Kenyon: West Lebanon man suffers unfortunate setback

By JIM KENYON

Valley News Columnist

Published: 05-13-2023 9:00 PM

By all accounts, Daniel Diaz, at age 29, was getting his life together. He’d stopped drinking. He joined a church. He moved into a new apartment in West Lebanon.

Then came the accident.

On a dark January night with temperatures in the low 30s, Diaz was riding his bicycle home on Route 10 from his job as a pizza maker at Ramunto’s Brick and Brew in Hanover.

After Diaz’s motor vehicle license was suspended in 2022 — following his second conviction for driving under the influence — the bicycle became his lifeline.

Using the fat-tire e-bike his church had given him as a gift, Diaz could make the 4½ miles between downtown Hanover and his Seminary Hill apartment in West Lebanon in less than 20 minutes.

On Jan. 9, Diaz left Rumonto’s around 10 p.m. A mile into the ride, Diaz hugged the dirt shoulder of Route 10 South near the Sunset Motor Inn.

He doesn’t remember what happened next. A Hanover teenager driving north on Route 10 found Diaz in the roadway and called 911.

When Lebanon paramedics and police arrived, Diaz was unconscious and bleeding from his right ear. He wasn’t wearing a helmet, police said.

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With Diaz en route to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center via ambulance, police searched his backpack for an ID. An officer knocked on his door at Valley Garden Apartments.

No one answered. Except for a young daughter who lives with her mother, Diaz doesn’t have family in the Upper Valley.

At DHMC, doctors determined Diaz had suffered a fractured skull and possible brain bleed, according to a police report. Suffering from severe head trauma, he underwent surgery to release pressure in part of his brain before being moved to the intensive care unit. He spent the rest of January in the hospital.

A toxicology screening performed by DHMC “came back negative for both alcohol and drugs,” police reported.

Meanwhile, Lebanon cops ramped up their investigation. There was no damage to the bike that indicated Diaz had been struck by a car, ruling out a hit-and-run.

The day after the accident, Lt. Brady Harwood stopped by the Sunset motel, which he learned had a surveillance camera that captured activity on Route 10. Video footage taken around the time of the accident showed a “small light (a bicycle light) traveling south on Route 10. No vehicles were in the area,” Harwood wrote in his report.

The video showed Diaz losing control of the bicycle, perhaps hitting a patch of ice, before crashing.

On the night of the accident, police found Diaz’ wallet. It had $2 inside. Which just about sums up Diaz’ financial situation.

Growing up as a “Puerto Rican in New York,” Diaz had his struggles. He dropped out of high school. He moved to St. Augustine, Fla., where he got a job at a pizza restaurant. He met a student from nearby Flagler College, who was from the Upper Valley. When she returned home, Diaz came with her. After the relationship ended, Diaz decided to stay.

He partied a lot. In September 2018, he pleaded guilty to his first DUI. In November 2021, he was arrested again for DUI, for which he pleaded guilty. As a two-time offender, Diaz spent a week in jail and was hit with a lengthy suspension of his driver’s license.

“I made bad decisions,” he told me last week. “My life was a mess.”

Along with his drinking, a relationship that began after he moved to the Upper Valley had soured. They agreed to co-parent their daughter.

Al Patterson, a retired Hanover police officer, had met Diaz at a car dealership, where he took his truck for service and Diaz worked as a technician.

Later, after spotting Diaz walking in downtown Lebanon one afternoon, Patterson stopped to talk with him. “Daniel looked like he was having a bad day,” Patterson said.

Before they parted, Patterson invited Diaz join him and his wife, Barbara, at Riverbank Church in White River Junction for an upcoming Sunday service. Diaz later called Patterson to take him up on his offer of a ride to the service. For whatever reason, Diaz clicked immediately with Riverbank members. He became a regular at Sunday services and entered the nondenominational church’s substance use recovery program.

With help from Patterson, who has since moved to South Carolina, Diaz started his own property maintenance business while continuing to work at Ramunto’s.

Working two jobs was the only way he could manage the $1,675 monthly rent on a two-bedroom apartment at Valley Garden. He wanted the second bedroom for his daughter when she came for overnight stays.

Diaz hasn’t worked since the accident. Riverbank Church members have helped with rent payments. “The whole church knew what he had been through and the demons he had fought,” said Dave Roberts, Riverbank’s facilities manager.

Listen, the Lebanon-based social services nonprofit, has chipped in as well.

Maria Rodriguez, who lives in New York, moved into her son’s apartment to help with his care. Diaz is still dealing with memory loss and headaches.

I met Diaz on Monday, the day before he underwent another surgery repair bone defects in his skull. He was already a week late on his May rent, but fortunately, he has an understanding landlord.

“It’s a horrible situation,” said Rachel Bertrand, facilities manager at Simpson Companies in White River Junction. “He’s given us no problems. We’re certainly willing to work with him.”

Lynne Goodwin, the city’s human services director, is also aware of Diaz’s predicament. After the paperwork is completed, Goodwin told me she expects he’ll qualify for the city’s “shelter assistance” program.

It won’t cover his rent in full, but it will help. Though for Diaz, there’s only way that he can put his life back together — again, he told me.

“I need to get back to work.”

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.

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