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Rodgers Forge bicyclist faces long road to recovery

Hit-and-run accident has taken away husband's 'way of life,' wife says

By Jon Meoli, jmeoli@tribune.com

8:08 AM EDT, July 24, 2013

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Every July, the Blanks family packs up its minivan for a week on the Delaware shore, a week they use to simply be together around the anniversary of a stillborn son delivered seven years ago last week.

But when a motorist — who failed to remain at the scene — hit Tom Blanks on an early-morning bike ride through Frankford, Del., last Tuesday and launched him into a wooded area 35 feet away, the Blanks' family time abruptly ended.

Tom's injuries are numerous. Though his prognosis is good and he wasn't paralyzed by the accident, his wife, Blair, said he suffered multiple broken vertebrae, a broken pelvis, five broken ribs, a fractured sternum, and "so many cuts and bruises I couldn't even count them all," she said Monday.

Police said Monday that there is no new information on the driver who hit Tom, but as he begins what could be a year of rehabilitation, friends near and far are rallying around the Blanks family.

Tom, 38, a Constellation executive, gave up his parking pass at its Inner Harbor headquarters so he could instead bike the eight miles to and from his Rodgers Forge home weekdays. He also cycles for sport with the Towson-based Bristol Road Cycling Club. His wife estimates he rode more than 7,000 miles last year.

Tom woke early on the morning of Tuesday, July 16, after a night at Funland amusement park in Rehoboth Beach, and set out on a roadway his wife said he chose because he thought it would be safer.

Omar Road has a shoulder as wide as a regular lane, Blair said, and a rumble strip separating cars from the open shoulder.

"Someone had to swerve pretty far over to hit him, and had to have been going pretty fast," Blair said.

Police believe the accident occurred around 6:30 a.m., and Blair said her husband lay 35 feet from where he was hit for nearly 15 minutes before a postal worker noticed his riderless bike and helmet on the side of the road.

"She was kind enough to stop, and she saw his hand in the woods waving," Blair said.

By the time Blair heard her cellphone ringing at around 7:15 a.m. that morning, she had already missed five calls from Delaware State Police. A state trooper later drove her and the three Blanks children to the Christiana Medical Center in the family minivan.

Tom recently served on the board of directors for the advocacy group, Bike Maryland, whose director, Carol Silldorff, said few cyclists could match Tom's passion for safety. Because of that, his wife said she rarely worried when he rode, whether he was commuting to work or riding for sport.

Blair said her husband is an "extraordinarily careful cyclist" who "lights up like a Christmas tree" with conspicuous gear and lights when he rides at night. On July 16, he had a flashing light on the back of his bike and was wearing his helmet, police said.

"Before this, it was funny," she said. "It seemed like overkill. Now, not so much … People have asked me, 'Don't you worry?' I didn't worry. I should have worried, I guess."

Tom is in excruciating pain, Blair said, alternating between joking with his nurses and angrily wondering whether the person who hit him would have stopped had they hit a dog. She said that before the accident you could tell when he hadn't ridden that day because he'd get grumpy. Now, the active 38-year-old can't get out of his hospital bed on his own.

"It's not just taken away this sport that he loves, it's his social circle," she said. "Almost all of his buddies [he made] through cycling. It's kind of his way of life more than something he does. They're all concerned, and they're mad, too. They're really mad that someone would not stop and left him there like that, bleeding and alone."

Blair said his cycling friends have offered support and are trying to raise awareness of the accident, in hopes of finding the driver. Blair, a photographer who specializes in taking pictures of infants, said her peers started an online fund to help defray the family's expenses while Tom is out of work and Blair tends to him.

"When this happened, it was like, 'Oh my gosh,' " said Melissa Layton, a Pennsylvania-based photographer who set up the fund on YouCaring.com. As of Monday evening, nearly $8,000 was raised.

Blair "let us know [about the accident] right away, and we all kind of rallied and said, 'What can we do?' If you're local, you can take food over, see what you can do for the kids, clean the house. But from a distance, what can you do? There are a lot of people in the same boat we're in," Layton said.

Closer to home, friends in Rodgers Forge have already organized a meal brigade to help feed the children when they return home, and neighbors have already offered to build a ramp to their front door, said Tom's friend, Stu Sirota.

While Blair travels back and forth to the hospital from a hotel in Delaware, her son, Graham, 11, is with his grandparents in Louisiana. Blair's daughters, Maren, 5, and Campbell, 3, are in North Carolina with her sister.

She hopes Tom will be well enough to move to a Baltimore in-patient facility to consider what will likely be a year-long rehabilitation. A return to Baltimore for Tom would mean a step toward normalcy for his children, something Blair welcomes — though the changes will begin to show themselves early.

Every summer, Tom looked forward to the week Graham would attend a sailing camp on the Inner Harbor. The pair would ride a tandem bike from Rodgers Forge through the city to drop Graham off at camp, and ride home together as well.

The camp begins Monday.

"I'd love him to be able to go, I'm just not sure we'll be able to [work it out]," Blair said. "It just all depends on what happens."

To donate to the Blanks Family Fund, go to http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/the-blanks-family-fund/73726. Any motorist who was in the area of Omar Road and West Road in Frankford, Del., on the morning of July 16 is asked to contact Master Cpl. L. Dick of the Delaware State Police at 302-856-5850, ext. 328, or by utilizing the Delaware State Police Mobile Crime Tip Application available to download at: http://www.delaware.gov/apps/.