Zajicek out of coma, progressing slowly after traumatic brain injury

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American Phil Zajicek has emerged from a medically induced coma and is slowly progressing after a cycling accident in March that resulted in a severed arm, broken femur, and a traumatic brain injury.

Zajicek, who raced professionally from 2000 through 2010, was descending Flagstaff Mountain in his home of Boulder, Colorado, on March 15 when he collided with a 2007 Chevrolet flatbed truck.

Zajicek, 37, was descending with a group of cyclists that were coming into a steep, tight right-hand bend near the bottom of the mountain when the collision took place.

Based on witness testimony and physical evidence, the Colorado State Patrol determined that Zajicek was traveling at a “high rate of speed” — between 35 and 40mph in a 20mph zone — and that he crossed the double yellow line when he hit the truck.

Due to a brain bleed, Zajicek was medically induced into a coma and placed on a ventilator for about a month. He emerged from his coma on April 22, his father Mark told CyclingTips. He is being cared for at one of the top traumatic brain injury rehabilitation hospitals in the U.S.; his family has requested to keep the location private.

“On Earth Day [April 22] Phil started to show signs of lifting the heavy fog enveloping him,” Mark Zajicek said. “The next few months ahead hold many challenges, and we trust attainable milestones, toward recovery. It has been so great to see the fabulous support Phil has had from his friends.”

On Tuesday, Zajicek’s wife, Elizabeth, posted an update to a GoFundMe fundraising page. Zajicek’s friend and former teammate, Matthew Cooke, set up the page to help alleviate medical costs. Zajicek and Cooke were teammates at Navigators Insurance in 2007, and HealthNet-Maxxis in 2008.

“I’d like to sincerely thank everyone for their generous donations, as well as the truly overwhelming amount of community support and well wishes for my husband. I look forward to a day when Phil can personally thank every single one of you himself. Phil has been relocated to a fantastic hospital that better suits his recovery needs and is progressing every single day. Those who are lucky enough to know Phil, understand that he’s a private guy, so please be patient as we continue to update this feed. Please continue sending positive thoughts and prayers, and we’ll provide more updates when the time is right. With gratitude, Elizabeth Zajicek.”

During his pro career, Zajicek raced with Mercury, Saturn, Navigators Insurance, HealthNet-Maxxis, and Fly-V Australia. His career highlights include an overall win at the 2007 Cascade Cycling Classic and a mountain stage win at the 2009 Tour of the Gila ahead of Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer, where he finished third overall. He also registered top-10 overall results at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, Tour of Britain, and the Amgen Tour of California.

After he was forced to leave cycling in 2011 with a lifetime ban, Zajicek started a career as a mortgage loan officer. The GoFundMe page stated that he is the “primary breadwinner” for his family, which includes his wife and two young daughters.

To date, the GoFundMe page has been shared almost 3,000 times and raised over US$76,000, with a goal of raising US$300,000.

Accident report contains conflicting statements

For six weeks after the accident occurred, the Colorado State Patrol would not release, nor comment on, its case report, citing pending charges from the district attorney’s office.

On Monday, a Colorado State Patrol representative confirmed that Zajicek would not face charges.

The accident report, which CyclingTips has reviewed, was written by the responding Colorado State Patrol officer, Dave Rediger.

The report includes testimony from James Servaites, a cyclist in Zajicek’s group who was riding ahead of Zajicek on the descent. Servaites stated that the flatbed truck, cited as Vehicle 2, was either “close to or over the double yellow line.”

“I was leading the cycling group and saw the truck involved before the accident,” Servaites wrote in his statement. “I noticed that it was on or over the double yellow line (the front wheel). A second or two after passing the truck I heard a crash noise and looked back to see that two cyclists had gone down.”

Rediger’s report, which refers to Zajicek as Driver 1, questions Servaites’ account of the incident. “James Servaites, the rider who was directly ahead of Driver 1, wrote in his statement that as he was descending the hill, he observed Vehicle 2 either close to or over the double yellow line. I asked where this had occurred […] Servaites told me that it was just around where the accident occurred. I asked Servaites how that would have been possible given that he was ahead of the accident and would have passed Vehicle 2 farther east of the location than the accident. Servaites stated that he guessed it must have been in the area just east of the accident then, but could not articulate where.”

Servaites declined several requests to speak with CyclingTips about the incident.

The case file also includes witness statements from the truck driver, Joseph Ayer, who said he slammed on the brakes when he saw Zajicek, as well as Tyler Miller, the cyclist directly behind Zajicek on the descent. Both men stated that Zajicek had crossed the double yellow line. The report also includes a witness statement from Scott Wilkey, a Law Enforcement Park Ranger employed by the City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks, who had seen the group of cyclists “four or five minutes before the accident call” descending Flagstaff Road at an estimated speed of “40+ mph.”

Following the accident, Zajicek was taken by ambulance to a local Boulder hospital for surgery. Although he has emerged from his coma, he now faces a long road into the unknown, as every brain injury, and recovery, is unique.

“Given that Phil is less than two weeks post-awakening, we all have to let him mend to whatever extent he can,” his father, Mark, said.

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