MANHATTAN, Kan. (KSNT) – A Manhattan teenager who survived a deadly car crash last year is counting on family and friends to help him as he heals.

Jean Carlos Vasquez-Ponce, a 14-year-old from Manhattan who also goes by JC, was one of three people to survive a deadly car crash on Dec. 6, 2021, that claimed the lives of two other 14-year-olds: Kenni Cantu and Gaysha Alfred, both of Manhattan. Vasquez-Ponce, Cantu and Alfred were all students of the Manhattan-Ogden School district.

The remains of the 2005 Chevrolet Trailblazer that the teenagers were driving.

Vasquez-Ponce nearly became a third victim of the crash as he suffered from life-threatening injuries in the aftermath. The wreck left him with severe burns to much of his back and legs, lacerations to his internal organs, multiple broken bones and severe brain damage. He was immediately flown to Kansas University Medical Center in Kansas City for treatment and was later moved to Children’s Mercy for continued care.

Doctors kept Vasquez-Ponce in a state of forced sedation so that his body could heal and keep him from feeling any pain. He has only been able to wake up in recent weeks and begun to move around. While a full recovery from his injuries is still months, if not years away, Vasquez-Ponce’s friends and family are supporting him every step of the way.

One man, Lawrence DeHart, the owner of DeHart Plumbing in Manhattan, has made it his goal to help Vasquez-Ponce and his mother, Betty, during this time by setting up a GoFundMe for Vasquez-Ponce’s care and to help his mother with other expenses. DeHart is a longtime friend of Vasquez-Ponce’s family and his own son, Aiden, has a close friendship with him that continues today.

“Carlos is my son’s friend,” DeHart said. “He has spent dozens and dozens of weeks at our house over the years. I love him like he’s my own child. He’s an extended part of the family.”

DeHart spoke with KSNT 27 News about Vasquez-Ponce’s stay at Children’s Mercy Hospital, describing it as a “back-and-forth” process. He went on to say that it’s a surprise that Vasquez-Ponce survived the crash and is doing as well as he is now.

“He’s still in the very beginning stages of recovery, his injuries were very severe,” DeHart said. “In fact, I had a pretty candid conversation with a nurse yesterday, a lot of people in the professional staff didn’t think he would make it. It just blows people away that he’s there speaking in complete sentences with no loss to his personality or memory.”

DeHart said that in addition to the physical injuries Vasquez-Ponce suffered, he is also contending with emotional injuries as well. He battles with severe depression as he copes with the crash and his present physical condition.

A memorial set up for the dead after the tragic car accident.

While his injuries are extensive and serious, he has been making progress recently such as finally taking a bite of solid food for the first time since the crash.

“That was a big deal,” DeHart said. “You got to just wait for him and his body to tell you what he can do. Every day there are just these little micro improvements.”

DeHart said that every day is an evaluation to constantly push Vasquez-Ponce beyond his thresholds and see how far he can get. Vasquez-Ponce will probably stay at Children’s Mercy Hospital for three to four months minimum, according to DeHart, as he is facing an uphill battle with rehab. After spending months in a bed, Vasquez-Ponce will most likely face a difficult path to becoming fully mobile again.

To keep his spirits up, DeHart worked with other friends and family members and the Alms Group Real Estate to organize the production of a short video to remind Vasquez-Ponce that people haven’t forgotten about him, and that he is still loved by those outside the hospital.

“Once he started to wake up a little bit, we were getting excited but then depression kicked in,” DeHart said. “I reached out to his school and they put together a video. The Alms Group paid for a legit video to be put together of his friends giving him well wishes.”

DeHart said that he has shown the video to Vasquez-Ponce on many occasions when he is feeling down. That video can be seen here.

Though he is still facing months of recovery and rehabilitation, it is acts of kindness like the ones from his friends and family that will help Vasquez-Ponce move past the car crash. To donate to the GoFundMe for his recovery, go here.