PHOTOPHILE- For Gerry: Benefit concert raises funds, spirits

Event organizer Dan Dorsey and Corky Mitchell

If Gerry Mitchell ever wondered how many friends he has in town, he got his answer on Saturday night: a whole lot. Nearly 150 people showed up at the 214 Community Arts Center (formerly the Prism) for a benefit concert featuring Drum Call, Mary Gordon Hall, Tom and Emily, and others.

"It's overwhelming," said Corky Mitchell, Gerry's younger brother, gesturing to the crowd inside, which included city councilor David Brown.

Benefit organizer Dan Dorsey, who played guitar with his band Loose Connections alongside Garen, his 11-year-old son and keyboardist, says he considers the event a success because it showed how much the community cares about Mitchell, a 53-year-old artist who was struck in a city crosswalk in his wheelchair by an Albemarle County police cruiser on November 5 and then ticketed. The charges were dropped in January, and the benefit aimed to raise money for Mitchell's growing medical expenses. Though he has long struggled with health problems related to HIV/AIDS, the accident, Mitchell says, exacerbated his condition.

"I think we got the job done," says Dorsey of the benefit, citing "so many people who came through with the things they said they could do." Mudhouse, Eppie's and Albemarle Baking Company donated treats; a silent auction featured 40 donated items ranging from dinner for two at Hamiltons' to original art to spa treatments at Oasis Day Spa. At press time, benefit organizers had not tallied the money raised.

One person who wasn't in attendance was Mitchell himself, who has been hospitalized several times since the accident, most recently for gout and severe pain, which robbed him of his already limited mobility, including his ability to paint.  Although his condition improved enough to allow him to return home, his ordeal is not over. Medication he took over the last few months triggered cataracts for which he will have surgery in the next several weeks. He estimated he's lost 90 percent of his vision.

 "I'm a wreck right now," says the housebound Mitchell, who adds that the physical turmoil since the accident is "like going through Dante's inferno. It's getting biblical."

Mitchell's accident will likely affect state laws as well. Last week, two bills sponsored by Delegate David Toscano addressing pedestrian safety passed out of committee. The first, HB 1270, would require drivers to stop, not just yield, to pedestrians in crosswalks on streets where the speed limit is 35mph or less. The second, HB 1478, reworks the code so it applies to all pedestrian signals, not just those using the actual words "walk" and "don't walk."

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