantara remembers driving around in his father's 2004 black Ford F-150 with 142,000 miles on it. In fact, he remembers going with his father to buy the truck, which was used and had a few dings.

"He would let me drive a little bit," Daniel says.

That truck is the only thing 16-year-old Daniel, his 13-year-old brother, Cristian, and 29-year-old sister, Elizabeth Montes, have from their parents. 

On March 20, 2011, their parents were shot outside their home in West Palm Beach, Fla. His mother, Juana Lopez, died immediately. His father, also Daniel Alcantara, died on the way to the hospital. Juan Emilio Villanueva was convicted for their deaths in 2015 and is serving a 95-year sentence. 

"It's what they call a 'wrong place, wrong time,'" Montes says of the shooting.

In the weeks that followed their parents' deaths, many things were unknown. Where would they live? Who would be the guardians for the boys?

Their parents had worked long hours in a factory. "They worked hard to give us the best," Montes says.

Their parents did not have a will, she says. The house got sold, along with everything in it, she says. Their mom also had a truck, but an aunt took it.

In April 2011, Montes drove her two brothers to Texas in their father's truck to go live with an aunt.

About three years ago, the truck stopped working. It sat in a shop in need of a new engine, which Montes estimated would cost about $3,000. She and her brothers couldn't afford that, so Daniel began selling Mexican candy and saving up money in hopes of fixing his dad's truck. By February, he had saved up $1,006 and planned to start working on the truck's motor. But Montes held him off — she knew that behind the scenes, good things were happening.

"This truck, our dad's truck, he wanted it to be a tribute," Montes says.

On Good Friday, Daniel took a tour of Caliber Collision in Georgetown in what he thought was a way for him to learn more about fixing cars, a career he's interested in. Instead, he found himself surrounded by teachers from his elementary school and the staff at Caliber Collision as his father's truck rolled into the garage bay. It had been completely restored.

"I was just really excited," Daniel says. "I didn't believe it was the same truck."

"Daniel, when we met you guys five years ago, we knew you were special," said Amber Sladecek, a PE teacher at Carver Elementary, which Daniel and his brother attended. She and other teachers have kept up with the boys as they went to middle school and now high school for Daniel, who is in ninth grade.

Sladecek pointed out all the people in the garage. All these people "fixed your truck. It's just like it was when your dad drove it."

Daniel couldn't believe it. Then he looked inside, where it was exactly the same as he remembered, except that things were new, it ran and it wasn't "wrecked," as Daniel remembered it.

"I thought it would be a tour," he says. "It's pretty insane."

"To be able to give this truck to you means so much," said Jon Webber of Caliber.

Four months before, when Caliber had the truck towed to its garage, "it was rough," Webber says. The paint was peeling, it had been in a fender bender or two, it no longer ran. It needed new brakes, an engine, the transmission rebuilt, a new paint job, windows re-tinted and body work. 

Caliber, through its Recycled Rides program, worked with partner companies to get this truck running again and looking like new. The team worked on it between customers' cars and came in on weekends to get it done.

"It's been a collective effort," Webber says.

The total work is valued at around $20,000. It wouldn't be something anyone would do if there wasn't this story, Webber says. "The sentimental value of belonging to his father is worth its weight in gold," he says.

Caliber Collision began the Recycled Rides program in 2012 and has now done more than 300 vehicles. Typically these cars are for people in the military.

But when they heard the story of Daniel and this truck, they knew they had to do it.

Sladecek, who had watched Daniel save his money to save the truck, remembers thinking, "We need to get his truck fixed."

Sladecek contacted Malinda McMaster, whose daughter was in Cristian's kindergarten class. Her husband, Mitch, now works in North Texas in Caliber's corporate office.

It was an easy choice, Mitch McMaster says.

"It's who we are," he says. "It's part of our culture."

The McMasters drove down to see Daniel get his truck last month. "We wouldn't have missed it," Malinda McMaster says.

The teachers at the school remember the boys when they first arrived and how far they have come.

"It was very hard," says Kendall Holmstead, a teacher at Carver Elementary in Georgetown, who was Daniel's second-grade teacher the year they came. "He was very closed off."

"We knew his story," says Carver Elementary School Principal Nancy Bottlinger. "We took him under our wing," she says.

And they haven't stopped.

Sladecek says she and the boys "have a very strong relationship." She became more involved when Cristian needed a mentor. He wasn't getting his homework done, and he needed someone to push him. Cristian asked if she could help his brother, too.

She doesn't have children of her own, but these boys have become like her children. She attends parent-teacher conferences, they go on family camping trips with her, she takes them back-to-school shopping and buys them school supplies. And when the grades start slipping, she's firm with what needs to happen.

"They're really the best people," Daniel says of Sladecek and fellow coach Diane Beauchemin. "We have a good time doing stuff together."

"It was beautiful," Sladecek says of the truck surprise. "He was surprised. He doesn't like to show emotion."

And yet, when the truck rolled into the garage, joy and disbelief were written all over his face, as well as some tears. Cristian, too.

Sladecek has been working with him on hugs and saying "I love you." She and some of the other elementary school teachers are making sure the boys know they are loved. "His life could have gone the other way," Sladecek says. "They have held it together."

They're the kind of kids you want to help.

Caliber has offered Daniel a job working in the shop to help him get experience. He's currently taking automotive classes at East View High School in Georgetown. "If you want to come in and work, we'd love to have you," said Chad Schulze with Caliber.

The truck and the look on Daniel's face were memorable to the teachers.

"It's fabulous," Holmstead says, "I know how important this is to him."

"It's something that I'm never going to forget," Montes says. "He's been saving up for it for a long time. This was a dream come true."

Daniel says he'll continue selling candy, but now he'll use the money for things like gas and insurance. First, he has to get his driver's license.

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