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Talented and thoughtful young man's life cut short

The Morgan Hill Times: Talented and thoughtful young man’s life cut short

Nov 5, 2009
By Natalie Everett - Staff Writer


Rory Tomasello, actor, playwright and casual philosopher, died Monday, succumbing to the brain injury he suffered after the bicycle he was riding on collided with an SUV two weeks ago.

Tomasello, 22, wasn’t wearing a helmet on Oct. 23, the day of the accident. He was riding across a crosswalk on West Edmundson Avenue when his bicycle collided with a Cadillac SUV. The female driver hadn’t yielded, police said. The investigation is ongoing.

His mother Kathee Tomasello said he had a fractured skull. His brain swelled. He fell into a coma the day of the accident and never came out of it; he was declared brain dead Monday.

It’s ironic, his high school friend Devin McCutchen said, that it was Tomasello’s mind that failed him. Tomasello was "a cerebral person," he said.

"It seems almost the most tragic part to me. It seems so cruel that of all things, it hit his mind," McCutchen said. "He was such an intensely bright guy."

Tomasello was one of the funniest people McCutchen knew. The two became close while attending Live Oak High School. They formed a band called Pastel Pasta, which spoofed all the "painfully serious" bands in the local scene then. This, though, was just a side hobby to Rory’s theatrical aspirations. Rory wrote several plays in high school, and worked part time as an usher at the Center for Performing Arts in San Jose. McCutchen said his friend was a strong creative force - and hilarious.

McCutchen remembered a time when Tomasello played Scrooge in a comedic version of "A Christmas Carol." The Ghost of Christmas Present, an actor in a yellow wig, was drunk in this version.

"The wig falls off ... Rory picks it up and says, ’How ironic, the color of your liver.’" McCutchen said, laughing. "It was such an apropos ad lib. He had great timing like that."

McCutchen said Rory Tomasello had recently started taking philosophy classes at De Anza College in Cupertino.

Kathee Tomasello said her son liked politics and was interested in social issues.

"He was very concerned with disadvantaged people, people who weren’t treated fairly. He was talking to my (other) son about the war, and told him he wasn’t for the war, but the soldiers who were coming back" should be treated fairly. Rory had heard something about the returning soldiers not having the tissue transplants they needed.

"I think that’s one of the reasons he donated his organs," Tomasello said.

Tomasello said that even as a young child, her son liked watching the History channel on cable.

On his MySpace page, he describes himself as "creative but not annoyingly eccentric." His blogs included diatribes on gay marriage and religion, New World Order conspiracy theories and the top 10 reasons why the drug war must end. For heroes, he listed his father, professional musician Tom Tomasello, first, followed by beat poets including Allen Ginsberg, philosophers like Jean Paul Sartre and comedians such as Bill Hicks and David Cross.

Rory Tomasello was a thoughtful, restless youth who was getting tired of small town life but didn’t quite know what to do with himself, McCutchen said. He lived with his parents, but talked about moving to San Francisco like McCutchen did and attending the state or community college there.

About 5 p.m. Oct. 23, Tomasello was riding his bicycle north through the midblock crosswalk on West Edmundson Avenue, west of Monterey Road. He made it across the eastbound traffic lanes and a vehicle in the left westbound lane stopped for him. His bicycle collided with the front driver’s side fender of a westbound Cadillac SUV driven by a 66-year-old woman traveling in the right westbound lane, police said.

Tomasello was disoriented when police and ambulances arrived. Once he was in the ambulance, he passed out and did not regain consciousness again, Kathee Tomasello said.

"A few times his eyes opened, but he never really looked at us," she said.

Morgan Hill Police Chief Bruce Cumming said police are still investigating the accident. No one was ticketed at the scene, for both ethical and common sense reasons, he said.

For one, it’s not clear who was more at fault. Because he was riding through the crosswalk instead of walking the bike across, as is local law, it’s not clear whether he should be considered a pedestrian, Cumming said. If he is, he had laws protecting him.

If he is considered a pedestrian, then two laws may fault the driver, who has not been identified and declined to speak to the Times the day of the accident. The first law states that a vehicle must yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. Another law states that if a vehicle is stopped at a crosswalk for a pedestrian, then the driver of any other vehicle should not overtake and pass the stopped vehicle. Cumming said the driver could face manslaughter charges.

"We have not concluded anything with finality yet. People need to wait for the facts," Cumming said. "This is not as simple as it looks. The things we do know for sure are we believe he should have dismounted his bicycle, and of course we feel that he should have been wearing a helmet. But also, the driver must yield to a person in the crosswalk."

Cumming said he wasn’t aware of other problems at this midblock crosswalk, which ushers people using the trail that runs along Llagas Creek across Edmundson. The crosswalk opened about six months ago, he said.

While a state law recently passed allowing cyclists to ride through crosswalks, this law states that it’s not intended to usurp any existing local laws. Morgan Hill’s laws stipulate that bicyclists should walk their bikes through crosswalks and at intersections, unless part of a trail. At this trail, a sign is posted at the trail exit on the north side of the street, visible by southbound cyclists, that instruct cyclists to dismount. There isn’t a sign on the south side, though. Tomasello was traveling north from the signless trail exit through the crosswalk.

Services will be held at Cathedral of Faith in San Jose at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, his sister Roslyn Weatherall said. The church is located at 2315 Canoas Garden Avenue.

In addition to his parents Kathee and Tom Tomasello and sister Roslyn Weatherall, he is survived by his brother Ryan Tomasello.