On a beautiful Monday afternoon, I found myself in Santa Monica sitting in a garage lifting wights while talking to Louis Deliz, also known as Birdman. A fellow Midnight Rida and Westsida, Louis is a professional bike racer and in late 2009, became the victim of a drunk driving hit and run.
Today, he smiles and laughs, through the scars that have etched their way across his face and down his neck. He shows me his right hand, his fingers had been mangled in the accident and he is unable to bend them. Earlier that morning, he found out his hip, which is now made of steel, will be okay and he will be able to put the pressure he had been putting on it without the guilt. He tells me all of this with a laugh and that crazy sparkle in his eye, the same one I remember seeing months prior. Though he has been through so much, Louis is still the same old Louis, only stronger.
I ask if he doesn’t mind sharing the details of that fateful night, and he sits back, puts the pin in the bottom of the weights and tells me to push on the weights with my legs. I look at him as if he’s nuts, I’ve never lifted weights before, let alone ALL of the them at one time! He laughs at me, “What do you think, you got chicken legs?” I ponder this for a moment, he is right, I do have a pair of cyclists’ legs but doing what he is suggesting seems impossible. I look at Louis, who is unable to lift the weights yet is sitting here coaching me and I realize that him even being here at all seems impossible, but it’s not. I push my doubt aside and give it my all. To my surprise, I do three in a row.
Louis settles in and eats his sandwich, between slow bites, he tells me that on December 1, 2009, right after midnight, he said goodbye to his girlfriend and made his way west on Sunset Blvd. taking a left on La Cienga and descending towards Santa Monica Blvd. where he would then continue back home to Santa Monica. However, as he made his way toward Hollaway, the cross street, the light blazing green, an SUV coming in the opposite direction, did not yield to oncoming traffic (a cyclist is considered traffic) and made a left onto Hollaway crossing Louis’ path. Louis then veered left himself, braking, but was not so lucky. His body banged into the back, right hand side of the SUV, his face entering the back window only to be jerked free as the SUV swerved forward and into the gas station where it u-turned back onto La Cienga and continued North toward Sunset Blvd., leaving Louis in the middle of the intersection.
Louis takes a break from the story and I sit back, astonished at what I had just heard. As a fellow cyclist, myself, I cringe, and ask if he’s okay. He laughs and asks if I am okay. I smile reassuringly, and let him know he can continue whenever he wants.
Louis tells me that a man put his car in front of him to block oncoming traffic and told Louis that help was on the way. The men at the gas station called 911 and gave them a description of the SUV. It took paramedics an hour at the scene to stabilize Louis before he was able to take the eight minute ride to Cedars Sinai. During this time, a police officer who was en route to the scene, heading East on Sunset, passed an SUV that was just described over the radio and pulls it over as a routine traffic stop. As the driver rolled down the window, the police officer smelled the liquor emanating from inside the car, so he gave the driver a field sobriety test to which the driver failed and was detained. Four hours after the accident, at Cedars Sinai Hospital, the driver’s blood was taken and the alcohol level was recorded at .05. At the time of the accident, the driver was eighteen.
Louis was rushed into the emergency room and taken right into surgery for his face and hip. He then spent eleven days in the I.C.U. and was kept alive by machines as he was out in a chemically induced coma for approximately 8 days. Louis is not all laughs, his tone changes through the story, but he never wavers in his confidence for knowing what he has lost and how much he has gained. He lived at the hospital for forty-nine days. Through Christmas and New Years and even his Birthday. His family and friends guided him day in and out. And the voice of his girlfriend gave him strength as he heard her in his dreams during a time he could not hear or understand anyone.
Louis has finished his sandwich now, and his story. And I am finishing my arm weights at 25. He won’t let me stop until I can do twenty-five in a row. We find ourselves, two friends, finding joy in the tiniest of instances after rummaging through memory of the biggest instance that has changed Louis’ life forever. He tells me it killed him. That when machines keep you alive, you are basically dead. This truth and many others Louis has brought to my attention today, makes me push harder and though I am weak in the arms and do my twenty-five, just not in a row, his relentless attitude proves why he is sitting next to me, alive and laughing.
This Monday, March 22 at 1:30pm at the Beverly Hills Courthouse, the driver of the SUV will be arraigned. I will be there with his family and many other cyclists to stand with him. Because he is not alone as the Los Angeles cycling community is much more than just that, but a family. As this could have happened to any one of us, it has. And the most inspiring of all this, Louis is still here, still pushing, still living. And he cannot wait to ride his bike again.
“My story is my story, it is what happened. I hope that if anything I can inspire at least one person a day to wear their helmet and not to drink and drive, and then my job for that day is complete.” Louis Deliz