Kai-Orn Ellertson, who was left clinging to life after being struck with by an SUV as he crossed River Road North, takes off for the first time on a bike donated to his family by the Salem Bicycle Club.
Watching him ride his new bike around the parking lot of the Keizer Civic Center, one would never know that Kai-Orn Ellertson escaped death seven months ago.
On Oct. 29, Kai was crossing River Road on his last bike when he was struck by an SUV making a turn off Sam Orcutt Way Northeast. The accident caused a traumatic brain injury and left Kai clinging to life at Portland’s Legacy Emanuel Medical Center.
These days, the quiet, “7-and-a-half” year old is still riding bikes with friends whenever he can.
“Even as he walked out of the hospital, the doctors said they had never seen anything like it,” said Sophal Hong, Kai’s mother.
On Thursday, May 22, Kai got a special gift, a replacement for his bike that was destroyed in the accident. It was given by the Salem Bicycle Club and it was paired with a new helmet care of the Keizer Transportation, Bikeways and Pedestrian Committee.
Kai tries on his bike for fit only to discover the seat was too tall. The problem was easily remedied using the bike repair station at the Keizer Civic Center.
Hong contacted Kai’s school, Cummings Elementary School, when Kai resumed riding an older bike that he had long outgrown.
“He was falling down again and again, scraping up his arms. I just couldn’t watch it anymore,” Hong said.
Salem-Keizer Public School administrators got in touch with Lt. Bob Trump of the Keizer Police Department and asked if there was anything that could be done.
Trump called Hersch Sangster, Keizer’s First Citizen and a longtime member of the Transportation Committee and Bike Club.
“I put out a call on Facebook to see what we could do,” Sangster said. “We thought we could raise money for a new bike.”
Sophal Hong, Kai’s mom, looks on as Hersch Sangster fits Kai with a new helmet.
Another member of the Bicycle Club, and a fellow Keizerite, Larry Miles, stepped up to the plate.
“I let Hersch know I had my grandson’s old bike in the garage and we could fix it up and give it to him,” Miles said.
With all the pieces in place, Kai and his mom visited the Keizer Police Department for the delivery.
Kai’s only regret was not being able to give his mom a lift home.
“We should have brought the pegs today,” Kai exclaimed.
Kai’s kindergarten teacher, Jill Whitney, was the one that got the ball rolling.
“Kai is really resilient and it was amazing to see how a group of 5 and 6-year-olds got together to get through this past year,” Whitney said.
Kai with his mom, Cummings Elementary School Principal Magda Romero and the school mascot.
As far as a physical recovery, Kai is doing great, Hong said. But there are still lingering impacts from the crash.
“His moods are different. He gets irritated more easily and he doesn’t have as much patience,” she said.
Kai’s memories from before the collision are still touch-and-go. Hong would serve him his favorite dinners from before the accident and Kai would have to ask what it was and if it was something he liked.
“He’s remembering everything since the accident,” she said.
Watching Kai ride around on a new bike, no one would think he had a care in the world beside the next burst of speed. That alone is a catharsis for a lot of people who knew him or have come to know him through the trauma.
“Being here to support this … it’s a good outcome,” said Keizer Police Department Officer Jennifer Starns, one of the first responders to the scene the night of the accident.
Keizer Police Department Office Jennifer Starns checks in with Kai. Starns was one of the first responders on the scene the night of Kai’s accident.