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Whittier bicyclist left in coma after 2007 crash dies

Whittier Daily News: Whittier bicyclist left in coma after 2007 crash dies

By Ruby Gonzales, Staff Writer
Posted: 03/07/2010 01:33:21 AM PST

WHITTIER - Two years and seven months after a collision left bicyclist Jeffrey Blum in a vegetative state, the Whittier man drew his last breath last week.

Because he died, authorities are taking another look at the July 26, 2007 crash on 1st Avenue in the unincorporated county area near Whittier.

The coroner's office will try to determine how the 59-year-old died and if the crash had anything to do with his death, according to Ed Winter, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of the Coroner.

Whether the driver will face any charges or the case will be reopened hasn't been decided, officials said.

"At this time, we don't know. But we're looking into (the case) and will run it by the DA's Office," said California Highway Patrol spokesman Officer Al Perez.

He said the case isn't cut and dried.

In 2007, the CHP was unable to determine who was at fault in the crash involving a bicycle and a Toyota Camry. No one was cited.

The CHP has the driver's version of what happened but couldn't talk to Blum, who was left in a coma.Perez said a man walking on 1st Avenue heard tires screeching and saw the bike and car collide.

"He didn't see what happened prior to the impact," Perez said.

No witnesses came forward who could corroborate the driver's version of events as well as place where the car and bicycle were prior to or during the collision.

"If we can't conclude who is at fault, how can we charge someone?" Perez asked.

The crash happened at 5:10 p.m. on 1st Avenue, north of Imperial Highway. Blum, who was running errands, was heading south on 1st Avenue. The Camry was traveling southbound on the same street.

The Camry's driver, [driver's name excised] of Whittier, couldn't be reached for comment for this story. His cell phone number has been disconnected. And the woman who answered his work phone said it was the wrong number.

But [the driver] told a CHP officer that Blum turned directly into his path. He slammed on his brakes and turned left but couldn't avoid the collision.

The car hit the rear tire of the bicycle. Blum was thrown off the bike, hit the hood of the car, the windshield, the roof and then landed face down on the curb, according to the traffic report.

He sustained severe head trauma, a lacerated lung, broken left ribs, a broken right leg and a broken hand.

His left finger had to be amputated because it was broken during the accident, said his sister, Jackie Brazel.

Blum never came out of his coma and went to several facilities. He was at Shea Rehabilitation Healthcare in Whittier when he died Monday. Brazel said a nurse told her he stopped breathing.

She's never heard from [the driver]. Brazel said she would understand at first during the investigation why he would not say something to her.

"But after, why not say at least, `I'm sorry?"' she said.

"I would like to know if it was truly an accident. If Jeff did veer in front of him, I would accept that."

She thinks about the crash often.

"Huge wide street, five o'clock at night and nobody saw it?"

In 2007, Blum was a truck driver for the Salvation Army warehouse in Santa Ana. He also helped his sister and nephew take care of his mother, Elsie, who had Alzheimer's disease.

Blum, who grew up in Whittier, held a master's degree in art history, possibly a second one in literature and once owned a bookstore in Upland called "The Book Garden."

Brazel said her brother had wanted to be a museum curator.

"He was incredibly smart," Brazel said.

Stacey Hockaday met Blum in eighth grade and knew him for 45 years. Blum spent a lot of time at the Hockadays growing up. The two men also would take camping trips and hike.

"He was the sixth kid in my family," Hockaday said.

"He was an extremely gentle guy by nature. I call him a delightful eccentric. He followed his own drumbeat."

Hockaday said Blum was an intellectual with a lot of interests. He liked art, history and literature. He had a fondness for animals and was known to adopt strays.

"Although he liked people real well, he loved animals. If there was an animal in need, Jeff would welcome them," Hockaday said.

But things went downhill for Blum. He lost the business. He started drinking and acted paranoid, according to friends and family.

When Blum lost the store, he tried his hand at selling books online. He also moved in with his sister.

Brazel said her brother wasn't drinking anymore when he worked for the Salvation Army.

"The direction was right. He seemed that he was on track. He liked his job. He stopped drinking," Hockaday said.

"And the next thing I know, he got hit."

Hockaday would visit his friend after the crash. To him, Blum seemed somewhat aware of what was happening around him.