After wreck, Knightdale man returns to home renovated by friends

aspecht@newsobserver.comJune 27, 2013 

— The last time Bruce Hemmingway heard “Gimme Three Steps,” he could still take one.

The Lynyrd Skynyrd song blared from the speakers of Hemmingway’s 2011 Harley-Davidson Street Glide as he rode north on Hammond Drive toward the Beltline. The 53-year-old was headed toward his Knightdale home after eating dinner with friends in Garner.

As he cruised through the Hammond Drive-Tryon Road intersection, a woman driving a minivan south on Hammond Drive turned left onto Tryon Road in front of him.

“I remember yelling ‘Oh (expletive)’ as I was about to hit the side of it,” Hemmingway said. “And then laying there on the road, unable to move my arms or legs.”

That was April 12: the day Hemmingway broke his spine, becoming paralyzed from the neck down. Doctors say he may never walk again.

But, Tuesday, Hemmingway completed a three-step program of his own: heal enough for doctors to release him from the intensive care unit, complete his first rounds of physical rehabilitation, and return to home to Trackway Drive.

Friends and family were waiting for him.

They had renovated his house with more than $100,000 in materials from dozens of donors. Hemmingway’s friend, Mike Miller, led the construction of a new driveway, deck, carport, master bathroom and 16-by-32-foot master bedroom added to the back of the house. Miller also helped acquire wheelchair lifts and the handicap-accessible van worth $61,000 that Hemmingway’s wife, Vicki, drove him home in.

The gold Toyota van – which was donated by a stranger who contacted Miller after hearing about a fundraiser he organized for Hemmingway – pulled into the driveway just before noon.

“I’m so freaking glad to be home,” Hemmingway said, using his left hand to navigate his wheelchair off of the van’s ramp and onto his new driveway.

Ronnie Butler, Hemmingway’s longtime friend from Benson, hugged him first. Miller then put his left arm behind Hemmingway’s head and his right hand over his right shoulder. Hemmingway leaned his head next to Miller’s left ear.

“How can I ever thank you?” Hemmingway asked. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Miller removed his scotch-taped glasses to wipe away tears.

“Just seeing you home is enough,” he said.

Miller and his crew – Doug Chambers, David Hodge and Andy Narron – began working on Hemmingway’s yellow, one-story house on June 1, one of many weekends they volunteered to make it more wheelchair-accessible.

For Chambers, volunteering was about helping out a fellow rider. Several of Chambers’ biker friends have been hurt or killed on the road, he said.

“I’m just here collecting karma points,” Chambers said. “I’d want someone to do this, if something happened to me.”

Hemmingway, who runs his own print shop, says he doesn’t know why more than 50 businesses donated materials for his house or food to his wife and friends: “I just treated people the way I want to be treated.”

In that vein, Hemmingway wishes Marilyn Lloyd, the Raleigh woman whose van he ran into, would contact him. But Lloyd, 55, who was charged with failing to yield the right of way but has yet to appear in court, disagrees with Hemmingway’s version of the events.

“I don’t know what to say to them. What should I say? They’re blaming me for something I didn’t do,” Lloyd said.

“It’s tearing me to pieces to know that someone has gotten hurt by an accident,” Lloyd said. “I think about it whenever I wake up and lie down.

“If God is my witness, I did not cause that accident. I had a green arrow.”

The accident report filed by Raleigh police indicates Lloyd and Hemmingway each had green lights.

Regardless of the legal outcome of his case, Hemmingway says he hopes to become an advocate for safe driving. He plans on lobbying politicians and tech gurus for technology that disables cell phones for drivers going more than 5 miles-per-hour over the speed limit. Lloyd wasn’t on her cell phone during the accident, according to the Raleigh police report. But Hemmingway sees cell phones as the main reason drivers become distracted, putting motorcyclists in danger.

“I wasn’t a hardcore biker, but I loved riding,” he said. “The wind in your hair (and) your face, there’s nothing like it.”

Hemmingway often honked his horn whenever he rode his Harley by Miller’s house on Mailman Road in Knightdale.

“He’d do it just to let you know he was there and thinking about you,” Miller said. “I’ll miss that.”

The horn is gone, but its echo reverberates through the walls of Hemmingway’s new home.

Specht: 919-829-4826

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