After accident, mechanic walks road to recovery with help of motorcycle club

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Mike Hartman standing in front of his tool box.
Mike Hartman in front of his tool box. (Steve Roberts, Jr./WYDaily)

Mike Hartman headed out on a friend’s motorcycle to clear his head and enjoy the sights of a spring evening on May 7, 2015. The deceptively innocent ride took a turn for the worse.

Though he can’t remember the specific details of what transpired prior to his accident on George Washington Memorial Highway near Wolf Trap Road in Grafton, he does remember the headlights behind him that were a little too close for comfort.

Hartman ran into a tree and was thrown from his motorcycle after he was seemingly run off the road. In addition to two pelvic fractures, eight broken ribs, multiple facial fractures, a punctured lung and fractured femur, he had to have his left leg amputated.

“He spent five weeks in the hospital and three weeks in rehab,” said former wife and current business and life partner, Rhonda Hartman. One of the first calls she made after the accident was to the couple’s friend, John Martin, who was president of Saints & Soldiers of Tidewater motorcycle club at the time. Thirty minutes after the call to Martin, members of Saints & Soldiers, as well as other friends and family members, showed up to lend their support.

“I called a few of the guys who passed the word around about Mike’s accident and went straight to the hospital. Different members of the group visited with him three to four times a day. I’ve known Mike for 30 years, and we were all trying to be there for him and Rhonda to help them sustain their business,” said Martin.

While Hartman was recovering, his automotive repair shop, Automotive, Electrical and Repair at Mike’s, located on George Washington Memorial Highway in Grafton, was kept afloat by other mechanics in the area and friends in the automotive industry.

“There’s a brotherhood with the mechanics in this community. They really pulled through for Rhonda and me,” said Mike Hartman.

When he returned to work 24 hours after he was released from Riverside Rehabilitation Institute, he worked at his shop for several months without the assistance of a prosthetic leg. His insurance at the time didn’t cover prosthetic assistance and Reach Orthodontic & Prosthetic Services came to his aid by donating a prosthetic that would enable him to move more comfortably. Others in the community followed suit and donated electric chairs to assist with Hartman’s mobility.

Known for his keen knack in solving electrical issues, Mike Hartman’s thirst for automotive knowledge began to be quenched while attending Menchville High School. He had the unique experience of working at NASA through the high school’s Industrial Co-op Training Program, where he was introduced to mechanical work and diagnostics.

Next, he landed a position with Newport News Shipbuilding working in electrical maintenance and was employed there for 14 years. After gaining experience at several local repair shops; such as, Pete’s Auto Repair, Aamco Transmissions and Dan’s Auto Repair, he opened his own business.

With 35 years’ experience in automotive repair and a specialty in electrical repair, he’s been operating his shop for about 20 years. Longtime clients have migrated with him from two previous locations he operated in Newport News to the Hartman’s current repair shop in Grafton, where the couple has been in business together for the past five years.

Word of mouth has kept the Hartmans’ business lucrative. Many local auto parts stores, other repair shops and current customers bring new business to the shop on a consistent basis. Robin Tamburri has been a customer for the past six years and often refers new clients to the Hartmans’ shop.

“He’s one of those rare mechanics who has a heart,” said Tamburri. “He genuinely cares about his customers while watching out for their wallets. Whenever someone talks to me about their car problems, I send them to Mike. Sometimes finding a good mechanic is hard, especially if you’re a woman.”

With a love for conversation and a sincere interest in their customers’ lives, many of the friendships the Hartmans have built over the years blossomed through their business.

“The biggest reason I fight to stay alive, work and maintain a household is for my wife, Rhonda,” said Mike Hartman. “And the reason I recovered as quickly as I did was because of her, along with our kids, loyal friends, customers and the brothers of Saints & Soldiers. I’d be in a hospital or in a home without them. It’s because of the support of family and friends that I have a life.”

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