PALM COAST – The Dalai Lama’s nephew was smiling, radiating energy as he tackled the first leg of a 300-mile walk to promote Tibet’s independence from China. He insisted on finishing the last two miles on his own, even as darkness fell.
“For the cause,” Jigme K. Norbu said, as he had on so many similar journeys before.
Norbu was alone on a dark coastal highway Monday when he was struck and killed by an SUV. He was headed south in the same direction as traffic, following a white line along the side of the road, according to the Highway Patrol. The impact crumpled the vehicle’s hood and shattered the front windshield.
Authorities said it appeared to be an accident, and the driver, 31-year-old Keith R. O’Dell of Palm Coast, swerved but couldn’t avoid Norbu. The Highway Patrol was still investigating, but didn’t expect any charges. O’Dell and his 5-year-old son were not hurt.
Norbu, 45, had completed at least 21 walks and bike rides, logging more than 7,800 miles in the U.S. and overseas to support freedom for Tibet and highlight the suffering of its people. He completed his most recent 300-mile trek in December in Taiwan.
He lived in Bloomington, Ind., where his father had been a professor at Indiana University and he owned a restaurant that served Tibetan and Indian cuisine.
He had set out Monday with a group of friends, but insisted he would continue on his own after one of his companions tired and they decided to take a van to a restaurant. Norbu planned to meet them there.
About an hour before the accident, Norbu met a Florida couple, Gary and Damian Drum Collins, who had heard about his jaunt through town.
“He was smiling and happy. He had as much positive energy as you could imagine,” Gary Collins told The Associated Press.
His wife took a picture with Norbu, who was wearing running shoes, a dark pullover and a white sandwich board-like sign that read, “Walk For Tibet Florida.”
The couple was troubled by the fading sunlight and urged Norbu to stay at their place for the night. He was already behind schedule, they said, and agreed to change his plans.
“It was becoming dusk. We were worried and we were concerned he wasn’t going to have daylight,” Gary Collins said.
They suggested Norbu stay inside their condominium, about three miles from their Hammock Wine & Cheese Shoppe, but he wanted to spend the night under the stars.
So the Collinses made preparations for Norbu and his group to spend the night outside the cheese shop. They left a towel, bar of soap, three bottles of coconut juice, a can of stuffed grape leaves and crackers on a table outside. The back door was also unlocked so the travelers could shower and use the restroom.
A note for the group read: “Hi! Please make yourselves at home. It is an honor to have you here.”
Norbu was killed just a quarter of a mile from the shop. On Tuesday, a vase with seven roses marked the accident site on the side of the two-lane State Highway A1A, where the speed limit is 55 mph and there are no traffic lights.
A woman who identified herself as the mother of the SUV driver said her son didn’t want to talk to the media.
“What more is there to say? He was wearing dark clothes. It was an unfortunate accident. He hasn’t been charged. That’s all we’re going to say,” said the woman, who would not give her name.
Arjia Rinpoche, the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center director, said they would hold a prayer service Tuesday night.