DECATUR — Tom Lennox considers himself a lucky man.

The night of June 29, shortly after he got off work at Kroger, the 55-year-old Decatur man decided to help a friend move.

“I was going to help my girlfriend’s brother, Lloyd Dial, move,” Lennox recalled Thursday morning.

About 10:30 p.m. that night, Lennox was riding in Dial’s S-10 pickup truck along North Jasper Street when a mattress and box springs the men and the occupant of a third vehicle were hauling fell out of the truck bed.

Dial pulled over to the east curb of the street, activated his emergency hazard lights and put the car in park while Lennox exited the vehicle to retrieve the mattress and box springs.

As Lennox was placing and adjusting the items in the truck bed, he and the rear end of the pickup were struck by a Macon County Sheriff’s Office squad car.

Lennox was pinned between the squad car and the pickup and suffered a head injury and injuries to both legs. He was treated at Decatur Memorial Hospital before being transferred to Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana.

“All I remember is putting the mattress in the truck and then waking up three days later (at Carle Hospital),” said Lennox, noting that when he awoke, he had a ventilator tube down his throat. “It was scary.”

During nearly a monthlong stay at Carle, Lennox underwent several surgeries on his legs, including one that involved the amputation of both lower legs. He also recovered from a large laceration to his head, a broken right shoulder and clavicle and an injured right elbow, in addition to beginning physical therapy and rehabilitation.

Lennox was released from the hospital July 27 and said it has been a difficult and painful road to recovery.

“My life has completely changed,” Lennox said Thursday as he sat in a wheelchair at Central Illinois Auction house. “I live with my sister in Springfield now, and I definitely have a better appreciation for handicapped people. I go to the doctor almost every day, and my girlfriend, Crystal Hoffman, has been busy taking care of me.”

After a Decatur Police Department investigation, Brian Duff, 41, a Macon County sheriff’s deputy, was arrested July 17 on a charge of aggravated reckless driving. He is due to be arraigned Sept. 21 on charges in Macon County Circuit Court and is currently on unpaid leave from the sheriff’s office.

During the past four weeks, Lennox said he has not only begun adjusting to life in a wheelchair but has also gained a better appreciation for his friends and former neighbors John and Kendell Joplin, who have helped organize a benefit that will be held Saturday in his honor.

“We lived across the street from where Tom used to live,” said John Joplin. “We’re his neighbors, and we knew of other benefits that had been held to help people before and wanted to see what we could do for Tom. My wife’s friend, Angie Langford, has been helping us organize it, too.”

Approaching area businesses and individuals with fliers advertising the event, Joplin said a variety of people were happy to donate items to the event.

“One hundred thirty-four businesses have donated things to the benefit, not counting private people,” Joplin said.

The benefit will run from 1 to 7 p.m. at Sliderz, 5995 East U.S. 36, and will include door prizes, a live auction from 3 to 5 p.m. and a meal.

“We contacted sports teams like the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Bears, and they’ve sent some sports items and memorabilia to auction off,” said Joplin. “We’ll also have a brand-new, flat-screen television and different antiques and collectibles,” Joplin said, noting that Les Crandall, who runs auctions at the CIA house, will help run the live auction Saturday.

Food items, including ham, barbecue pork, hot dogs, sloppy joes and dessert, will also be available, in addition to music provided by The Last Outlaw and a 50/50 raffle.

Admission is $8 for people ages 11 and older and will include the price of food. Children 10 and younger will get in free. All proceeds will go toward Lennox’s medical and living expenses.

“The people in Decatur and the surrounding area have been unbelievable as far as helping us out,” said Lennox. “And John has done a wonderful job helping to organize this. This has really helped show me who my true friends are.”

Lennox said he is hoping to pay off some of his medical bills and give his sister some money for utilities with the proceeds.

In conjunction with Saturday’s benefit, Bob Evans restaurant, 3020 N. Water St., will hold a community fundraiser for Lennox.

“From Aug. 26 to Sept. 2 (from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day), if people bring in a Bob Evans flier that advertises the fundraiser when they come in to eat, Bob Evans will donate 15 percent of the sales from their meals to Tom,” Joplin said.

Bob Evans manager Kim Ewing said she is hoping for a good turnout.

“My boyfriend knew Tom, and he and I would talk to him (Lennox) whenever we’d go into Kroger, so it kind of hit my heart when we heard what had happened to him,” said Ewing. “It inspired me to do something for him.”

Lennox, who was in good spirits Thursday, said that although he knows he has a long road ahead of him, he is choosing to remain optimistic.

“What else can I do?” he said. He added that he’s hoping to get prosthetic legs eventually. “I’m alive, and I have tons of friends here. That’s how I look at it.”|421-7963

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