A week after Abel Caesar Madrigal, 20, broke his neck in a wreck on Interstate 82, he still cannot feel his legs.
But his father, also named Abel Madrigal, said his son is happy to be alive.
"I'm glad to be here. I don't care if I'm in a wheelchair," his father reported his son said when a breathing tube was removed from his mouth Wednesday, allowing him to talk for the first time since the wreck.
The 20-year-old, who his family calls Caesar, remains in the intensive care unit at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
His family believes road rage was responsible for the accident that left Caesar with three broken bones in or near his neck.
The Washington State Patrol investigation into the incident is continuing. One witness did not think there was a second car involved that caused the Pathfinder that Caesar Madrigal was riding in to crash, said Washington State Patrol Lt. Roger Wilbur. But there may be other witnesses who still could provide information, he said.
On April 7, Jonathan A. Harmon, 20, of Pasco, was driving the Pathfinder and Caesar, of Kennewick, was his passenger. Harmon entered Interstate 82 on an on-ramp going east.
Caesar's family said the Pathfinder accidentally cut off another car. Someone in the other car made a rude hand gesture, then Caesar did the same, his father said, adding that his son should not have responded.
The other car pulled in front of the Pathfinder then and that car's driver tapped his brakes, according to the father. Harmon turned his wheel to avoid hitting the car, losing control and causing the Pathfinder to roll several times about 11/2 miles east of the Badger Road exit.
Caesar could see the Pathfinder was going into the ditch and grabbed onto a handle in the vehicle and told his friend Harmon, "Hang on. I love you," as the Pathfinder started to roll, his father said.
After the car stopped Caesar asked, "Are you alive?" His friend said yes and asked how he was.
"I can't feel my legs," Caesar replied, according to his father.
A nurse stopped at the wreck and Caesar asked her to call his mother, Julia Madrigal, who lives with his father nearby.
Caesar was taken to Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland and then flown to Harborview, where he had an eight-hour operation on his spine Friday and another Sunday, his father said. Surgeons inserted titanium rods and screws.
He also needed 20 staples for a gash where he hit his head, even though he was wearing his seat belt, his father said.
His family has been told it's too soon to know the full extent of his spinal injuries, and they hold out hope that as the swelling in his body goes down, he will have some recovery. They are thankful he had no brain injuries.
Now he can move his hands, but cannot curl them into a good fist, his father said.
Although his voice still is raspy from the breathing tube, Caesar has talked to his friend who was driving and told him, "I forgive you. It was an accident," his father said.
Caesar, who played football for Kennewick High, had been talking of starting college this fall at Spokane Falls Community College, but now his family is thinking about rehabilitation instead.
He could be out of the intensive care unit by Monday and then start physical therapy next week. His mother has made arrangements to move to Seattle for at least a month to be with him.
His father is convinced road rage on the part of the driver of the other car was the cause of his son's injuries.
"I want the guy caught," he said. "An innocent kid suffered spinal injury. I just want justice somehow, some way."
An account to help Caesar Madrigal has been set up. Donations may be made to Bank of America Account No. 43943331.