BELFAST, Maine — City Councilor Eric Sanders had almost made it to his driveway after finishing his first outdoor bike ride of the season last Friday afternoon when a suspected drunken driver hit him from behind, launching him onto the car’s windshield and then to the ground.
Sanders was badly hurt in the hit-and-run accident, suffering from a mangled ear, a broken vertebrae in his back, bruises and more. But he already has received clearance from his doctor to participate in this June’s Trek Across Maine, his fifth time riding in the 180-mile charitable bike event for the American Lung Association.
“He’s tough as a boiled owl,” Belfast Police Chief Mike McFadden said earlier this week about Sanders, who spent seven hours being treated and having his ear reconstructed at Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast just after the accident.
McFadden said police are focusing their investigation on one suspect but have yet to make an arrest.
Meanwhile, community members wanted to do something special for the 53-year-old, who energetically serves on local boards and committees and has been a longtime volunteer coach for children’s soccer, basketball and baseball programs. That’s why Greg Purinton-Brown and other members of the Belfast Bicycle Club had the idea to use the Internet to raise $1,200 to buy the cycling enthusiast a new bike to replace the one destroyed in the accident.
One day later, the effort already has raised that money — and then some. The fundrazr.com website showed Wednesday afternoon that 43 people had raised more than $1,500 to “get Sanders back on his bicycle.”
“The community has blown me away,” Purinton-Brown said. “It’s really just a testament to Eric and what a great guy he is. … I did not expect within 24 hours to have exceeded the goal.”
Sanders, who was walking with a limp Wednesday afternoon and who had a cheerful demeanor despite his injuries, said that things could have gone “much worse” for him.
“I could have died, been a vegetable, gotten paralyzed,” he said. “None of that happened, thank God.”
He said that since the accident he has been amazed at the love and support he has received from the Belfast community. People have been calling him, sending him cards, dropping off honeybuns, offering to help with yard work and more, in addition to the fund drive for his new bike. His eyes welled briefly with tears as he described the outpouring of care.
“It restores your faith in society,” Sanders said. “It makes you feel wonderful, to know these people. Their actions are the stuff of life. It’s mind-boggling that people care so much. We couldn’t be more grateful.”
He had some words for the world in the wake of his accident.
“Count your blessings,” he urged. “Count them every day.”
In addition to the people who have contributed money to Sanders’ new bike, Michael McDonald of Belfast Bicycles is helping by procuring the Cannondale bicycle essentially at cost.
“Eric’s a customer. He’s also a public servant and a member of the [bike] club,” McDonald said. “It’s just something I think would be nice to make him whole again.”
According to Purinton-Brown, who said that he has been hit twice by motorists while out riding his bike, the hit-and-run accident that injured his friend is just another reminder that it can be dangerous for cyclists.
“Just thinking about it makes me angry,” he said. “Stuff like this hits close to home. … The danger is very real.”
Since they’ve already raised enough for a new road bike, fundraisers are planning to get Sanders a new helmet, too, to replace the one that was wrecked in the accident.
“It looks like it was burned, melted, twisted and the inside was cracked,” Sanders said. “If I hadn’t been wearing the helmet, I’d be dead.”
He wrote on his Facebook page that he has been touched by the fundraising effort.
“You made me cry,” he wrote. “Folks, bless your hearts for this new bike thing going around. What a community we live in, huh?”