West Philly aerial artist receives support after violent robbery

West Philly
Lee Thompson is recovering at home after being hit by a getaway car.
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When Lee Thompson was returning home from the hospital on Sept. 11, she could not look down 43rd Street.

A few days earlier, Thompson, a 37-year-old aerial trapeze artist and motorcycle enthusiast, was hit by a getaway car after a thief snatched her purse while she was sitting outside a restaurant at 43rd and Larchwood Avenue in West Philadelphia.

“I was on the hood for a bit and then I was watching the SUV roll over my knees,” she told Metro. “I was kind of just in the fetal position in the middle of 43rd Street.”

Thompson broke her fibula, sustained severe road rash to her left leg and injured her meniscus. She was hospitalized for more than three days and has begun what is expected to be a long recovery process.

Friends, fellow artists and others have rallied around Thompson, contributing more than $6,700 as of Wednesday to a GoFundMe set up by a fellow aerialist to assist in covering her medical bills.

Those who have heard her story have helped in other ways, too; a therapist has offered her a series of free sessions.

Thompson, who said she was surprised and humbled by the support, feared people might think she was stupid for stepping out in front of the Ford SUV before the car ran her over.

But she believes an experience earlier that day may have influenced how she responded to the robbery.

On Sept. 8, early in the morning, Thompson, sleeping in her second-floor West Philadelphia apartment, heard her motorcycle alarm. She peered out the window and saw a white van and guys messing with her bike.

Thompson said she ran outside completely naked and yelled at the would-be thieves, who dropped the bike and fled the area.

“I’ve never done anything like that before, ever. And it worked,” she said. “I still have my motorcycle.”

More than 12 hours later, Thompson and a friend went to dinner at Clarksville, a nearby restaurant. After her purse was taken, she and the friend ran after the thief, who jumped into the back of the SUV.

“I didn’t really have any time to think,” she said. “I just kind of did.”

Thompson stopped in front of the SUV, which was moving slowly. Suddenly, the driver picked up speed, she said. Her friend injured his hand in the melee. A passerby who happened to be a nurse held her as they waited for an ambulance.

No arrests have been made in the case. Anyone with information can call the PPD’s Southwest Detective Division at 215-686-3183/3184.

The injuries have kept Thompson away from her many jobs, all of which correspond to her varied hobbies and interests.

She has been performing and teaching with Tangle Movement Arts, an all-female ensemble and Fringe Festival favorite, for about 12 years. Thompson works in the University of Pennsylvania’s rare book and manuscript department.

In addition, she works in the showroom for RevZilla, a motorcycle gear company, and dog-walks and cat-sits on the Rover platform. Thompson also sells colorful window clings on Etsy.

Thompson said her feelings about West Philadelphia have not changed. Instead of focusing on the robbery and crash, she prefers to talk about the support she has received from the community.

“I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel coming home, coming back to the neighborhood after all that had happened,” Thompson said. “But one thing that has felt so good is that this place, West Philly, where I am, still feels like home.”

“It still feels like somewhere I’m incredibly grateful to be, that I really, really want to be in,” she continued. “And it’s full of amazing people.”

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