“I think we’re missing something,” Brian Flores said early Saturday morning as he finished setting up a car wash benefit for 6-year-old Joe Pena, who was hit by a stray bullet on the Fourth of July.

Joe looked up at Flores with a grin. “Cars?” he said, laughing.

The first car of the day showed up at Advance Auto Parts on East Rio Grande Street less than five minutes later – 15 minutes before the fundraiser was even scheduled to start.

Gary Thornbury, the car’s owner, said he read about the fundraiser in the paper and stopped by “for the boy.”

Cars arrived in droves until 5 p.m. At one point, eight drivers had lined up waiting for a wash in the scalding heat.

“It has been nonstop,” Flores said.

Joe Pena Fundraiser

With a cast on his arm, Joe Pena, 6, plays with a remote-control truck Saturday afternoon while family and friends wash cars to raise money to cover his medical expenses caused by being struck by a stray bullet on the Fourth of July. The truck was gifted to him by the owner of Advance Auto Parts, where the car wash fundraiser was held.

By the end of the day, $1,230 had been raised to help cover Joe’s medical expenses.

Joe, who is about to start first grade, played with his sisters in the shade of a pop-up tent, thanked people for donations and cheerfully wished them a swell day alongside his mother, Ashley Gonzales.

“It is like twenty-hundred people care,” Joe said about those who came out to support him.

After the Victoria boy underwent surgery in San Antonio to have the .45-caliber slug removed from his right forearm, his mom worried the full-arm cast he was required to wear would slow him down.

“That is the one thing I was afraid of, but he still gets out, runs and plays with his siblings,” Gonzales said.

The slug was sent to Corpus Christi for tests, but results are pending, Lauren Meaux, a spokeswoman for the Victoria Police Department said Friday. There were no new leads in the ongoing investigation, she said.

Joe Pena Fundraiser

Vehicles line up to be washed Saturday afternoon during a fundraiser for Joe Pena at an Advance Auto Parts. Six-year-old Joe was hit by a stray bullet on the Fourth of July, and the fundraiser is to help cover the medical expenses.

All fundraiser volunteers hailed from different car clubs in the region, like Rudy Vargas Jr., the president of Heaven Scent Car Club, who drove from Yorktown to help Flores.

“Brian is my buddy,” he said. “We’ve been low-riding since we were kids, and we have each other’s back. For me personally, too, giving back is what God called us to do.”

Vargas Jr. started his Christian-based car club after spending 11 years in prison. He said serving others has helped him turn his life around, and supporting other clubs in their charitable endeavors is a big part of car club culture.

Jesus Zuniga, president of Klean Out Kustoms Car Club, agreed.

“Some people have family that they’ve made, and some people have family that they make,” he said. “We’re like a car family; we have to stick together. And when something like this goes down, we have to have show support.”

Near the end of the fundraiser, Gonzales said she was humbled to see the volunteers and drivers support her son through a difficult time.

“It is awesome to know people still have good hearts,” she said. “You don’t get reminded of that very often.”

Kali Venable is a public safety reporter for the Victoria Advocate. She can be reached at 361-580-6558 or at kvenable@vicad.com.

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Public Safety Reporter

"I am a Houston native and 5th generation Texan, with a degree in journalism and minor in creative writing from the University of Texas at Austin. I care deeply about public interests and the community I serve.”

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