In August 2006, just as his aviation career was taking off, Quincey Carr was shot five times while in a barbershop in East Oakland after a brief dispute with a passer-by.
One bullet sliced into his spine, another hit his spleen and still another nicked his heart. As he lay on the floor bleeding, the man shot him two more times, once in each leg.
Carr, then 22, barely made it through that night. His legs were paralyzed. Months of recuperation and physical therapy followed.
He now uses a wheelchair to get around, and has special hand controls to fly an airplane.
Yes, he flies an airplane. And not only that, he earned his commercial pilot's license last year and recently started working as a part-time ground instructor at a fledgling flight school at the Hayward airport — all while working two other jobs to pay for his continuing flight training.
Sense of purpose
Indeed, the shooting — dramatic as it was and a definite interruption in his career plans — does not define Carr's life. More than anything, Carr, who turns 25 next week and now lives on his own in Hayward, is a pilot. He's a lover of aviation, of all things winged and the wild blue beyond. Despite his injuries, his singular sense of purpose and determination have allowed him to stay on course, never succumb to self pity and even reach out to others
"Right now, I'm an instructor for ground school," Carr said Wednesday, sitting next to a student at the Federal Aviation Administration-approved simulators in the headquarters of the Hayward Flight School, where he works with the school's owner and chief pilot, Abel Cavalie.
"The idea, though, is I'm going to become a certified flight instructor so I can teach inside the plane too, flying from the instructor's seat," Carr said.
Looking to the future, as always, Carr also wants to build up his hours of flight time so that some day he can apply for a job in the California Fire Service.
"That's really what I want to do," he said. "I want to fly for firefighting to fight wildfires. Fly the big tankers. They want you to have at least 1,200 hours for that, so I have to keep building up my hours."
One way to do that is through teaching. So Carr is hoping to get more students. The flight school has been open about eight months, just expanded into new offices and so far has four students. An eight-week ground-school session begins Tuesday.
"Quincey has an unbelievable knowledge about flying," Cavalie said. "He has a passion for aviation. We'll kid around, and I'll say, 'How about business school?' or, 'Hey, you could make tons of money as a dentist!' I tease him because we all know that's not going to happen. That's what I love about him. He knows exactly what he wants to do. And in spite of what happened, he keeps going. I really respect that."
Though Carr is a positive thinker, he's had his struggles and rough moments. Certainly, flying with hand controls is not the way he envisioned his career.
Enthralled by takeoffs
Carr's love of aviation began when he was about 9. His parents — who then both worked at the Alameda Naval Air Station — would take him to the base, and he was enthralled to watch the airplanes take off. He started collecting model planes and took flight lessons as soon as he could, earning his private pilot's license at age 17 in 2002.
On Aug. 11, 2006, Carr learned he had passed his written exam for a commercial license and he and his girlfriend were heading out to celebrate, stopping briefly that evening at Carr's regular barbershop on International Boulevard to spiff up with a trim.
The place was filled with customers, including a couple of children. Carr was sitting in the barber chair, and his girlfriend waited on a bench in the shop when a man — a stranger to both of them — walked in and started flirting with her. She rebuffed the man and he left the shop, only to return a few minutes later with a gun. He pointed it at Carr, shooting him three times, then fired two more shots into him as he lay on the floor.
Investigators declared it was truly a case of wrong-place/wrong-time. The man, a 32-year-old ex-convict, was identified by numerous witnesses, arrested several days later and is currently serving more than 40 years in prison.
Through it all, Carr was driven by his desire to return to the skies, and supported by his friends, his church, fellow pilots and especially his biggest cheerleader of all, his mom.
"It's not what happens to you, it's what you do about it," Yvette Carr said. "I've encouraged him to be independent and be on his own. He moved out and got his own place a year-and-a-half ago. He has two jobs. He's just been a miracle through all this."
In addition to teaching, Carr and Cavalie want to start visiting high schools, not only to get young people interested in aviation, but to share Carr's experience and his triumph over more-than-average obstacles.
"I want to encourage other people to basically not complain," Carr said as he rolled out on the tarmac at the Hayward airport last week to show a student the school's Cessna 150.
"I don't complain," he said. "All of us have other things going on that are negative, but if you dwell on those, you're not going to get anywhere. Your situation is no different than everyone else. Just focus on the positive aspects, and get out of the negative why-me mentality."
For information on the Hayward Flight School, visit www.haywardflightschool.com, or call 510-259-0824.
Reach Angela Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laura A. Oda/Staff
Quincey Carr, 25, with his mother, Yvette Carr, at the Hayward Flight School in Hayward on Wednesday, talks about getting his commercial pilot's license. Carr was shot at an East Oakland barbershop in 2006, paralyzing his legs.
LAURA A. ODA/Staff
Carr, who will turn 25 next week, pulls himself into a Cessna 150, left, outside the Hayward Flight School. At right, Carr teaches
Dominic Kensof on a flight simulator at the school, where he works as a ground instructor.