Shirtless, hair flowing, legs pumping, Dr. Theodore Houk is a familiar sight running along North Charles Street on his twice-daily, 5.5-mile trek between his Lutherville home and his job at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.
"You always see him out there," said Kathleen Wrona, who has seen Houk, an internal medicine specialist, often during her commute.
On Thursday, she saw him again, witnessing as the vehicle in front of her struck Houk, critically injuring him and sending him to Maryland Shock Trauma Center via helicopter.
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North Charles Street & Chestnut Avenue, Towson, MD 21204, USA
The accident occurred about 8:12 a.m. near North Charles Street and Chestnut Avenue, said Cpl. John Wachter, a Baltimore County police spokesman. Police said a 65-year-old woman operating a 2005 Toyota RAV4, was headed north on Charles when Houk jogged into the lane and was struck. She has not been charged or identified.
Wrona described the scene as horrific.
"That's all I can say. Horrific," she said. "He was running and strayed into the right-hand lane. Maybe he tripped, maybe he was distracted. It's not clear."
Wrona said Houk struck the windshield of the sport utility vehicle, then hit the ground. The driver of the RAV4 stopped, police said, and stayed until authorities arrived. Wrona said others stopped to offer aid.
"I would want his family to know he wasn't alone on the side of the road," she said. "He was attended to. It's just sad.
"There was nothing the driver — and I told her this — could have done," said Wrona, a Mount Washington area resident. "It was the definition of an accident."
As of Friday morning, police had not released details of Houk's injuries, and a spokeswoman at Shock Trauma said he remained in critical condition.
In his Kurtz Avenue neighborhood in Lutherville where he lives with wife Pamela Jenkins and their family, Houk is known as a friendly man with a wide range of hobbies — including raising chickens in the backyard, tending the garden and practicing the bagpipes.
"We would hear him out on the front porch playing. We really enjoyed it," said neighbor Ralph Welsh. Once, when he was entertaining guests in his yard, he asked Houk to come and play for them. He did.
"They've been really welcoming," said neighbor Jim D'Antonio of the Houk family. D'Antonio moved next door with his wife, Lisa, in November. When they first looked at the house, they were greeted by Houk.
Since then, Houk has helped identify plants in the couple's yard and even gave them a jar of the family's homemade jam.
No one answered the door at the Houk's home Thursday. A well-wisher had left a sack of groceries by the front door.
Houk practices on York Road in Towson and has been on GBMC's staff since 1992, according to the hospital.
"Here he's a part of our family," said GBMC Chaplain J. Joseph Hart. "We're all feeling a great sense of angst over what is unfolding."
"His devotion to his patients is well known," said Dr. Neal M. Friedlander, chairman of GBMC's department of medicine. He described Houk as "a very pleasant and caring person," and said he maintained an avid devotion to exercise and diet.
Houk commutes to work by running with a pack in hand, full of clothes and other items. He told the Towson Times for a 2008 article that he's gotten his fair share of honks and yells.
"This is me, no shirt, long hair, running down the road, saving gas and being healthy," Houk told the Times. "A lot of people say I'm their hero. I'm happy about that. But I'd rather people get out there themselves instead of admiring me."
He runs regardless of the weather.
"I ran the day Tropical Storm Isabel arrived, and I'm out there when it first starts to snow," he told the Times. "You can either be sweaty or wet."
The article noted his routine of eating raw oats for breakfast and 41/2 cups of vegetables each day.
Houk also told the Times he ran because it's safer than bicycling.
A fellow runner, Friedlander said Thursday that when he first heard of the accident, he thought about the risks of running alongside cars in city streets.
"For those of us who run in the city, was there a day when a driver wasn't paying attention, or I wasn't paying attention?... When I do run on Charles Street, you have to be careful," he said. "It's important to be aware."