Comebacks: Dead Man Talking

Local journalist Brian Hickey was lost to the world for a month after being left for dead on a South Jersey street by a hit-and-run driver. He reports his own story of what happened and his miraculous recovery

College student Michael Freeman saw the taillights of a “dark sports car, navy blue or black.” When his pit bull, Candy, kept barking at the window, he went outside.

“I found you lying on your stomach, just moaning, bleeding,” says Freeman, who noticed 15 feet of skid marks and called 911.

That means the car was going a swerving 40-ish in a 25-mph zone when the driver hit the brakes, says Collingswood police detective Ed Correll, a beefy-but-genuine cop who’s chased down at least two dozen tips that didn’t pan out. He says meeting my family and friends drove him to take this case very personally.

The driver who hit me hasn’t been heard from since veering around the body he left for dead and speeding off like the bound-for-Hell coward he (or she) is.

Sergeant Mike Pope, who ran the crime scene that night, thinks the lack of shattered-car evidence means I likely rolled up the hood, got thrown 10 feet, and struck my head on the street. The two broken vertebrae and shattered shoulder could have come at any point.

Still, the response team says I didn’t appear all that badly hurt — at first. My incoherent moaning quickly became clear yelling when the ambulance arrived at 10:18 p.m.

The fire department report, the accuracy of which every last medic vouched for, reads, “When asked if anything besides his head was bothering him, [Hickey] started using foul language … stating that he was going to find us all when he got up.”

Translation No. 1: I didn’t want, or need, to fucking go to the fucking hospital.

Translation No. 2: My brain was already so scrambled that I had lost the ability to work the control-myself option.

The pool of blood coming from my nose, my ear, and the cut over my then-skull meant that as much as they may have wanted to fucking leave me there, protocol dictated a 10:37 p.m. arrival at Cooper Hospital in Camden with a patient tied down to the stretcher, since he wanted to punch or kick anybody who crossed him. (Medic Matt Skowronek confirms that I had a zero-percent connect rate; he was worried I’d hurt myself further, though.)

Clorox bleach got the blood off the street; I’m not sure what cleansed my vomit from an unfortunate nurse’s uniform in the moments before I lost consciousness for more than a week. It’s a good thing medical professionals are trained to realize that someone who seems punch-drunk may have suffered the sort of inhibition-shedding damage that will turn fatal if they don’t act immediately.

My wife, Angie, frantic that she couldn’t get in touch with me all night, wouldn’t find out until the next day that I was at Cooper — I’m still pissed about that, but lifesavees can’t exactly be choosers, let alone critics of those who saved them. The next night, after she visited her unconscious, battered, near-death husband with my dad, whom she’d been dialing since 6 a.m., the surgeon called. Would she sign off on two pieces of skull being taken out? The pressure would kill me otherwise. There wasn’t much choice.