Bike-bumping driver does the ‘right thing’ — twice

The driver who hit the 68-year-old bicyclist stopped, offered help, information. He stubbornly but kindly waved her on, and then found he really was injured. Learn how his resulting hospital bill will get paid …

This is the intersection, known as “Bell Station Corner”, where 68-year-old Howard Dempsey was struck by a car while walking his bike across the street – on a green light – on January 20. He was walking south, the same direction as this biker is riding.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Because he says he likes exercise, 68-year-old Howard Joel Dempsey was out riding the Springwater Trail on Sunday January 20.

His outing ended painfully at 10:50 a.m. when he was by struck by a car – the driver ran a red light – where the popular trail intersects with SE Johnson Creek Boulevard and Bell Avenue.

Recovering in his home, Howard Dempsey was presented with a gift of reading material to help pass the time during his recovery by the driver who struck him, Amanda Willard.

Motorist offers aid and information
As Dempsey sprawled on the pavement, his bike going flying, the driver did the right thing: She pulled over and ran to Dempsey’s side.

“Witnesses on-scene confirm that the driver tried to aid the injured cyclist,” reported Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) spokesman Detective Jim Strovink. “This driver was very concerned for the welfare of Dempsey, and did what was compassionately expected and required by law.”

However, as Dempsey struggleed to his feet, he reportedly refused to accept any insurance and contact information the driver eagerly attempted to provide. “Reportedly,” Strovink added, “Dempsey continued to exclaim he was going to be just fine, and intended to just ‘walk-it-off’.”

Amanda’s dad, Michael Willard, says their family is just “trying to do the right thing”.

Fractured hip and no insurance
“After the responsible driver exhausted numerous attempts to have Dempsey accept her information, she departed the scene,” said Strovink.
But, a short time later, Dempsey discovered he couldn’t mount his bicycle, and fell to the pavement in pain.

Thanks to a 9-1-1 call from a bystander, CCSO Deputy Dave Willard arrived on-scene, and summoned medical personnel to examine a still-reluctant Dempsey. The victim was taken to Providence Milwaukie Hospital, where clinicians found Dempsey was suffering from a seriously fractured hip, requiring extensive surgery.
During the investigation, Deputy Willard discovered Dempsey is a nearly- full-time volunteer in this very hospital – and, unfortunately, doesn’t have medical insurance.

Because those on the scene described the woman whose car struck Dempsey as appearing very genuine and conscientious, Strovink put out press releases asking for the driver to come forward. “We hope this is the case, and that she is courageous enough to step forward, at this most difficult time,” it said.

Lars Larson to the rescue
Less than four minutes after he heard local radio talk show host Lars Larson mention that the Sheriff’s Offices hoped the driver would step forward, Michael Willard (no relation to the CCSO Deputy) called the CCSO and reported that the driver for whom they’re looking is his teenage daughter.

The Deputy visited the Willard home on January 23, obtained insurance and driver’s information, and filled out an accident report. Because the daughter, 19-year-old Amanda Willard, is insured under the family policy, Dempsey’s medical bills will be covered

Driver and victim reunite
At an unusual meeting on the evening of January 24, the Willard family visited Dempsey, who was now at home recovering from an operation that included placing three steel pins in his damaged hip.

Amanda, a dental assistant student at Concordia University, walked in with a stack of books – tied with a ribbon and bow – for Dempsey to enjoy while he recuperates.

Dempsey’s kitty, Muffins, looked bemused by the media crews and equipment that filled his living room.

“It’s nice the way it’s worked out,” Dempsey admitted, “but I hope it never happens again.”

Asked how the accident will change his life, Dempsey replied, “It’ll probably be a couple of months before I can get back to my volunteer work at the hospital. I volunteer a lot. I like being around other people.

“It’s better than being here by myself,” added the recently widowed gentleman.

“I’ll go back to riding my bike when I get better; I’m not to let this shut me in. I’ll ride 30 to 40 miles on a weekend. It gets me out of the house.”

Howard Dempsey says he looks forward to, once again, volunteering at Providence Milwaukie – the same hospital that repaired his shattered hip.

Dad faces the press
Amanda didn’t want to speak on camera, so her dad, Michael Willard, met the assembled media.

“As soon as Amanda came home, as soon as she came right in the door, she told us what happened. She did get kind of emotional, at that point.”

At the time, her father recounts, they didn’t think the man struck was seriously injured. “Had we thought so, we would have filed a report the next day.”

The young lady’s dad continued, “I went to lunch at work on Wednesday afternoon, I always listen to the Lars Larson Show during my lunch break. I called the Sheriff’s Office, was put through to Deputy Dave Willard (again, no relation), and found out it was indeed the incident. Because it’s my daughter I was a little hesitant to say I know what’s going on, but everything matched up.”

East PDX News asked Willard why he thought his daughter did the right thing at the scene.

Willard replied, “When we put her on our insurance, she studied the course the insurance company gave her. And, she’s a responsible girl.  She did what she thought was right. When I heard they needed to talk with Amanda, I picked up the phone. I try to do the right thing too.”

Bewildered by media blitz
Confiding that he is somewhat bewildered by all the media attention, Willard asked, “I’m wondering, am I the first person, or the only person in the City of Portland, who has come forward in a situation like this? I was a little concerned about coming out, meeting Mr. Dempsey, doing this interview.”

To the question, “What do you say now that you’ve met him?” Willard said that Dempsey was very nice.

“I try to be as nice as I can,” Dempsey piped up.

Asked how he has spent his days since returning home, Dempsey answered, “It’s not something I wanted to do, but the operation [to repair his shattered hip] was something I had to do.  The doctor said to stay sitting as much as possible while it heals. My daughter comes by to take care of me. I watch the news and shows on TV.”

Howard Dempsey and Amanda Willard shake hands before she departs.

A perky news gal piped up, “You watch Channel 2, right?”

“No, no,” Mr. Dempsey answered, without missing a beat, “I watch the news on Channels 6 and 8.”

The laughter that filled the room broke the tension of the situation as news crews packed their gear.

Interestingly, despite the blown red light, no citations were issued in this case, Strovink said. But, his headline on his final press release about the incident summed up his view of the situation: “Well, yes, we do have compassionate and extraordinary citizens amongst us!”

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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