A man seriously injured in a hit-and-run collision in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood last May will soon finally be on his way home to Georgia after family, friends and even an ex-San Francisco 49er helped raise enough money to transport him there.
More than $17,000 has been raised to help Selester "Les" Rowe, a 63-year-old homeless man who was struck by an SUV on May 12, 2012.
Rowe was walking east across Columbus Avenue near Stockton and Green streets that night when he was hit and suffered major injuries, including a fractured spine, brain swelling and multiple broken bones, police and family members said.
The suspect vehicle, described as a late 1990s-model white Chevrolet SUV, possibly a Suburban, fled and has not been found. In the days after the hit-and-run, North Beach businesses and residents -- who considered Rowe a friendly presence in the neighborhood -- raised some money for Rowe's medical bills and for his family to travel from their homes in the South.
After several months, Rowe had recovered enough to be taken home from San Francisco's Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center, but the family lacked the money to transport him.
A group of Rowe's high school classmates and friends from Columbus, Ga., and elsewhere in the South stepped in to help. The group raised the $17,400 necessary to take him home via an air ambulance from Arizona-based Angel MedFlight, said Larry Anderson, who went to Spencer High School in Columbus with Rowe.
The majority of the money was raised in less than two months, Anderson said. He said the group received thousands of dollars from several local churches, $2,600 from a fish fry in a grocery store parking lot, $1,000 from a Georgia state representative, about $1,000 left over from the previous San Francisco donations, and more from dozens of smaller local donations.
"The money just came from everywhere," Anderson said. "It's been a life-changing experience for me, when you see these people face-to-face, it makes you feel really great about just the spirit of the human race."
One of the big helpers was another alumnus from Rowe's high school, James Johnson, who was drafted by the 49ers in 1975. Johnson said he moved back to Columbus from Tennessee last year, heard about the family's efforts to get Rowe back home and reached out to them.
"I felt like we got a lift from everybody" Johnson said, adding the family was extremely pleased to raise the necessary money.
Rowe will be taken via a private Learjet owned and operated by Angel MedFlight, an air ambulance company that gave the family "a substantial discount" for the trip, company spokeswoman Jennifer Vogel said.
The plane is staffed with a nurse and medic and "is like an ICU in the sky," Vogel said. An exact date for Rowe's return home has yet to be determined because a rehabilitation center with adequate resources and an open bed for him still has to be found in the Columbus area, Anderson said.
"We don't have an endless supply of facilities that can handle someone like that," he said, adding that the group is optimistic the trip will take place in the next few weeks.
"The big part is we got the money," he said.
The hit-and-run suspect remains at large. Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the San Francisco police anonymous tip line at (415) 575-4444 or to send a tip by text message to TIP411 with "SFPD" in the message.