Ambushed on Kelly Drive

The author and the injuries he suffered.
The author and the injuries he suffered.
Posted: August 15, 2011

IT'S MY favorite thing - biking from the suburbs into the city. I call it my Cradle of Liberty Ride, and I'm convinced I can sell anyone on the merits of Philadelphia with just one ride.

I travel through the Wissahickon along Forbidden Drive, onto Kelly Drive paralleling the Schuylkill, past Boathouse Row, the Art Museum, then onto Old City, most all of it on bike paths. It is arguably the most beautiful inner-city ride in the nation.

And, on the last Sunday of July, it seemed no different, at least at first. The first glitch was the flat tire I got coming out of Forbidden Drive. That's when I met Eddie, a Good Samaritan and biking enthusiast. He comes up from Chester County to patrol the Kelly-West River Drive loop. His bike is an impressive repair shop with an array of the latest gadgets that he loved talking about as much as I enjoyed listening. I was his third flat of the day. He refused any money for his service. Just one more reason to love this ride.

I was back on track to meet my son for a quick lunch in Old City. This was the first weekend of the flash mobs, and that became our topic of conversation. My son is a recent transplant into the city and loves it. After lunch, he headed back to his new digs in Fishtown and me back to the suburbs.

As I biked past Boathouse Row, with sun glistening off the Schuylkill, and a mix of people relaxing, exercising and just soaking in the serenity, little did I know a group of four older teens were on the prowl.

I barely took notice as I rode past them. Even as one stepped toward me, I didn't see him coming. And that's what stays with me: There was no warning. He punched me in the side of my head, just below my helmet. Doctors told me later that the assailant had to have hit me with brass knuckles because of the tears to my skin and fractures to my skull.

Still riding, jaw out of whack and bleeding profusely from my eye, about a hundred yards on, I jumped off the bike by a barbecue and pleaded for help.

This is when I met Angel and Love. (Yes, these were their real names.) Love quickly had ice on my head, and Angel was dialing 9-1-1, while I phoned my daughter.

It was more than 20 minutes before an ambulance or the police arrived. EMT was prepared to take me to the hospital, but my bike would have to be left.

The police seemed uninterested. No interviews of witnesses, no follow-up to the individual who told police the perps were still in the area. No interview of Angel and Love, who said they saw the thugs earlier, just hanging out.

As the EMT and police left, my daughter Caroline arrived and raced me to a suburban hospital. My head was stitched and the CAT scan showed three fractures to my skull, one of which knocked my jaw out of alignment. There were facial contusions, a black eye and swelling throughout my face. All in all, I felt lucky to be alive.

So many have asked why. The "why?" is complicated and murky, I'm sure. But what we do about it is much less so.

Kelly Drive is a gem, and we all value it. Most of the doctors and nurses I met over the course of the days after the attack, in fact everyone I spoke with, said they use the Drive regularly. Almost everyone has an affinity, a connection to this great place in our city, Philadelphia's playground.

And therein lies their shock and outrage: a disgust and anger because of the location as well as the violent nature of the attack. It was random, and senseless. It was pure terrorism: violence for its own sake. I was just at the wrong place at the wrong time.

This was a "there but for the grace of God go I" moment to all who heard the news. Random, senseless terror shuts us all down momentarily.

Philadelphia is a great city and Kelly Drive a jewel that must be protected. Why is there not one camera in the area? Where are the police? Why not foot or bike patrols? My story went unreported on the weekend of the flash mobs, but it has gotten out since then.

But I wanted this story to get out in more detail. Action can come only by addressing this head-on. Or the cancer will metastasize.

I'll continue my Cradle of Liberty riding. But there will be more trepidation, awareness and attentiveness.

I will put this in perspective. Others have given up. That is the shame of this city. I hear from cyclists now who claim my attack wasn't isolated but one of many along Kelly Drive. Cyclists tell me they've stopped biking there altogether. What a loss for us all.

Philadelphia is a dynamic, vibrant, beautiful place. It can also be ugly and terrifying. I met ugly, head-on, on a sunny Sunday in July, I also met Eddie, Angel and Love. I need them to be my lesson.


Christopher Dean lives in Wyncote. Email him at

idyinc@comcast.net.

 

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