WASHINGTON — Benjamin Gates has no memory of the crash that nearly killed him. He woke up in the hospital last year with a fractured collarbone, a broken hip and a rod in his leg.
But the professional musician's worst wound was the severe traumatic brain injury that left him struggling even to remember how to play his beloved cello.
"I had looked down at my leg and saw there were staples in it," the 29-year-old D.C. resident said. "I had honestly no idea what was going on."
In the hospital chapel, Gates said he prayed for a miracle.
"I remember I just dropped to my knees and wept at the altar," he said.
Ninety-six pedestrians and seven cyclists were killed in the D.C. region last year, according to Street Smart, a safety campaign organized by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. The increase follows a national trend that's made roads more deadly.
Gates, a graduate of Duke Ellington School of the Arts, was walking to get munchies on Southern Avenue, SE when someone drove over him -- and sped off.
"If the person has a recollection of hitting me on Jan. 15, 2021, just know I'm ok," he said.
Not only does Gates say he forgives the hit and run driver, who has never been found, but he's worried about his well-being.
"I'm not asking you to turn yourself in," he said. "Just please don't put anyone else through the experience I've been through."
Gates' mom said she was unsure her son would survive.
"A lot of tears, a lot of anger," said Kaye Harper.
Her son spent days in a coma, and nearly two weeks in the ICU, and still needs a ton of rehab.
But both Gates and Harper are hoping the musician's trauma will help spread a message to drivers.
"I just want them to be careful," Harper said, fighting back tears. "If you do hit someone, please stop ... You may be able to call for help quicker than anybody else."
The cellist adds he wouldn't mind picking up a few more music gigs.
"All the business we can get, and the support," Gates said. "So thank you very much."
You can reach him through his website.
Street Smart Safety Tips
If you’re driving . . .
- Slow down and obey the speed limit.
- Stop for pedestrians at crosswalks.
- Be careful when passing buses or stopped vehicles.
- When turning, yield to people walking and biking.
- Look for bicyclists before opening your door.
- Allow at least 3 feet when passing bikes.
- Avoid using your cell phone and never text while driving.
- Be especially careful if you drive an SUV or pickup truck—high profile vehicles are more likely to kill or seriously injure people walking and biking.
If you’re walking . . .
- Cross the street at the corner and use marked crosswalks when they’re available.
- Use the pushbuttons.
- Wait for the walk signal to cross the street.
- Watch for turning vehicles.
- Before crossing, look left, right, and left again.
- Be visible. Wear something light or reflective after dark.
- Watch out for blind spots around trucks and buses.
- Avoid using your cell phone while you’re crossing the street.
- On an off-street trail, obey all posted signage and approach intersections with caution.
If you’re biking . . .
- Obey signs and signals.
- Never ride against traffic.
- Ride in a straight line at least 3 feet from parked cars.
- Use hand signals to tell drivers what you intend to do.
- Wear a helmet.
- Use lights at night and when visibility is poor.
- On an off-street trail, obey all posted signs and approach intersections with caution.