A California man and avid cyclist who was hit by a truck last May and suffered serious injuries as a result – some of which he is still recovering from – can personally attest to the power of forgiveness.
During Memorial Day weekend last year, Jack Keith, 46, of West Garden Grove, was driving along the Pacific Coast Highway after finishing a morning surf with friends. A portion of the route offers scenic views of the Pacific, and Keith, who was driving between 50 and 60 miles per hour at the time, was distracted by the waves for a split second, not realizing his truck had drifted into the bike lane parallel to the highway. The next thing he knew, a cyclist was airborne.
“It all happened so quickly. I looked up and boom, I just saw him flying through the air,” Keith told Fox News on Wednesday of the man he hit, Tom Sovilla, a longtime bicyclist who was riding from La Habra to Seal Beach.
“I was like, 'Oh my God, what did I just do? Did I kill this guy?’" recalled Keith, who said he immediately pulled over and called 911. Two cyclists behind Sovilla who happened to be doctors also stopped to help the man as they waited for emergency officials to arrive.
“When people were tending to him, I never saw him regain consciousness; I never saw him move a muscle. I thought he was paralyzed,” said Keith.
Sovilla was rushed to the hospital, where he was found to have a fractured back, broken pelvis, torn knee ligaments and bruised intestines. He also suffered from two blood clots on his brain, according to a news release from UCI Medical Center provided to KTLA 5.
Keith was unable to get information from the hospital on Sovilla's condition due to privacy reasons, he said, and the Huntington Beach Police Department did not return his calls asking for information, according to The Orange County Register. Keith told the newspaper he was able to get in touch with one of the witnesses, who later contacted Sovilla’s wife, Jenette Sovilla, on his behalf.
Five days following the incident, she reached out — to Keith’s both shock and relief.
“She texted me on my lunch break saying, ‘Hey, this is Jenette, Tom’s wife, the guy who was involved in the accident. He is going to be alright — we’ve been praying for you.’ I could breathe easier after that day,” said Keith, who noted he was distraught in the days following the crash.
A few days later, Keith was invited to come to visit Sovilla in the hospital. When thinking back on the moment, the 46-year-old said he was nervous and unsure of how it would go.
“I didn't know what to expect. For me, it’s kind of hard to hide my emotions. I just wanted to do the right thing,” he said, noting the meeting was “emotional but never awkward.”
“I was blown away that they were OK with me being there and that they were worried about me. It was a nice start to the healing process," he added.
Sovilla – whose knee ligaments were surgically reconstructed, as was his pelvis with plates and screws – is still recovering. He continues to have trouble with his knees. Over the past months, he gradually moved from a wheelchair to a walker. He now uses a cane and is continuing physical therapy, The Orange County Register reported, adding he was hospitalized for 33 days.
Since the accident and his initial hospital visit, Keith said he has befriended Sovilla and his “amazing” family. Additionally, he started a GoFundMe for Sovilla’s out-of-pocket medical expenses. As of this writing, more than $6,300 of the fund’s $7,000 goal has been raised. Keith, a carpenter, also removed one of the shower doors in the family’s home so Sovilla could have easier access when bathing.
“I’ve felt nothing but love from this man — and for the situation, that’s unheard of.”
As for his ability to forgive – as well as his wife and six daughters’ ability to do the same – Sovilla told KTLA 5 that “holding on to things just eats away at you.”
“It doesn’t necessarily hurt the other person," he continued. "I think if people can understand that, then people would learn to forgive because forgiveness is a big part [of] your own mental and physical health.”
“Jack made a mistake — I’ve been distracted before and veered into the next lane,” Sovilla said when speaking to The Orange County Register. "Do I wish it hadn’t happened? Yeah. But it did.”
Also speaking to the newspaper, Jenette Sovilla echoed her husband’s sentiment. “We could live our lives angry and bitter about lots of things that have happened to us,” she said. “Why? It doesn’t help anything.”
“He’s so determined and his attitude is inspiring,” Keith told Fox News of Sovilla. “I’ve felt nothing but love from this man — and for the situation, that’s unheard of.”