Two men were arrested after allegedly causing injuries to a world-class athlete in a hit-and-run collision in Cedartown, according to officials.
Cpl. Joe Stephens of the Georgia State Patrol (GSP) said the incident happened around 5:40 p.m. Oct. 16 on Johnson Lake Road.
He said they responded to a call of a hit-and-run that involved a bicyclist.
The man struck was Krige Schabort, a South African athlete who moved to Cedartown in 1997.
Schabort was traveling in his racing wheelchair with a group of six cyclists, including his son, when he said his wheelchair was struck on the back rear wheel, causing him to catapult down a ditch, according to a city press release.
Stephens said Schabort received some non-threatening injuries but was treated and released from Polk Medical Center.
Schabort received a serious gash on his right cheek and bruising all over his body, the press release stated.
His racing wheelchair was destroyed.
“I was thankful that the car his me and not my son,” Schabort said.
Schabort had just returned from the Kona Ironman Competition at Kailua Bay, Hawaii, winning the championship for his division and setting a world record.
“Had this happened a few days earlier, I could not have raced in Hawaii,” he said.
The two arrested are John Rampley and Joseph Jeffers, ages unlisted, both of Cedartown, according to Stephens.
Rampley was charged with following too close, leaving the scene of an accident, driving on a suspended license and DUI.
Jeffers was charged with leaving the scene of an accident and driving without a license.
Stephens said both men were charged in driving without a license because both had driven the car at some point, although police reports indicate Rampley was behind the wheel when he allegedly struck Schabort.
Both remain in the Polk County Jail.
Polk County Sheriff’s Office deputies apprehended both men near the wreck scene, Stephens said.
“Polk County deputies got there right after the incident and apprehended the suspects,” Stephens said, adding that witnesses provided a great deal of help also with their clear thinking and response.
“Luckily, we had some witnesses that got a vehicle description and a tag number,” he said.
Schabort said he is grateful to a member of his party who wrote down the tag number and called 911.
Stephens said said deputies brought the suspects back to the wreck scene where witnesses positively identified the driver.
Witnesses told police the driver was traveling at a high rate of speed, according to the press release.
“Motorists should slow down and move cautiously around bicycles,” said GSP Sgt. Butch Thornton.
“They should pay close attention around bike paths and always assume the cyclists does not see them.”
Cedartown Assistant Police Chief Jamie Newsome agreed.
“Crashes of cars with bicycles or wheelchairs don’t happen that often, but when they do occur, the consequences to the latter may be devastating or even fatal,” Newsome said.
“Drivers and cyclists must be especially vigilant due to the seriousness of the outcome of a car-bike collision.”
He said Polk County drivers need to be even more watchful because this county hosts the Silver Comet Trail and other numerous trail branch routes and Georgia Department of Transportation designated bicycle routes.
Polk County Development Authority Director Eric McDonald said the growth of bicycle tourism has an important place in this county’s economy, so drivers should do all they can to protect it.
McDonald said bicycle traffic has more than doubled with the completion of the Silver Comet Rail and that leads to more cyclists on the rural byways as well.
“Bicycle tourism is an important piece of our economic development plan because of its direct economic impact as well as the exposure it provided us to a wider public,” he said.
“Bicycle tourism means dollars and jobs for Polk County and all of us have an interest in assuring the safety as well as the enjoyment of our guests.”
The number of cyclists arriving in the Cedartown Welcome Center will range from dozens to hundreds on spring and fall weekends with good weather, according to Main Street Director Ramona Ruark.
“If it’s a nice day for a Sunday drive, it will also be a nice day for a Sunday bike ride,” she said.
“Drivers should be very watchful on the weekends, as should bicyclists..”
She also advised that cyclists wear bright reflective clothing and use safety flags when riding on or crossing public roads.
Schabort, an athlete his entire life, was paralyzed in 1987 while serving in the military. A bomb from a Russian fighter plane hit him during a battle with Angola.
As a disabled athlete, Schabort broke South Africa’s swim record and competed in wheelchair basketball. He then became a top competitor in wheelchair races.
He and his wife moved to Cedartown after she was offered a job in the Atlanta area.