Meet the Cincinnati Wheelchair User Struck Three Times by Drivers

Photo:  Digging Cincinnati
Photo: Digging Cincinnati

Neil Kelly is just trying to get to work.

During a 10-month period, the social services worker, partially paralyzed since birth, been struck by drivers on three occasions trying to reach his downtown Cincinnati office. The drivers were found at fault in all three cases.

Neil Kelly was hit by drivers three times in Cincinnati over a 10 month period. Photo via Neil Kelly
Neil Kelly was hit by drivers three times in Cincinnati over a 10-month period. Photo via Neil Kelly

Hannah Sparling at the Cincinnati Enquirer first brought attention to Kelly’s struggle in the article, “Dear Drivers: This Man Would Like You to Stop Hitting Him.”

The tone of the article was lighthearted, but it has been serious for Kelly — even though he’s not the type to play victim. And it highlights a very serious larger problem for people who rely on wheelchairs to get around.

The federal government and local police departments don’t carefully track crashes involving wheelchair users. But a 2015 study found they face a 36-percent greater risk than pedestrians on foot.

Streetsblog got in touch with Kelly to talk about the situation:

Streetsblog: So are you okay? You were not seriously injured, is that right?

Neil Kelly: One thing I should mention, I don’t have any kind of feeling below my waist at all.

The first time I was hit was the most serious. I broke my left leg in two places. I was knocked from my chair, I scraped my face on the pavement.

The second one I just sort of tipped over.

The third time, the driver was going so slow from a stop sign. So I just kind of spun around, did a 90-degree turn when I was hit. 

I’ve been really lucky.

It’s funny to hear you say you’ve been lucky after going through all this. Where were you hit? 

The first one was October, 2017. I had just started a job a couple of weeks earlier. I was in a crosswalk downtown. I was down by our justice center/courthouse area. I was crossing in a crosswalk. It was one of the lanes where there’s two right turn lanes. The first one stopped, the second one the right turn lane just kept going. She was looking across not directly in front of her. That was the most serious one. 

Was she in an SUV?

Yeah. 

I think she struck me more or less with the front of her car. That’s when I went tumbling into the street. I was out of work for probably three days.

So this all happened in the last 10 months since you started a new job working downtown?

Yes.

What were you doing prior?

I work at Job and Family Services. I help people out with food assistance. 

Before that I was unemployed for a few years. Or underemployed. Doing grant writing. I was an intern in our Mayor’s Office. 

Are you traumatized by what happened to you?

I don’t want to use the word scared. I would say startled often. Always way more cognizant of everything around me. I take a lot of time to cross the crosswalk now. 

I really only have the use of one hand, when so when I really pay attention to my right side. Because I’d really be in trouble if something happened to my right arm.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt fear. 

What do you think the problem was? 

I don’t know. I think some of it was … since I’ve gotten an orange flag I use most of the time. I think part of the problem was that I’m lower than most adults. Not so low that I’m shorter than a kid.

I measured it. I think I’m I’m like 4-foot-7 from the top of my head to the ground.

All of the cars that have hit me have been bigger cars, like a mid-sized SUV. The third one was a church van. 

I’ve heard some people talk about Vision Zero or safe streets. I don’t have any knowledge about that. I couldn’t speak to that, about how that would affect me. 

It was a mixture of things in every situation.

How has this affected your life?

The headaches of dealing with insurance companies every month. The headaches of having to order a new wheelchair. [Editor’s note: The wheelchair that was totaled cost $50,00.] That wheelchair that was totaled, I actually ended up using it for another 10 months or so.

It was kind of crappy, it got crappier over 10 months and it just died. I had to get a new one on my own and I still haven’t been paid for that.

Were you worried about losing your employment?

Fortunately, no. My manager’s amazing. I have a union representing me. I never worried at all about my employment fortunately.

Do you think the environment in Cincinnati is partly to blame? 

I’m involved a lot in the buses conversation too. We’re trying together a levy going to improve service. [Streetsblog has written about the failure of Cincinnati leaders to properly fund Cincinnati Metro bus. Kelly wrote a great editorial for the Enquirer describing how important bus service is to his freedom, independence and quality of life.]

Cincinnati is just very driver-centric in ways that other cities of our size just aren’t necessarily. There’s a lot of cars, a lot of parking, a lot of empty unused space just sitting there waiting for cars

That has to make it harder to get around.

I’m the kind of person who doesn’t focus a lot on the negative. I don’t really know what the alternative is. 

I’m sure it does make it more difficult than in other places that care a little more about pedestrians, have considered them in how they draw up streets and their public policy decisions.

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