When Ethan Castille watched a team of boaters rescue a woman and her dog from drowning in Louisiana floodwaters in a now-famous viral video, he knew the red Mazda Miata would be toast. He also knew he could help.
Castille is a self-professed “Miata fanatic” in Baton Rouge who has stepped in to save the little red sports car after its owner, Ashton Dronet Jr., lost it and his home to the recent devastating floods. And he’s doing it with no strings attached.
“I am doing the rebuild for free just because I was lucky enough to not have any damage from the storm, and me being a Miata guy, I figure this is the best way that I can help,” Castille told Jalopnik. “If I can get his car back so he has transportation and save his baby, it’s well worth it to me.”
The video, which was featured prominently on the news and now has a view count in the millions, shows an unnamed woman and a tiny dog nearly drown until a boat full of rescuers came by, ripped open the convertible top, and got both of them to safety.
The driver in the video is Ashton’s ex-girlfriend Haley, his son Lee Dronet said. Thanks to the rescuers, she and the dog were unharmed; the car wasn’t so lucky. She could not be reached for comment; Lee Dronet said she’s currently in a shelter.
It came as yet another storm-related blow to Ashton Dronet Jr., who is retired and disabled and lost his trailer to the floods. They were able to save some furniture, but not much else. (And to add insult to injury, the Miata was repainted just last year.)
“It seemed like a total loss,” Lee Dronet said of the car. “The thing was totally submerged. It was done.”
Then they got the call from Castille, who said he’s taken his own Miata apart “six or seven times” and built it into a rotary-powered drift car. He also said he aided with the flood relief effort for a bit, but was turned away because relief workers had so many volunteers already.
The one thing he had that they didn’t have was a ton of spare Miata parts lying around. After seeing the video Castille said he posted on Facebook to try and find the owners, and it didn’t take them long to connect.
His price to fix the car came as a shock to the Dronet family, Lee Dronet said.
“I told him we didn’t have the resources or the time to get it fixed, but he insisted on doing it for free,” Lee Dronet said. “What do you say to someone like that? Thank you is just not enough.”
Castille’s efforts garnered tremendous attention after he posted about it on the Club Roadster forums. He has his work cut out for him. In addition to being coated with mud and having dents from the boat rescue and damage from the plunge, the transmission and differential were filled with water, Castille said. He’ll have to put in a new ECU and wiring harness.
He’s taking it apart to see what can be saved and what cannot, and when I spoke to him, he said he was working to see if the engine could be salvaged at all. “I’m not sure how long it will take,” Castille said. “Two or three weeks, maybe.” Since his forum post went up, Miata fans from all over have been offering spare parts to help out.
The fix won’t be easy. But for Ashton Dronet Jr., the kindness of one car fanatic is the one good thing to come out of this disaster.
“We could not be more appreciative,” Lee Dronet said. “The car’s in great hands.”