Keith McPherson got 20 months.
Tim Nelson got life.
Nelson didn’t commit any crime. He was hit by a drunken driver in August 1999 while riding his bicycle on Three Lakes Road near Snohomish. The driver, Keith McPherson, is serving less than two years in prison.
The car McPherson was driving near his Snohomish home smashed into Nelson so hard the now 26-year-old’s bicycle helmet was shattered. The protective gear kept his skull intact but his brain ricocheted inside his head.
After three weeks in a coma, doctors asked the family if they would like to disconnect their son’s feeding tube and place a do-not-resuscitate order on his chart.
His mother, Rebecca Nelson, consulted her son’s pastor from Seven Lakes Baptist Church who said they shouldn’t give up. Three days later, Nelson regained consciousness. He was like a baby who needed to relearn how to crawl and swallow.
More than a year later, the former bull-riding, two-stepping cowboy is a walking wonder. With a third of his brain damaged, doctors didn’t think Nelson would walk or talk again.
“Tim started a long journey back,” Rebecca Nelson said. “He needed to learn everything all over again. He pushed himself. He threw away his walker.”
I met Tim Nelson at an adult family home north of Stanwood. Knowing how badly he had been injured, I was startled to be greeted by such a handsome young man who eagerly asked for a hug. There were no visible scars indicating any injury.
At the time of the accident, Nelson had been training to ride in a bicycle race from Seattle to Portland, Ore. His mother, who lives in Stanwood, said his top physical condition probably saved his life.
Tim Nelson said he wants to get a job and move into his own place.
“I can do my own laundry,” he said. “I’ll get a cookbook. I’ll have two jobs. I want to be a multithousandaire.”
His laugh, after telling the joke, was one of those full-force, picture-on-the-wall rattlers that made everyone in the room smile. One of his other goals is competing in that Seattle-Portland race. Nelson talked about bicycle racing one day when he called his favorite Seattle country-western radio station.
The disc jockey mentioned Nelson’s dream on a later program. Sue Isaacson, who lives near Lake Stevens, heard the story. She immediately called the station and said she wanted to get Nelson a three-wheeler.
Her daughter, Kristi Berg, who lives in Marysville, is a professional downhill mountain bike racer who finished 19th in the nation last season.
“Before she became a pro racer, she was a bicycle messenger in downtown Seattle,” Isaacson said. “She has been hit twice while working and once while riding around home. Thank God she only suffered minor injuries, unlike what happened to Tim.”
Isaacson said it was a thrill to give the bike to Nelson.
“He is an absolutely wonderful young man,” Isaacson said. “My daughter, her husband Chad, and myself just had a great time with Tim and his mom, and we hope that they will be part of our lives forever.”
The Bicycle Centres of Everett located and assembled the special trike. Nelson rode the machine up the driveway at his residence on a recent sunny morning.
His mother told me what her son was like before the accident.
“He marched to his own drummer,” she said. “He was very honest. Tim was a dreamer. Reality didn’t affect him much. He was a typical 25-year-old male strutting his stuff.”
The night he was hit by the car, he was commuting on his bicycle from his job to his home in Snohomish. He rode everywhere getting ready to race.
“With my determination, I’ll do it all,” Nelson said, “no matter how long it takes.”
So far, it’s moving along much faster than doctors predicted. Though he walks with shaky legs, his bear hug comes from arms full of life and love.
Tim Nelson is well aware of his uphill climb to recovery. He would consider meeting the individual who crashed into his bicycle.
“I would say: ‘Look what you’ve done. What you did in a bad way I made into good. Doctors said I would never walk or talk.’”
He is also planning to talk to children about not drinking and driving. Though he has been sentenced to a tough life, Nelson appears to be one strong cowboy.
“He’s our private little miracle,” his mother said.
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