Diane Pohanka of Gulf Stream reacts to stretching exercises during therapy at Miller Physical Therapy in downtown Delray Beach, where she has become a regular since her August accident. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Joe Capozzi
Diane Pohanka, 63, is learning to walk again, one painful step at a time.
She uses a cane and the going is slow, which is to be expected. Her broken leg bones were surgically fused together with metal rods just a few months ago.
But despite the grueling physical therapy sessions, 90 minutes three times a week, the Gulf Stream woman has aspirations beyond walking.
She wants to get on her bicycle again.
That day will come, she said. And when it does, she knows where she won’t be riding — State Road A1A. The scenic oceanfront route for years had been her favorite until the August afternoon she was hit by a pickup truck in Boca Raton.
“My active life came to a screeching halt,’’ said Pohanka, who suffered breaks to the fibula and tibia in both legs and a broken right femur.
Tasks like getting out of bed required a pair of nurses during the early days of Diane Pohanka’s recovery. RIGHT: An X-ray shows the multiple rods and pins required to repair her leg bones. Photos provided
“I will get on a bike again,’’ she said, “but never on A1A.’’
Before her unsolicited encounter with the truck four months ago, Pohanka rode the same A1A route three times a week, from the driveway of her Gulf Stream home south to Palmetto Park Road in Boca Raton and back — 20 miles round-trip.
“I’ve done that ride 200 to 300 times,’’ she said, describing a routine that started in 2020 when the pandemic reignited her lifelong passion for biking.
She usually went riding with her husband, Chris. And unlike those pack cyclists who often whizzed past them, they were not road warriors. They were leisure riders out for exercise and scenery, a craving they often satisfied abroad on bike tours to places like Bali, Italy, Croatia and France.
Wherever they pedaled, they were mindful of cars and trucks, especially ones entering their path from side roads and condo entrances.
“We always are cognizant of cars pulling out and we always establish eye contact and wave,’’ she said, “and 99% of the time we get the wave back.’’
From bike to roadside
Around 3:30 p.m. Aug. 2, a week before she and her husband were scheduled to go on a bike trip in Portugal, Pohanka hopped on her trusty brown Specialized hybrid and took off from her driveway on a solo ride. It was a brilliant sunny South Florida day.
About 30 minutes into her ride, as she pedaled south in the bicycle lane past Red Reef Park, just north of her Palmetto Park Road turnaround spot, she approached the entrance to the Sun and Surf Club, a gated community on Coquina Way.
Just ahead on her right, she noticed an eastbound white Chevy Silverado approaching the Coquina Way stop sign at A1A, preparing to turn north. She looked toward the driver and waved, expecting him to slow down and wait for her to pass.
Knowing she had the right of way, and assuming the driver had seen her, she kept pedaling.
“My memory is his windows were tinted too dark for me to see him, and that was my mistake,’’ she said.
When she looked to her right again, she saw the truck’s massive front coming right at her.
The driver never hit the brakes, she said, and the truck broadsided the right side of her bike, including her leg. The impact ejected Pohanka off the bike saddle and onto A1A.
She said she remembers lying on the road, unable to move, for at least two minutes, wondering if anyone would come to her aid, before a motorist looking out a car window asked her if she wanted him to call 911.
Moments later, another stranger arrived to help, a man Pohanka would call “my angel.”
Boca Raton Ocean Rescue Lt. Frank Ganley was on his way to work when he got caught in a line of traffic backing up on A1A. Wondering what was going on, he flipped on his truck’s emergency lights, drove up the shoulder of the road and found Pohanka sprawled across the pavement not far from her damaged bike.
“I first made sure she was conscious and breathing and had a pulse,’’ he said. “I knew she had some serious injuries. I knew rescue was coming so I stayed with her.’’
Ganley, a certified EMT, immediately sensed how scared she was.
“She latched on to my one arm with two hands. I was just trying to keep her calm. Rescue got there and we were putting her on the backboard and she wouldn’t let go of my arm,’’ he said.
Reflecting on that day months later, Pohanka said she is disheartened that she lay on the road for what felt like too long before someone stopped to help her.
“I was trying to understand why nobody was coming for me. I could not move. I didn’t know if I was dying,’’ she said. “I think it’s really a sign of the times. People don’t want to get involved. It’s not instinctual in people, it wasn’t that day, to go help somebody.’’
When Ganley knelt on the pavement next to her, he offered the compassion Pohanka desperately sought. “He was my lifeline, my angel,’’ she said.
Pohanka lay on the pavement facing north, unable to move her body or her head in the direction of the truck that hit her. Worried that she’d be the victim of a hit-and-run driver, she kept telling Ganley, “Is the driver still there? Don’t let him leave.’’
The driver of the truck, Omar Miranda of Boynton Beach, stayed at the scene and spoke to police. But Pohanka said he never came to her aid.
Miranda, 46, was cited for running a stop sign, according to a police report. He told police he was watching for an opening in traffic before he pulled out to turn left on A1A. He said he never saw Pohanka, according to the report.
At a Nov. 8 traffic court hearing held via Zoom, Pohanka, under questioning from Miranda’s attorney, admitted she never saw the driver of the truck that struck her. A judge dismissed the charge against Miranda, court records show.
Pohanka said the dismissal was as emotionally devastating to her as the accident.
“I never saw him because I couldn’t move. I never saw him because he never came to my aid,’’ she said in an interview after the hearing.
She hopes to get justice from a civil lawsuit filed Oct. 6 against Miranda.
Court records show Miranda has been cited for at least 25 traffic violations since 2001, including speeding, driving with a suspended license, running a red light, and improperly driving in an HOV lane. Most of the citations, 23, were issued between 2001 and 2014, including a charge in 2008 that the windows of his vehicle were too dark.
In October 2022, Miranda was cited for texting while driving in a school zone, court records show. He pleaded no contest and agreed to go to traffic school. But four months later, his license was suspended and his plea changed by the judge to guilty when he failed to show up for traffic school. His license was reinstated on July 7, a little less than four weeks before Pohanka was struck.
Pohanka spent three weeks at Delray Medical Center before starting rehab exercises at Miller Physical Therapy in downtown Delray Beach.
“It’s painful. I’m hoping it’s helpful,’’ she said. “I feel like I’m quite robotic in my walking. It’s like I’m talking to my legs to get them to walk, but I’m doing it.’’
Around the house, she uses a wheelchair and cane, constant reminders of how radically her life has changed.
“I used to work out seven days a week. Now, there’s no morning beach walks. There’s no rushing to get anywhere. It’s just way different. Every step I take is calculated and almost mechanical,’’ she said.
“I’m a gimp,’’ she added. “It really has changed my life.’’
Before Pohanka and her husband moved to Gulf Stream in 2015, they racked up more than 20,000 miles on the treadmill in their Virginia home, a testament to the five miles she used to run every day.
Now they have no idea when, or if, she will be as active again.
“You’re only as strong as your weakest link and right now her legs are her weakest link,” Chris Pohanka said. “She is sore a lot. She is doing what she can but it is very limited.”
Then there are the psychological scars the accident has left. Chris said just riding in a car down A1A makes Diane nervous, especially when she sees cyclists.
“You hear people saying, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t ride on A1A,’” he said. “Well, it’s just a matter of time and when something does happen, you’ve got no idea how much it changes your life. Things change in a second.”
Accident numbers on the rise
Despite the pain of her recovery, Pohanka knows she is lucky to be alive, especially as bike crashes in Palm Beach County have been trending in an alarming direction since 2020.
According to state records as of Nov. 28, there have been 620 bike crashes in Palm Beach County this year, including 11 fatalities. Last year, there were 486 bike crashes and 14 fatalities. The county recorded 424 bike crashes (eight fatalities) in 2021 and 373 (12 fatalities) in 2020.
Pohanka said she knows there’s always a chance for an accident when bikes share the road with motor vehicles. But what surprised and frustrated her is the location of where the truck struck her.
“This little stretch of A1A where he hit me was the safest part of the whole road,’’ she said. “No obstacles, along a golf course, no trees, no visual impairments.’’
She is determined to ride her bike again, but she said her rides will be exclusively in parks and natural areas, on paths without any motor vehicles. Pohanka said she has “asked Santa for a bike rack” for her car.
One person who is confident she will achieve her goal is Ganley. He has stayed in touch with Pohanka since the September day she showed up at Ocean Rescue headquarters to thank him for the compassion he showed in the immediate aftermath of her accident.
“I received a call on the radio from one of the guys at headquarters. He said, ‘There’s a woman here, Diane. She’s the one who got hit by the truck. She’d like to see you and thank you,’’’ Ganley recalled.
“I’m walking back thinking she’s going to be in a wheelchair, kind of preparing myself. I walk in and she’s there with just a cane. I was like, ‘Wow!’ The injuries she had were really serious. It was great to see her,’’ he said.
“I walked over, she stood up and gave me a hug and thanked me and started crying.’’
Pohanka and Ganley said they hope her story encourages motorists and bicyclists to be more careful on the road.
“I’ve been doing this for 31 years now and I really hate seeing people having the best time of their lives and then something tragic like this happens,’’ Ganley said.
“I was just amazed how far she has come. It was really good to see her moving around. She’s not going to let this stop her from living her life.’’