Every morning around 7 a.m., Jonathan “Bankrow” Peña straps on his red full-face bike helmet, shin guards and elbow pads before heading out on the road to work.
Peña, 24, doesn’t ride a bike, or a skateboard or any other type of multiwheel vehicle to work; he rides an electric unicycle.
His Begode EX.N unicycle carries him the 4 miles from his apartment in the Villages of Lancaster Green in Lancaster Township to his job as a machine operator at Plastic Molding Manufacturing in East Hempfield Township. The unicycle includes headlights, brake lights and a horn operated through a smartphone app. He never uses the horn, he says, because it’s inconvenient. The unicycle has no turn signals, so he uses hand signals.
Peña’s daily commute sees him weaving in and out of traffic on the motorized wheel between his feet, reaching speeds, he says, of up to 25 mph. His unicycle can travel as fast as 45 mph, according to online seller specifications.
For the most part, Peña says, he follows the rules of the road.
Drivers and motorists sometimes make unexpected turns or sudden stops without warning and without signaling. He says he often has to exit the roadway to avoid collisions. He had a few scrapes, but nothing that caused him serious bodily harm.
Until two weeks ago.
After finishing his shift at 3:30 p.m., Peña hopped on his unicycle and retraced his usual route back to his apartment. About two minutes from home, he approached the intersection of Schoolhouse Road and Millersville Pike near Manor Shopping Center. A driver in a blue pickup truck headed North on Millersville Pike attempted to turn left onto Schoolhouse Road and struck Peña, who was heading Southwest along Millersville Pike.
According to witnesses, Peña was catapulted into the air, losing his helmet and shoes before plummeting back to the concrete.
Christina Williams, 43, who lives in Peña’s apartment complex, was two cars behind the truck who struck Peña that afternoon. She said people from multiple cars near the intersection said they could see feet in the air.
The driver of the pickup truck kept driving after the impact, and a few witnesses gave chase, Williams said.
Williams stayed with Peña as another witness called 911. She said he drifted in and out of consciousness and didn’t remember his name. She couldn’t believe he was still alive.
Williams has ridden motorcycles most of her life and knows the dangers of riding on the road, but on a cycle, there’s typically more of a barrier between the rider and the point of impact, she said.
Williams held on to Peña’s unicycle and left a note in his shirt pocket as he was loaded into the ambulance, which took him to Lancaster General Hospital.
Eventually, the owner of the pickup truck returned to the scene. Manheim Township police filed a report last week confirming the crash occurred as Williams and Peña have described. Police Sgt. Barry Waltz said the driver has been charged with a misdemeanor traffic violation but did not provide the name of the driver or the charge.
Peña says he remembers nothing from right before the impact to when he woke up in the ambulance. His injuries are not serious: a fractured tibia and torn ligament in his left leg, which absorbed most of the impact. He spent the next day, his birthday, in a hospital bed, thankful he could celebrate it with friends and family.
“I spent my 24th birthday in the hospital after surviving a near-death experience,” Peña says. “Now I can’t go to work, I can’t provide for my two kids (ages 5 and 3), I can’t pay bills, and I can’t walk.”
But once he can walk, Peña says he intends to replace his damaged electric unicycle and get back out on the road. He may take some more precautions – drive slower, with flickering lights and maybe a mounted camera – but he says he remains ready to roll.