It was a typical start to his 2018 summer vacation when 8-year-old Dominick Pecora decided to buzz around his quiet Chester County neighborhood on his shiny, green bicycle.
With his babysitter and older brother Christopher sitting on the front porch, he peddled fast and furiously in an out of their cul de sac. He rode up the street as fast as his legs could carry him, sped around a corner — then flew over his handlebars and head-on into an approaching car.
His mother, Karen Nudy Pecora, who works in family services for Calvary Cemetery in Conshohocken, was sitting at her desk just before lunch when a number she didn’t recognize came up on her cell phone.
It was a call that would later send her on a mission.
“I live in your neighborhood, and I just hit your son with my car,” a distraught man told her.
The next few moments were a blur.
In 2018, 859 cyclists in the U.S. were killed in road traffic crashes, up 6.3% in a year, according to research from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Between 2014 and 2017, 80,000 cyclists suffered head injuries in crashes with motor vehicles, but wearing a helmet reduced the likelihood of serious injury by 60%, according to National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) data.
“How do you have my phone number?” Nudy Pecora asked the man who called her, looking for a clue as to how bad the news might be. If he got her number from the babysitter, she knew it would be serious. Instead, it was Dominick who gave the driver his mother’s number.
“I was going so fast I couldn’t register what was really going on,” said Dominick, now 11, and an aspiring actor and model. “I thought I hit a curb, but I saw a big black car. I sort of just collided and fell off.”
Save for some cuts and bruises, Dominick got up unscathed, thanks in part to the brand-new, skateboarder-type helmet he was wearing. The driver, who just moved into the Chesterbrook neighborhood, walked him back to his house. Dominick’s shiny bicycle was mangled. His helmet was cracked.
By the time Nudy Pecora got home, there was some slight swelling on her son’s forehead along the helmet line. He was not showing any signs of a concussion or serious injury, but she didn’t want to take a chance, so off they went to Paoli Hospital’s ER.
Dominick was promptly examined by doctors who ordered an X-ray and CT scan. All were negative. The doctor could tell from the location of the swelling on his forehead that Dominick was wearing a full-coverage helmet. That’s why he didn’t have a serious head injury, Nudy Pecora was told.
In Pennsylvania, all children under 12 must have a helmet when riding a bike. In New Jersey, it is all those under 17.
She and her son left the hospital with a “prescription” to use ice as needed and headed off to Rita’s Italian Ice for a treat she promised him earlier.
Dominick’s experience dovetails with the research the National Transportation Safety Board concluded; helmets help prevent head injuries. But, the agency discovered that even though wearing a helmet is the most effective way to reduce head injuries, less than half of cyclists use them.
Adults are not required to wear bicycle helmets when riding, and only 21 states and the District of Columbia have any requirements for younger cyclists, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
“I believed it happened so I can be this advocate,” Nudy Pecora said.
Ever since the accident, just as those first spring flowers begin to bloom and before kids hit the streets, Nudy Pecora will “go crazy” posting her story on social media, sending hundreds of texts and talking to every parent and teen she can find about bike helmets. She has even been known to hang out her second-story window to yell at a parent or kid who isn’t wearing one.
“Spring is the time to make sure last year’s helmet is not cracked... fits tight.. and the straps are tight! Please do this today! Xoxo,” she recently posted on the Main Line Parent Community page that was “liked” by more than 500 readers, many who told stories of similar accidents.
She admits when she bought her boys helmets there wasn’t a lot of thought put into the decision. Since her kids were also into scooters and skateboards at the time, they got a multipurpose one that would protect them for all of their activities.
Don’t chose a cute helmet, chose the safest helmet and decorate it with stickers. And check the fit every spring, Nudy Pecora advises parents.
“I think when I see kids without helmets or kids not strapping helmets on, no one has realized that it no longer fits properly,” she said.
Nudy Pecora didn’t call the police or try to sue the driver, who was expecting his first child. Quite the opposite, they kept in touch, and she and her son frequent his local business.
“My son wasn’t doing anything wrong, and [the driver] wasn’t doing anything wrong,” said Nudy Pecora. He wasn’t driving erratically, he wasn’t on his phone, it was truly a freak accident. “It just happened in a split second; it was more a matter of a blind spot.”
It was a learning opportunity for everyone and a time to come together, she said. The driver immediately replaced Dominick’s broken bike.
Dominick hasn’t skipped a beat since the accident. He’s moved on to BMX racing — he and his friends practice jumping with their bicycles in the woods near their house.
He recently came home with mud on top of his helmet, Nudy Pecora said. While Dominick was jumping he flew over his handlebars, landed on a fallen tree. He had the wind knocked out of him but nothing more.
“Always wear your helmet, and when you crash, check to see if your helmet is good and not cracked,” he said.