(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)
On August 8th of last year, Marilyn Hayward was riding her bike westbound on North Adair Street in Cornelius (a small town about 20 miles west of downtown Portland). As she approached the intersection of 10th Avenue, she was involved in a collision with Garold Howe, who was driving his car (a Toyota Prius) southbound on 10th. Hayward hit the left front quarter-panel of Howe’s car, then according to the police report, “made one or two flips” before landing back on the road.
The impact broke Hayward’s collarbone and knocked her unconscious. She was rushed to the intensive care unit at Legacy Emanuel Hospital where she spent 30 days before being released. Hayward racked up $160,000 in medical bills. And to “add insult to injury” as she says, Howe’s insurance company sent her a bill for $4,600 to pay for the dent her body made in his car.
Hayward, who turns 65 in January, is the owner of Coventry Cycle Works, a recumbent and specialty bike dealer in southeast Portland. She bought that store in 2009 and then expanded with a second store in Beaverton back in February.
You’d think that a successful business owner who’s well known in the community could rebound from an unfortunate situation like this; but there’s more to this story than you’ve heard. Yes, friends and family raised $40,000 for Hayward in a fundraising campaign right after the collision, but it wasn’t nearly enough.
Hayward didn’t have health insurance. An avid bike rider who rarely got sick or used the hospital, she cancelled her policy to free up some cash when she bought Coventry Cycles in 2009, and never got around to signing back up (“I was just so caught up in running the shop,” she said). And, since the Cornelius Police Department found her at-fault in the collision (a decision Hayward vehemently disagrees with), she received no recompense from Howe’s car insurance. To make matters worse, she seriously over-extended her finances to open the second store in Beaverton and it never performed as expected.
I’ve known Hayward from local bike circles and from pedaling together on Cycle Oregon in 2006 and 2007. She was always smiling and a joy to be around; the type of person who emanated warmth. When she called and wanted to get together a month ago, I didn’t suspect anything other than a chat about business and bikes. When she told me she was on the brink of financial ruin, facing depression and uncertain about her future, I wasn’t sure how to respond. At that point, she hadn’t told anyone about how bad things had gotten and she carried the immense weight of the situation completely alone.
The person on the other side of the table that day wasn’t the Marilyn I knew. Scared, anxious, and far from a smile, she needed help, and it had to come fast. Thankfully, the hospital had settled on her bills; but payments were coming due on several high-interest loans she (regrettably) took out this past fall in order to keep the Beaverton store afloat. The thought of losing her business, her home, and her personal pride for something she feels was no fault of her own was overwhelming.
Since we met, she’s closed the Beaverton store for good and filed bankruptcy in order to protect the Portland store and her other remaining assets.
None of this should have happened to Marilyn Hayward. She’s a confident, successful woman who repeatedly told me that prior to this year she had never been late on a bill since she was 18. “Never!” she added for emphasis. The display cabinet in her bike shop features a plaque from one of her suppliers proclaiming Coventry as “Vendor of the Year.” Now, due to the bankruptcy, Coventry Cycles is on cash-only terms with all suppliers.
“I’ve lost everything all because a guy hit me. Through no fault of my own. And the police didn’t do justice. They assumed I was “just” a bicyclist and that I was a red-light running yahoo.”
So what happened? How did things go so wrong?
Hayward says she suffered a brain injury in the collision last August that is only now beginning to fully heal. She says the injury impacted her judgment and caused her to make bad decisions.
Hayward had dreamed about opening a second store in Beaverton for years, but explained to me recently that after being released from the hospital she became manic about it. “I had to have that shop!”, she recalled. She also described being extremely emotional, having fits of rage and losing her temper with her employees — all personality traits common to brain injuries but foreign to her. “I went into the Beaverton store deal as a nutcase, I signed lease papers without reading them, borrowed on credit cards… I was clueless that anything was wrong at the time… The old me would have never done that.”
The way Hayward handled the Beaverton move was all-the-more strange given her previous career as a budget manager in the corporate finance division of the Fred Meyer Corporation where she was responsible for a $3.8 billion budget and 132 stores.
With the bankruptcy filing, the Hawthorne store (one of Portland’s oldest) now has at least a fighting chance at survival. It has to survive for at least four more years, says Hayward, because that’s how long it will take to pay back her debts through the bankruptcy proceedings. Lucky for her she has an excellent staff, all of whom are supportive and committed to making it through this tough time.
Coventry employee Jonathan Garcia says the loyalty of their customer base has never been more important than it is now.
I met with Hayward again last week to get an update on things. She was still somber and uncertain about the future — but I sensed a glimmer of hope in her voice and body language that wasn’t there a month before. Instead of being fixated on what felt like impending doom, she’d regained a bit of her fighting spirit.
“It’s only time for us to forge ahead,” she said.
What keeps her going is her bike shop. Coventry isn’t like any other shop around. In addition to deep expertise and connections in the recumbent world, they also serve customers with special needs. Three-wheelers, four-wheelers, hand-cycles, Coventry’s mechanics are experienced around people who face physical challenges and the bikes that offer them a lifeline. (We profiled Coventry Cycles and the important niche they fill back in 2010.)
While Hayward can finally look forward with hope, she still harbors anger and resentment about the fateful collision on August 8th, 2012. The most animated part of our recent meeting came when I asked her what aspect of these past 16 months weighs most heavily on her mind. Without hesitation she answered, “I’ve lost everything all because a guy hit me. Through no fault of my own. And the police didn’t do justice. They assumed I was “just” a bicyclist and that I was a red-light running yahoo.” Then, wiping away tears, she continued, “and that’s just wrong.”
Hayward contends that the Cornelius PD officers that investigated her collision went out of their way to absolve Mr. Howe. Their own police report contains conflicting witness accounts about who had the green light. But, Hayward says, the police didn’t use two witness statements that supported her innocence. One of them said Howe was driving “like a bat out of hell” and another witness said Hayward had the green light — but police said he was under 18 and therefore declined to use his statement.
Hayward even went so far as to work through a lawyer and pay $500 to an accident reconstruction crew. Their findings support Hayward’s innocence and she’d love to bring the case back to court in hopes of finding at least some fault on the part of the driver. That finding could trigger financial compensation from his insurance company. Unfortunately, Hayward would have to come up with $4,000 in legal costs just to move the case forward.
That option is still on the table, but it comes with risks. Not only could Hayward possibly lose the appeal, but because of where she and Howe lived at the time of the collision, the case would be heard in a Washington County court — which is likely to be a lot less kind to a bicycle rider than a Multnomah County court.
At this point, Hayward is resolved to keep on fighting. And now that everyone knows what happened, she isn’t facing it alone.
The way forward goes through Coventry Cycle Works, a shop that has been a valuable part of our community for decades. If the shop succeeds, Hayward can pay her debts and dig out of this hole. If everyone who reads this stops by the shop for one purchase a month (and tells all their friends to do the same), we can help Marilyn, help Coventry, and ultimately help ourselves.
Coventry is located at 2025 SE Hawthorne (corner Hawthorne and 20th). Check out CoventryCycle.com to see what they carry and take note of their winter hours below:
Wednesday – Saturday: 10am – 6pm
Sunday: 12pm – 4pm
Monday & Tuesday: Closed