AUSTIN (KXAN) — A Pflugerville man was forced to trade in his racing bike for a wheelchair after an inattentive driver hit him earlier this month. As he recovers, he is calling for greater awareness about the dangers of distracted driving.
Fifty-year-old Tommy Levario set out on a bike ride after work in the bike lane along Wells Branch Parkway on Sept. 5, headed east. He doesn’t remember the crash itself, but the Department of Public Safety report said that a white truck heading eastbound on Wells Branch Parkway swerved into the bike lane, striking Levario’s bike. Near the intersection with Killingsworth Lane, Levario was thrown to the sidewalk and rushed to the hospital.
According to DPS, the driver said he didn’t see the bike. Troopers found driver inattention to be a factor in the crash, though they did not list a phone, food or any other reason for the distraction.
The driver was cited for expired plates and has another citation pending for failure to stay in a single lane. Both citations come with fines which would amount to no more than a couple hundred dollars.
Levario, on the other hand, was told by medical professionals that he may never walk again.
“Tommy currently pretty much doesn’t have use of anything pretty much chest and below, he’s able to move his arms, but he did suffer injury to his left shoulder which he’s still dealing with, and he did have rib fractures,” said his nurse at St. David’s Rehabilitation Hospital, Holly Cronin.
She explained that as with all patients with spinal injuries, it will be tough to tell exactly how much of Levario’s old range of movement he’ll get back.
“At first I feel a sense of loss because it feels like I wont be able to do [triathlons] that way anymore, but I also feel a sense of hope, because I know I can do it — I will do it again,” Levario said. “Maybe at a different capacity again with a wheelchair, but I will do it again. “
Levario began doing triathlons with his two brothers to lose weight. It soon became his passion, leading him and his brothers to compete together in several Ironman triathlons.
While his family members are used to supporting Levario through twice-a-day workouts and grueling races, now they are supporting him through an intense therapy schedule. Levario’s therapists at St. David’s say he channels his Ironman determination to his recovery.
Besides learning how to get around the world in a wheelchair, Levario also wants to spread awareness about the dangers of distracted driving.
According to TxDOT’s crash report numbers from 2016, there were a total of 98,847 crashes in the state where driver inattention was a factor, 319 of those were fatal. By comparison, in 2016, there were 1,086 crashes in Texas where texting was a factor, 15 of those were fatal.
“Distracted driving can hurt or kill somebody, and something needs to be done about it, something more than just trying to educate the public,” he said.
Parker Polan, Levario’s attorney, said that he’s seen plenty of lawsuits with defendants with multiple distracted driving citations.
“I think there should be some enhanced penalties that go along with the distracted driving statute, kind of like DWI, your first DWI is a Class B misdemeanor, your second one is a Class A misdemeanor, your third one is a felony,” Polan said. “I think the legislature could do a little bit more.”
Polan added that improved cell phone data has given attorneys a window into just how much people use their phones while driving as well.
Local bike advocacy groups feel similarly.
“The charges issued are not severe enough where a person is seriously injured, whether on a bike or not. A person who drives dangerously and causes a crash should be charged with a more serious violation than a Class C misdemeanor, to reassure the community that all vulnerable road users — pedestrians, bicyclists, driver, wheelchair users, transit riders — are protected. The state of Texas should adopt policies and build infrastructure to eliminate all road fatalities and injuries and to prevent further traffic violence in our communities,” said Mercedes Feris, executive director of Bike Austin.
A GoFundMe page has been created to help with Levario’s medical expenses.