BRIDGEPORT — Charles Uth barely remembers the day he landed in the hospital with a brain injury.
It was just after 7 a.m. May 18 when he climbed onto his 26-inch bicycle and pedaled his way toward his library job at the Illinois Institute of Technology. From his Bridgeport home, near the corner of Loomis and Lyman avenues, the journey usually takes the 57-year-old research assistant 15 minutes.
But he never made it to work that morning. Instead, someone found his unconscious body lying under a railroad viaduct.
“I have no idea what happened,” said Uth, connected to an IV drip in a hospital chair at Rush University Medical Center more than a week later.
Uth’s wife, Alexandra, got a call from a staffer at Mercy Hospital just after 9 a.m. that morning. The news shocked her: Her husband of eight years had suffered a serious head injury.
The right side of his body sported a large bruise from his shoulder down to his rib cage. He had some bleeding on his brain, a common symptom of concussions.
Frantic, Alexandra Uth rushed to the hospital. She wanted to know what happened. She tried to piece the story together, but Uth remained mostly unconscious throughout the day. Even now, he only remembers brief flashes of the ride to the hospital.
He remembers the paramedics were “really good guys,” but he can’t recall why he thought that.
When Uth felt well enough to hold a coherent conversation with his wife, the couple exchanged theories of what happened. But the process proved difficult. Uth’s memory remained hazy, riddled with gaps and holes.
They did not know which viaduct Uth landed under. Calls to the fire house at 510 S. Michigan Ave. that responded to the report did not provide any insight. The name of the caller who reported Uth’s crash is unknown.
The only undeniable truth available was this: Uth hit his head. The helmet he wore that morning had a crack along its right side, the part that would protect his right temple.
It couldn’t have been an attack or robbery, Uth said. His wallet and keys were safe in his pants pockets when the paramedics found him. But it’s unclear what happened to Uth’s bike, a “piece of junk” he bought for about $100 when the couple moved to Bridgeport a year earlier. He bought a cheap bike, he said, so no one would be tempted to steal it.
Odds are someone picked up the bicycle and took off after the paramedics left, Alexandra Uth said.
Another theory involved a hit-and-run accident.
“When I’m on my bike, I’m terrified of traffic,” said Uth. “It’s because of my eyesight. I have very bad peripheral vision and distance vision. So traffic scares me.”
To avoid traffic, he said, he usually takes Lyman to 29th Street and crosses over Halsted Street. Then he takes Emerald to 32nd Street and follows that all the way to Wells Street, which leads to 33rd Street and IIT.
That route always seemed to have the least amount of traffic.
The last thing Uth recalls is entering the the viaduct on 32nd Street, between Canal and Stewart, and heading east.
He usually rides along the left side of the street, because there's often less traffic for bicyclists to avoid than while riding down the right side of 32nd Street.
On this morning, Uth chose the right side, a path that would take him and his bike dangerously close to the concrete support columns holding up the viaduct and the potholes dotting the road.
Considering the injuries to the right side of his body, Ute said it's possible he lost control of the bike and ran into one of the support columns.
"That would've hit me all along the right side of the body," he said.
Uth has not ruled out a car mirror possibly brushing him as a car passed him by, but it's impossible to know for sure.
Alexandra Uth visited the scene after the crash to look for her husband's bike and other clues. All she found was some "medical debris" in one of the potholes, possible proof of the paramedics trip to her husband's side.
As of Thursday, Uth remained at Rush, taking pain medication, watching shows like "Mythbusters" on television and awaiting word from the doctor that he can return home.
Though he's expected to fully recover, Uth hopes someone can eventually help him piece together the story of the accident under the viaduct, because, he said, not knowing what happened is "annoying."
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