‘I think he’s dead’: Principal recalls hit-and-run on Woodruff Road that nearly killed cyclist

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Julie Cooke, principal of Lake Forest Elementary School, poses with Ben McCall at the school more than five months after he was hit by a car. Photo by Ariel Gilreath.

Julie Cooke was driving home when she thought she saw a tire fly off the car in front of her — in reality, it was cyclist Ben McCall and his bike soaring through the air after an SUV crashed into him.

Cooke, the principal of Lake Forest Elementary School, can still remember the sound of McCall hitting the pavement.

“I heard the sound. I’ll never forget it,” Cooke said.

McCall had just dropped his son off at soccer practice when he took his bike out for a ride on East Georgia Road. McCall’s route had him on an undeveloped, two-lane section of Woodruff Road near Simpsonville for a few hundred yards before turning onto Anderson Ridge Road.

In the short span between Anderson Ridge and East Georgia roads, a car driving eastbound crashed into the back of him.

“I was actually on the phone with my administrator. I screamed, ‘I just witnessed a tragic accident,’” Cooke said. “I said, ‘I think he’s dead.’”

Cooke, who had been driving right behind the vehicle that crashed into McCall, jumped out of her car and started waving her arms to get cars to stop before they reached McCall, who was lying in the middle of the road. Cooke said another vehicle almost hit her before passersby stopped to help block and redirect traffic.

Cooke said when one passerby asked who hit McCall, a man standing off to the side said he did it.

“That guy said, ‘It was me. I hit him — it was me,’” Cooke said. “I looked at him. Initially, I felt bad.”

But by the time law enforcement arrived on the scene, the man was gone.

McCall was airlifted to a Prisma Health—Upstate facility and spent 10 hours in surgery before going to the Shepherd Center Rehabilitation Hospital in Georgia.

Cooke didn’t realize until the next day that McCall also worked for Greenville County Schools as a network engineer in the information technology department.

“I feel like we’re one big family,” Cooke said.

McCall had more than 30 broken bones, including his spine and one of his femurs. Both of his lungs had collapsed, he had severe artery damage, and he suffers from a traumatic brain injury. McCall has no memories of that day or half of the day prior to the accident.

“I do remember waking up at the Shepherd Center not knowing where I was at,” McCall said. “I thought I had been kidnapped.”

McCall said he told his doctors he was going to walk out of the Shepherd Center when he left, and last month, he did.

McCall met with a neurologist last week for a checkup.

“He was blown away. He didn’t expect me to recover like that,” McCall said. “He said that even after they finished the surgery, he thought that I would be a quadriplegic.”

McCall will never be able to cycle again — his spine is too fragile from the injuries he sustained in the hit-and-run — but he says that because of the accident he has a new outlook on life.

“I just appreciate people and things more, like Julie,” said McCall, who credits Cooke with helping save his life.

Cooke was given a Miracle Workers Award by Greenville County Schools in March for her efforts to help save McCall.

Law enforcement still hasn’t found the suspect in the hit-and-run. Cooke described him as a young, white male in his 20s or 30s.

“This person needs to be brought to justice,” Cooke said. “They need to be held accountable for what happened that evening.”

McCall is hopeful law enforcement will find the person who hit him. In the meantime, he’s juggling medical bills and working with an attorney to navigate the financial burden.

From Cooke to law enforcement to the passersby who stopped to help him, McCall said he’s been overwhelmed with support and love.

“This world really is full of good people,” McCall said. “Some of the bad ones kind of spoil it, but there’s a lot of good people.”

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