There’s been a lot of bad news lately about bike crashes and fatalities in Chicago. Fortunately we’ve also got the inspiring story of Scott Jacobson, a man who was struck and dragged hundreds of feet on his bike, suffering horrific injuries. Jacobson has been making a remarkable recovery and has kept a positive attitude in spite of his ordeal.
On Monday, May 2, at around 6 p.m., Jacobson, 47, was riding home after biking with his two sons to wrestling practice at De La Salle Institute. He was near the intersection of 35th Street and Lowe Avenue in Bridgeport when SUV driver Joshua Thomas, 26, made a U-turn and struck him, according to police.
Jacobson was dragged hundreds of feet until bystanders ran to stop the vehicle. His pelvis was fractured in three places, and the ball of the upper femur, which fits in the hip socket, was broken. He had five fractured vertebrae in his lower back and two broken ribs. He sustained severe road rash over much of his body, with muscle and bone visible in places.
Two months later, Jacobson is back at his McKinley Park home, and he’s beginning to try walking once again. “Last week I attempted getting up on a walker and putting my weight on one leg,” he says. “It’s a very strange feeling, learning how to walk again. It’s a long recovery process, but I’m doing everything I can.” Jacobsen says he’s been doing four hours of rehab exercises a day in an effort to regain his physical abilities.
He recounted the events of the crash. He had been heading west on 35th, behind Thomas’ SUV. “He pulled to the right like he was going to park or stop,” Jacobson recalls. “When I passed him, he pulled right out and started hitting me. He may have been attempting a U-turn.”
“When he first started hitting me, I had my hand on the hood of his car,” Jacobson says. He then fell under the SUV and he was stuck under the front of the car, face down, with only his head protruding from under the front of the vehicle. “I was yelling ‘Please stop!’ I told him I had a family.” Still, Thomas kept driving, in an apparent attempt to flee the scene.
Although Jacobson couldn’t see the driver, he’s convinced Thomas must have heard his pleas. “I was screaming at the top of my lungs,” he says. “It was a death scream. I don’t see how he could not have been aware that there was a person and a bike under the car.”
Jacobson says that time seemed to slow down while he was being dragged. “I think things slow down into a crazy slow motion when you have to make decisions to try to save yourself,” he says. As he was dragged, he fought to keep his head above the pavement and was largely able to escape permanent facial injuries.
After Thomas turned south down Lowe past a firehouse, firefighters and others came to Jacobson’s aid. He’s not sure how they were able to stop the driver but he does recall that Thomas and his passengers initially fought with the rescuers.
Jacobson says that when he saw Thomas after the crash, he felt a strange kind of empathy for him. “He had absolutely no remorse at all,” he recalls. “He just looked pissed off. I actually felt sad for him at that moment, for whatever had happened to him since his childhood to make him like that.”
Jacobson says he stayed conscious until he was taken to Stroger Hospital and anesthetized for surgery. “I fought very hard not to go into shock,” he says. “Whenever tunnel vision would come creeping in, I would fight it.” He praises the staff at the hospital. “The people there were so great.”
He initially had to wear an external brace to keep his pelvis together, with pins sticking into his body. Treating the road rash required multiple skin grafts. “I was way ahead of schedule in terms of healing my bones and skin,” he says. “[The hospital staff said] for someone my age, it’s unbelievable how quickly I’ve healed.”
Although Jacobson still takes painkillers daily, he’s gradually tapering off his use of them, and it doesn’t look like he’s going to have to undergo any more surgeries. Even if his bones never completely regain their proper structure, he plans to build as much muscle as possible to compensate.
While he’s healing, Jacobson has been doing a little work for his job as a project manager for a construction company, with a focus on historic preservation. Prior to taking that job, he worked as a fine artist, so during his recovery period he’s been returning to his roots by taking up drawing again.
The future of the legal case against Thomas is uncertain. Initially the driver was only cited with misdemeanors: reckless driving, failure to exercise due care for a pedestrian in the roadway, failure to keep in lane, improper U-turn, driving on a revoked license, and uninsured vehicle. However, police detectives and prosecutors have visited Jacobson, and he says it appears more serious charges will be filed.
“I think they wanted to go through the results of the toxicology report before they move forward with the charges,” Jacobson says, noting that, without evidence of a DUI, it can be difficult to convict a driver for injuring a cyclist. He says it looks like Thomas will eventually be charged with felony DUI and reckless driving, and attempted leaving the scene of a crash. The next court date is set for July 28.
Far from being bitter about his ordeal, Jacobson says that if he’s able to regain most of his physical abilities and ride a bike again, he’ll look at this experience as being positive in many ways. “The amount of support from friends and neighbors has been wonderful,” he says.
When his family first came home from the hospital after the crash, there were food donations on the porch from local restaurants, friends, and neighbors. Over $45,000 has been donated to via a GoFundMe page to help the family cover expenses while Jacobson is unable to work full-time. “To have that kind of support makes me feel like I live in a community of people that care,” he says.
“That was awesome,” he says. “You get choked up when you see a bunch of people doing that for you. It also felt a little strange because some of the other places they stopped were for people who weren’t as lucky as me.”
“It was really good for my kids to see all the riders,” Jacobson says. He explains that it was difficult at first for his young sons to cope with seeing their father incapacitated. “[Critical Mass] made them realize that there was support, that people who don’t know me support me.”
In addition to editing Streetsblog Chicago, John writes about transportation and other topics for additional local publications. A Chicagoan since 1989, he enjoys exploring the city on foot, bike, bus, and 'L' train.