PAINTER, Va. (AP) — Since May, area residents have missed the enigmatic Phillip W. Sharp, known locally as “the Can Man.”
He and his bicycle laden with bulging plastic trash bags filled with aluminum cans, and pulling an equally over-burdened trailer, are known and respected — and usually granted a little extra room on the roadway.
But while making his rounds on May 4, Sharp’s bike was struck by a vehicle on Occohannock Neck Road near Ebenezer Baptist Church.
The injuries have kept him from making his rounds, plucking cans from ditches and picking up sacks of donated aluminum.
“He’s doing better,” said his sister, Minnie Faulcon. “He still has a lot of headaches.”
A General District court judge certified to a grand jury hit-and-run charges against Paul Joseph Spano, 92, of Exmore, who is accused of leaving Sharp unconscious in a roadside ditch after striking him with his pickup truck.
Witness Jeffrey Horner described coming upon a bicycle cart and recognizing it as belonging to “who we call ‘the Can Man.’”
Horner ran to the mangled bicycle and saw “a gentleman lying in the ditch unconscious.”
Beyond being the Can Man, little is known about the widely-recognized Sharp, who a family member said gives away much of the proceeds from the cans to a housing organization in the hope that he might someday be helped.
Sharp is unable to hear or speak, but effortlessly reads lips and written questions, responding through facial expressions and body language.
Horner also reported seeing a dark pickup truck with a camper stopped about 50 yards beyond the accident site. The truck pulled into the church parking lot, turned around, and drove back slowly past the accident scene, heading toward Exmore.
Another bystander told him, “You’d better get the tag number of that pickup,” testified Horner, and that led State Police to Spano.
Sharp attended the court hearing with Faulcon, who told the News her brother suffered a fractured pelvis, two fractures to his left arm, head trauma, and aggravation of an old fracture She also said he has “nightmares like crazy,” since the crash.
Sharp told the News said he does not remember anything about the crash, but said he has arm, pelvic and head pain. His left leg is also weak and unsteady; he used a cane for assistance the day of the hearing. His left arm is still in a cast.
Sharp declined to discuss what he does with the cans he collects, but Faulcon said he sends proceeds from the can collection to Habitat for Humanity through money orders purchased at the post office.
“They promised they would fix up his house, and they haven’t done anything,” she said.
She did not know how long ago Sharp began sending money to Habitat for Humanity.
The situation was entirely unfamiliar to Nancy Gonzales, executive director of Eastern Shore of Virginia Habitat for Humanity.
“It’s not something we would do. We don’t make repairs, first of all,” she said. “We always build new.”
Habitat sells the homes to qualified individuals or families, she said. Gonzalez stressed that donations made to the organization do not influence who is selected for assistance.
The Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission has an indoor plumbing and rehabilitation program, which essentially rebuilds homes in their existing locations.
David Annis, ANPDC’s director of housing development, declined to say whether Sharp was on the waiting list for the program.
Employees of the Post Office in Painter would not comment, but former postmaster Anne Mathews, who retired about eight years ago, remembers regularly selling money orders to Sharp, though she did not know to whom he sent them.
“He made them out himself,” she said. “He is a man quite capable of handling his own affairs.”
Sharp’s modest home in Painter has pressing repair needs. Sharp showed where a lock and a window had been broken during a break-in, and other windows were in need of replacement.
Faulcon thinks the house needs a lot more than windows.
“The house is going to fall right down on him,” she said.
She tried to get Sharp to live with her, but “as soon as he could walk or get around,” he went home, she said, in part because he feared being robbed again.
Sharp shies away from discussing his personal affairs.
He verified that he sent money to Habitat for Humanity, but declined to say for how long or whether he still sends it.
He also affirmed he was told by Habitat that they would help with home repairs, but would not give a name, nor tell how long ago that was.
He was not as reticent to talk about wanting to resume riding his bike and collecting cans.
He is a little nervous about getting hit again, but Faulcon hopes the hearing aid she purchased will help him hear drivers’ horns.
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