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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Fighting back – again: Nashua man on road to recovery after motorcycle crash

Dean Shalhoup

Ted Takacs was 16, guns in hand, hardly trained, but champing at the bit to join the fight to regain his home country’s precious freedom.

Later, captured, imprisoned, tortured and threatened, he held it together. ...

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Ted Takacs was 16, guns in hand, hardly trained, but champing at the bit to join the fight to regain his home country’s precious freedom.

Later, captured, imprisoned, tortured and threatened, he held it together.

Two years later, with his country under Russian occupation and his undermanned troops overwhelmed and exhausted, he knew it was time to get out, even though it meant leaving home, and family, behind.

The war taught him how to fly planes; he called on that skill to plan his escape. The Russians peppered his aircraft with bullets, but he soon climbed beyond their reach.

He winged his way into Austria and crash-landed, on purpose, willing to risk injury for the chance to step onto free soil for the first time in years.

Theodore B. Takacs, Hungarian born son of a medical-equipment factory owner, had hit the homestretch to freedom.

On a warm August morning some 60 free, productive and successful years later, the onetime Hungarian freedom fighter hopped on his beloved motorcycle with the sidecar, picked up his trademark box of Munchkins from his favorite Dunkin’ Donuts, turned right and began to merge onto the Everett Turnpike headed north to his second home – a motorcycle shop where friends awaited their fill of doughnut holes.

Seconds later, the tumult, the anxiety, the pain, the uncertainty that defined the first 20 years of Takacs’ life came rushing back, this time not at the hands of invading Russian occupation forces, but at the whim of a young man charged with being behind the wheel of a large SUV, who later told police he didn’t even know how to drive.

From witnesses’ statements and the police report, the SUV came up on Takacs’ left side, crashed into his motorcycle and sent it and the biker, then 78, flying through the air.

The SUV driver then made direful decision No. 2, according to police: He sped off, leaving a gravely injured Takacs and his twisted motorcycle in his rearview mirror.

Police and witnesses said Benjamin Tucker, 23, pulled over somewhere near Exit 6, about a half-mile from the crash scene, and exited the vehicle, at which point a passenger, an older man, jumped behind the wheel.

Tucker said in his statement to police that he shouldn’t have been driving because he didn’t know how to, and that after the accident, he switched seats with the passenger – Michael Fawcett, 47, who is Tucker’s uncle.

Not surprisingly, both now face a slew of charges stemming from the crash.

But the tale gets even more outlandish: While police, firefighters and paramedics rushed to Takacs’ side and went about trying to save his life, Fawcett, according to police documents, was making his way over to Lake Street.

It wasn’t 30 minutes after the crash, police said that a man entered a convenience store at 49 Lake St. and allegedly robbed it at knife point. Fawcett is charged with that crime.

As Tucker’s and Fawcett’s cases work their way through the court system, Liz Takacs is doing everything she can to return her husband’s life “to as normal as it can be,” she said this week, perched on a spare bed in the room in which Takacs is staying while undergoing physical therapy on his slow, but steady, road back to health.

Liz Takacs said she’s pleased that police nabbed the men who police believe are the ones who “have caused Theodore great pain and anxiety.” Some of the Takacses’ many friends have, understandably, invoked unprintable adjectives in venting their anger and disbelief that two men could leave a badly battered man lying on the side of the highway.

Roger Pageot, owner of RJ’s Motorsport – the shop that is Takacs’ second home – put aside his disgust to focus instead on his longtime friend.

“He’s been a customer forever,” Pageot said. “We became good friends years ago. Teddy was in here three or four days a week, more in the summer.”

Takacs earned the tag “The Munchkin Man” for his never-fail routine of scoring a box of the snacks for the guys at RJ’s.

So ingrained are Munchkins in Takacs’ daily routine that one of his first questions when he could speak was the fate of the box he had just picked up before the crash.

“That was his concern when he came to – ‘Are the Munchkins OK?’ ” Pageot said with a laugh. “Here he was all banged up and he was worried about the Munchkins.”

Takacs, a man of many pursuits, was a truck driver and car detailer, the latter of which he did for many years at Nashua’s former Clyde Garfield Oldsmobile and Cadillac dealer.

From that came his penchant for keeping vehicles clean and shiny, Pageot said.

“He loves washing and waxing bikes, including his own,” Pageot said. “We’re looking forward to getting him back up here.”

Takacs said he recalls nothing from just before the crash to his second ambulance ride to Northeast Rehabilitation more than a week later.

Anxiety and prayers filled the hours after the crash, Liz Takacs said.

“It was bad,” she said. “His eye was hanging out. His left elbow was hanging loose. He had bad head trauma.

“Both knees ballooned. It was awful.”

What concern Takacs’ age – he has turned 79 since the crash – plays in his recovery is mitigated a great deal by his rugged, well-tested character and a love for his adopted country– especially New Hampshire.

After the plane crash in Austria, Takacs befriended a family who helped him get his name on an immigration list.

“I had a choice, to go to Germany, England, Canada … but I decided on the U.S.,” Takacs said.

The first stop was New Jersey, but just weeks later, he went north with friends to visit and was smitten.

“I see all these mountains, the lakes, trees, so beautiful,” he said of his first glimpse of the Granite State. “I said, ‘I’m moving here.’ ”

As flying faded from his radar, motorcycling took over.

“My first bike in America was a ’47 Harley,” Takacs said. “When I got it, I drove straight to Miami Beach, stopped only for gas and food and the bathroom.

“I got off in Miami, I shook for an hour,” Takacs said with a big grin, referring to the vibration old Harleys are famous for.

Ted and Liz Takacs’ 32-year marriage is their second; each had two children when they met, and Julie, the youngest, came along 29 years ago.

“He’s been a great father to all of them,” Liz Takacs said. Calling her and her husband “just ordinary people,” she also praises her husband for his love of volunteering to help others, and quietly so.

She knows the coming weeks will be filled with adjustment and financial concerns. Although Ted Takacs will soon shed the wheelchair he has been using – he said he will, so that means he will – their home needs some safety upgrades.

Being there for her husband caused Liz Takacs’ paychecks to take a huge hit, and she said she nearly lost her job.

They’re confident, though, that brighter days are coming – if for no other reason, Liz Takacs said, that her husband needs to hasten his recovery and go home for the sake of their pets.

“The cats and dog really miss him,” she said with a smile. “I guess I just can’t feed them the way he does.”

Dean Shalhoup’s column appears Saturdays in The Telegraph. He can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS).