Injured Blind Beggar Thanks Well-Wishers
Apr. 21, 1992
NEW YORK (AP) _ A blind beggar, mangled by a runaway taxi, said at a hospital Tuesday he'll ''retire'' to Louisiana with his beloved dog and warm memories of caring strangers.
''I didn't think nobody cared. New York cares,'' Thomas Armstrong said at Bellevue Hospital. ''The most I can say in a few words is, 'Thank you, thank you, and I'll always remember you.'''
On April 7, bystanders lifted the taxi off Armstrong, 64, a Fifth Avenue fixture, and his Labrador retriever, Smokey, who were on the sidewalk near 57th Street. The 10-year-old guide dog is recuperating at the Animal Medical Center.
Well-wishers have sent Armstrong several thousand dollars, 400 cards, flowers, fruit baskets, a teddy bear, several toy dogs and a Labrador retriever statue, said Bellevue spokeswoman Vicki Ciampa.
''This tragic accident puts an identity on someone I've seen for many years, thought about briefly, perhaps put a coin in his cup and hurried on, and - I'm ashamed to say - quickly forgotten,'' said a note sent with a check.
The soft-spoken patient, a gash on his forehead and his leg elevated, was wheeled into a hospital conference room next to his sister, Charlotte Ellis of Alexandria, La.
Drs. Randall Feingold and Patrick Lamparello said Armstrong's injuries include a broken leg, dislocated shoulder and injured blood vessels to his foot that required emergency bypass surgery.
After the pins are removed from his legs, he'll get a cast and possibly more surgery, then rehabilitation. Medicare will cover his hospitalization, which could last months.
Ellis said she and her brother - ''we were always close'' - spend hours talking about their childhoods and ''back home.'' She said Armstrong, an independent sort, visited her six months ago.
Armstrong grew up in Oakdale, La., and worked on the railroad, in a sawmill, and ''killing hogs,'' said Ellis. He was blinded in his early 20's. He's divorced and has five grown children.
Armstrong said he came to New York ''for a better income'' after allergies ended his job making brooms and mops. He said he'd panhandled for ''the last three years pretty regularly.''
Smokey, who's been with Armstrong eight years, was lying between his feet when they were hit.
''If he had seen something coming at us, he would have tried to get up,'' said Armstrong. ''All at once, a 'bam' and then a 'bam' - that's all I remember. ... We were both knocked to the wall.''
''The man who hit me didn't even think enough of us to say he was sorry.''
Police say no charges were filed because the driver was forced onto the sidewalk by another motorist.
Armstrong gets Smokey's progress reports but ''I haven't got a chance to go over and touch him.'' Smokey was blinded in one eye, and the left side of his body was badly injured. His prognosis is good and his veterinary bills have been paid by well-wishers.
Smokey's career is over, but he'll still be Armstrong's best buddy.
They'll live with Ellis. Armstrong says he's retired from the streets:
''I've lost my nerve.''