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Palm Harbor man dies when motorized wheelchair is struck

John Romanak, 86, celebrating his birthday with his stepgreat-grandchildren, Jason and Alina Allen, was a World War II veteran.

Family photo

John Romanak, 86, celebrating his birthday with his stepgreat-grandchildren, Jason and Alina Allen, was a World War II veteran.

PALM HARBOR — John Romanak had a routine. The 86-year-old World War II veteran would ride to the Hess Service station at 5:45 a.m. for his morning coffee and conversations with the clerks and customers.

As the sun rose, Romanak would navigate his motorized wheelchair down the Alderman Road sidewalk near Alt. U.S. 19. He'd cross the four lanes where there was no median and head to the Chatterbox North Family Restaurant and sit for hours, again talking to the staff and customers.

That routine ended catastrophically Wednesday when Romanak was struck and killed as he tried to cross Alderman at 6:04 a.m. He was hit by Kelli Borenstein, driving a 2007 Honda sport utility vehicle. He was thrown from his 2007 Jet Ultra 7 motorized wheelchair and landed near the road's bike path, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

Romanak, an Army medic who earned a Purple Heart and a Silver Star during the war, was flown to Bayfront Medical Center. At 7 a.m., the man who everyone said kept a smile on his and others' faces died.

"He was a really nice man and is going to be missed by a lot of people," said Dawn Hamel, a waitress at Chatterbox North. "He was always good for a laugh. We would just laugh all the time. I'm still in shock."

Sgt. Steve Gaskins of the Highway Patrol said no charges were filed Wednesday, though an investigation will continue. According to the patrol's report, alcohol was not a factor and Borenstein, 38, of Tarpon Springs was not injured. She declined to comment.

Gaskins said Romanak was not using a crosswalk.

A father of four, Romanak moved from Pennsylvania to Palm Harbor in 2000 to live with his daughter, Denise Doulgeris. He was a construction laborer before retiring.

Doulgeris said her dad could walk but had back trouble because of years of construction work and a car accident. He gave up driving in 1999 and turned to the motorized wheelchair. Romanak bought his first one in 2001 and got a new one last year.

"The only way of being out of the house during the day was the wheelchair," Doulgeris said. "He had that jazzy chair all through the neighborhood and knew everyone. He knew neighbors that I didn't even know."

At the Chatterbox North, Romanak would sit in his favorite booth where he could see the Alderman Road traffic. After his favorite meal of sirloin steak and french fries, Romanak could be seen moving up and down the sidewalks along Alderman Road.

Romanak was to go to Pennsylvania on Sept. 6 to spend three weeks with his son. Hamel said he talked about how excited he was about the trip.

Now, Romanak will be returned to Renovo, Pa., where his ashes will be sprinkled on the family farm.

"He was congenial and an easygoing man but yet opinionated," Doulgeris said. "He was friendly, and everybody liked him."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or dalee@sptimes.com.

Palm Harbor man dies when motorized wheelchair is struck 08/27/08 [Last modified: Sunday, August 31, 2008 6:10pm]
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