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A letter to my neighbor's hit-and-run driver

BikeAAA and Bike Maryland teamed up with Anne Arundel County Public Schools to teach kids at the George T. Cromwell Elementary School bicycle safety during their physical education class Thursday morning.

Maybe you're the person who was driving on July 16, 2013, on Omar Road, near Frankford, Del. It was about 6:40 a.m. when — on a road with an improved shoulder — you came up behind a cyclist vacationing from Baltimore. His bike was equipped with a blinking light even though the sun had been up for an hour. You were driving so fast and so close to him that your side mirror knocked him off his bike with such force that he was thrown 35 feet, into a field below. His pelvis was broken, and there were fractures to his sternum, ribs and vertebrae in his spine. Worst of all, he was bleeding internally.

Here's the good news: He lived.

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Here's the bad news: You kept going and got away with it.

Here's what happened after you sped away: A woman on the way to her post office job saw Tom's bike on the side of the road. Alarmed, she got out of her car and found him. She called 911. He was airlifted to Christiana Medical Center.

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Maybe you were back at home at this point, wiping the scrape marks off your mirror, worried you'd be found out and terrified that a Delaware State Trooper would knock at your door. Instead, a trooper was just getting to the vacation house Tom and his family had rented. The trooper told Tom's wife and children what had happened. Then he took them on the interminable trip to Christiana, trying to comfort four people whose lives had just been completely blown apart.

Maybe by the next day your hands had stopped shaking. Maybe you confided in someone who has been able to keep your secret.

I've always wondered what happened to you after you did this. Did you turn on the news as soon as you got home? Look through the newspaper for days to see if you'd killed the cyclist? Maybe you found the police report and saw that his name was Tom and that he was 38; undoubtedly, you were relieved when it listed the operator and the vehicle as "unknown."

There are many bad things that have tested Tom and his family since that morning on the side of the road. They are all because of you and what you chose to do. But good has also sprung from what you did, and those things happened in spite of you. You should know all of it.

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There were multiple surgeries, and hospital and rehab stays, physical therapy and extensive pain management for Tom well into that fall. There were medical setbacks and more surgeries. He could have died from a resulting staph infection. In the early weeks, I watched the worried faces of his family as they took turns sitting with him and helping him endure months of pain. I listened to his youngest child — who was only three — try to process it all, when she couldn't begin to understand what had thrown her family into such chaos.

Maybe it's even more important that you know the good things that have happened. I found that I live in a neighborhood of caring souls who also possess substantial organizational skills. People took turns bringing dinner over and setting up playdates for the two younger kids. The lawn got mowed regularly, and the other life chores that had become burdensome simply got done by others, sometimes anonymously. Along with the struggles, the resilience of a family and the pure goodness of a community got to be in the spotlight. And I will always drive country roads more cautiously, on the lookout for cyclists who may be right around the corner.

Last month, Tom developed an infection at the site of the metal apparatus that was installed to keep his spine straight. He endured more surgery and will need more recuperation time. More worry for his family and a reminder that they may never truly get past that moment your car came up behind him and then drove away.

Maybe by now you're sure no one will ever find out what you did. Maybe you only think about July 16, 2013, once in a while. When those memories surface, maybe you're able to wipe them away, only to have them appear in your dreams.

Hit-and-run drivers like you leave so many questions. But there are answers, too. Here they are: After all he's been through, Tom will heal. And as long as you keep your terrible secret, you never will.

Linda DeMers Hummel is a freelance writer who lives in Rodgers Forge. Her email is lindadhummel@gmail.com.

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