Homeless Lake Norman man wins $1.25 million after spine-fracturing hit and run

Homeless Lake Norman man wins $1.25 million after spine-fracturing hit and run

MOORESVILLE, NC (Joe Marusak/The Charlotte Observer) - A Lake Norman homeless man has won a $1.25 million settlement with the insurance carrier of a hit-and-run driver who claimed he never realized he'd struck someone while unwrapping an ice cream sandwich.

Norman Kelly was riding his bicycle with his blinking light on when he was hit from behind on Williamson Road in Mooresville on April 3, 2016, according to his lawyer, Michael Levine.

Both Kelly and the driver, 23-year-old David McCraw, were returning home that night – Kelly to his tent in the woods beside Ponderosa Circle off Williamson Road, and McCraw to his parents' house also on Ponderosa Circle, Levine said.

Kelly suffered multiple traumatic injuries when he was thrown from his bike, including several fractures in his cervical spine that permanently limited use of his legs, arms and hands, according to his lawyer. He now uses a powered wheelchair for mobility and requires around-the-clock care, Levine said.

In a deposition, McCraw said that just before the collision, he attended a gathering of friends and then stopped at a local QuikTrip for snacks, according to Levine. He was opening the wrapper of the ice cream sandwich when he felt his car hit what he believed was a mailbox, Levine said. The driver headed further down the road before turning into a residential neighborhood and stopping because of a flat tire.

McCraw called his father for help changing the tire, according to his deposition. The McCraws changed the tire and drove home as emergency vehicles rushed to the scene with lights flashing, Levine said. Later that night, the McCraws returned to the scene.

Police charged David McCraw with reckless driving to endanger and hit and run. McCraw pleaded guilty to the charges in July 2016, court records show. His sentence was to pay a fine of $100 and included no jail time.

McCraw's father, Todd McCraw, told the Observer that his son is an Eagle Scout and community volunteer who obtained a psychology degree from UNC Charlotte. He said his son didn't know what had suddenly broken the glass on his vehicle, "he didn't know what happened." But he returned to the scene and "didn't leave," Todd McCraw said.

His son also wasn't charged until three or four days later, Todd McCraw said, and the charges ended up being misdemeanors "because of the circumstances that didn't show harmful intent."

The night he was hit, Kelly was returning from the office of a Cove Church member who paid him to clean the office. Kelly had been entrusted with his own key, Levine said.

Over the past several years, Kelly had volunteered at Cove Church, off Langtree Road in southern Iredell County, and developed strong friendships with many of its members, Levine said. Cove Church member Steve Byrd contacted lawyer Thomas Gooden, also of Levine Law Group in Mooresville, to tell him about the wreck.

"My heart sank when Steve told me about the accident," Gooden said in a statement from Levine Law Group announcing the settlement. "I knew that helping Norm had just become a far greater challenge."

Money from the settlement with Allstate Insurance was placed into a special needs trust, managed by Kelly's church friends, according to Levine. That will ensure Kelly gets "the best possible treatment and care," he said.

Observer researcher Maria David contributed.