Former Cub Scout leader Alfred “Al” Gorman had reportedly been homeless seven years when he finally found a way to move into housing this year, using benefits earned from multiple stints in the military.
So friends see a particular sadness in the fact that he died this week at age 73, while riding his bike to the laundromat.
The chain-reaction accident occurred Sunday morning at Parkwood Avenue and Hawthorne Lane, when a Ford Ranger pickup crashed into a Lexus, then lost control and crashed into Gorman’s bike. Nathaniel Manson Lancaster, 38, the driver of a 1994 Ford Ranger, was charged with misdemeanor death by vehicle.
Funeral arrangements remained unclear this week.
Gorman’s death touched a nerve in Charlotte’s biking community, which held a memorial and vigil in his honor this week. It’s estimated 100 people attended the event and a white “ghost bike” has been placed at the wreck site to remind motorists of his death.
Charlotte averages one to four bike-related fatalities each year, though the 140 bike crashes reported last year was the highest since 2002.
He was a big, lanky, nerdy guy, who’d cock his head and make a funny face while he was thinking. Kids took to him easily.
David Hawk of Rock Hill
Bicycling had been Gorman’s chief form of transportation since he had fallen into homelessness. He had reportedly been an electrician earlier in his life and worked for Duke Energy. Some say he ended up on the streets due to high medical bills associated with the death of a loved one. However, others say he became homeless after a stint overseas in the military left him unable to cope with a return to civilian life.
Either way, he found his way back into housing in February thanks to Housing First Charlotte-Mecklenburg, a nonprofit effort that is placing chronically homeless people into supportive housing. An outreach team from the Urban Ministry Center tracked him down camping in a Huntersville park, using a tip from the public.
The Army veteran (he was reportedly a paratrooper) had been rebuilding his life in east Charlotte’s Belmont neighborhood, where he was a familiar sight riding around on a bike with a little trailer attached. Neighbors described him as quiet and slow, as he struggled to ride his bike on two replaced knees. His many rituals included riding to a nearby laundry each Sunday morning, with his clothes tucked into the trailer.
Liz Clasen-Kelly of the Urban Ministry said Gorman was a success story in the community’s effort to house the chronically homeless – a segment of the homeless population that lives on the streets for years due to disabilities. This year, a street count identified 280 chronically homeless people in the Charlotte area.
Clasen-Kelly noted Gorman was the kind of man who, despite being homeless, read the newspaper daily and was an avid National Public Radio listener. He had been involved in a previous biking accident but recovered, she said.
“He had so much life left in him,” said Clasen-Kelly, noting Gorman had stabilized his life to the point of being able to recently donate money to the Urban Ministry Center and NPR.
“He was gregarious, incredibly intelligent and well read. You could tell he had been involved with scouting by the resourcefulness he used at his camp site. Sometimes, people who live outside for extended periods become isolated. He was not so much isolated as he was independent.”
David Hawk of Rock Hill says he was among those who knew Gorman in the 1980s when he was the pack master of Cub Scout Pack 184. Hawk laughs recalling how Gorman once offered to lend him a tent that turned out to be big enough to sleep 12 people – and Gorman didn’t linger to help put it up.
“He was a big, lanky, nerdy guy, who’d cock his head and make a funny face while he was thinking. Kids took to him easily,” Hawk said.
“It took my breath away when I heard he’d been killed. When he came back from the first Gulf War, there were changes. He was having problems adjusting ... He showed up at my house one night at 2 a.m., wanting to know if he could borrow money.”
Gorman’s death is an example of how dangerous the city’s streets are for people who depend on bikes for transportation, said Jordan Moore, bicycle program director for Sustain Charlotte. Moore was involved in the memorial and vigil for Gorman on Tuesday.
“Losing Al was heartbreaking because it seemed so senseless, in a pinball machine of an accident,” Moore said.