ST. PETERSBURG — David Caras enjoys biking, swimming, and running triathlons. He cares for puppies for Southeastern Guide Dogs during the weekends and travels often for his job as an avionics instructor.
But his active life came to a sudden halt Thursday when Caras of Seminole was struck by a sport utility vehicle while jogging during a business trip in Utah.
He lost his right leg, fractured a hip and broke several ribs.
"It's devastating," said Katie Morrow of St. Petersburg, who has trained for triathlons with Caras. "We know how much this is going to change his life in the near future."
Caras, 51, remains in an intensive care unit in Utah while friends in St. Petersburg wait for updates on his condition.
A North Carolina native, Caras joined the Coast Guard in 1984. He was last stationed in St. Petersburg and decided to settle here after retiring in 2004.
For the past six years, he's been heavily involved with Southeastern Guide Dogs, at one point becoming a coordinator for Pinellas County families who want to raise puppies before they are paired with visually impaired owners.
"At one point, his group had 18 puppy raisers. Most groups have eight. There was never too many for him. He would take everybody," said Kathy Saunders of Southeastern Guide Dogs. "He had this way of just making everybody feel important and making everybody part of the mission."
Caras has cared for about five puppies, including one that Mayor Rick Kriseman, whose family has been involved with the program for about four years, helped him raise.
"He's a great guy. Everybody loves Dave," Kriseman said. "He's just really outgoing."
Last year, Caras was hired as an instructor for an aviation and defense company. The job required him to travel often, so Saunders took over Caras' position as coordinator.
But Caras remained devoted to the program and often cared for puppies on weekends. Earlier this year, Southeastern Guide Dogs named one after him. The pup's name is Caras.
"We all love Dave so much that we named a dog after him," said Saunders, a correspondent for the Tampa Bay Times.
Friends and loved ones are donating to a GoFundMe page started by Kerry Kriseman, the mayor's wife, to help cover his medical expenses. Their fundraising goal is currently $25,000.
In Utah, family members are with Caras as he undergoes several surgeries, said his sister, Barbara Chapman.
"He has shown some good signs, and they're just continuing to monitor him closely," she said. "He's got a very wide support system working for him right now."
Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected] or (727)445-4157. Follow @lauracmorel.