WBOC Owner passes away after crash involving a pickup truck in Milford

MILFORD, Del. - Police say that they are continuing to investigate a fatal crash involving a bicyclist that happened early Thursday morning in Milford.

Investigators say that the incident happened around 7:35 AM on Thursday when 76-year-old Thomas Draper of Milford, was bicycling eastbound on Slaughter Beach Road in the area of Wells Road when he was allegedly struck by a 2013 Ford F-150 pickup truck operated by 37-year-old Shawn Armstrong of Lewes, who was also traveling eastbound on Slaughter Beach Road.

The pickup truck stopped immediately after the crash and called 9-1-1. Draper was initially transported to Bayhealth Milford Memorial Hospital before being air lifted to Baltimore Shock Trauma in critical condition. At 2:37 AM on Friday, Draper died as a result of his injuries.

Armstrong was not injured in the crash. The Collision Reconstruction Unit is continuing their investigation into this incident. Drug and alcohol use do not appear to be a factor in this case. No charges have been filed at this time.

Slaughter Beach Road was closed for about three hours while the crash was investigated and cleared.

47 ABC'S thoughts and prayers are with WBOC and the Draper family at this time.

Craig Jahelka, President of Draper Media, says, "There are no words to express the profound grief the WBOC family feels at this time. Tom was a broadcast pioneer, who said often those of us at WBOC have a moral obligation to serve the people of Delmarva.  Our thoughts and prayers are now are with his family."

Jahelka says that Draper just commemorated his 50th anniversary in broadcasting last Sunday September 3. His broadcasting career reportedly began after he bought his first radio station WTHD, which had his initials as its call letters, fifty years ago. Five years later, Draper reportedly signed on AFL-FM in Milford.

Jahelka says that Draper's broadcasting career took a big turn in the late 1970s when WBOC's then-owner, the A.S. Abel Company -- which also owned the Sun papers in Baltimore -- put the station up for sale, but Draper reportedly outbid two times.

Jahelka says that Draper and his group of investors were asked to make a third bid for the station and its two radio stations. After the deal was done, Draper sold off the two radio stations to focus on television. Draper would reportedly go on to buy and sell other television stations in Kansas, but WBOC was said to remain his first love.

Jahelka says, "Tom wanted to serve the people of Delmarva with high quality news and information. He and his family continually poured money back into the station. And that passion was rewarded as WBOC-TV grew to become one of the most dominant local stations in the nation.  He was one of the few remaining single, independent owners nationwide who truly cared about his viewers and community and invested in WBOC.  It's why WBOC is the smallest market station in the country to fly a news gathering helicopter, operate three bureaus, produce both local news and a daily local talk show as well as a local outdoors show, and broadcast from a multi-million dollar NewsPlex."

Using digital technology, Draper reportedly expanded his CBS affiliate to include FOX and Antenna TV on sub-channels. He launched a separate digital division, and two years ago got back to his roots when they bought a 50,000 watt radio station, WBOC-FM. Jahelka says that Draper was poised to announce the launch of Delmarva's newest television station Telemundo Delmarva.

Jahelka says, "But there was more to Tom than just broadcasting. He loved his family and friends. He loved bike riding, hunting, farming and politics." Draper worked in the Milton, Delaware office but he was often see visiting the main station in Salisbury.

Laura Baker, Chief Operating Officer of Draper Holdings, parent company of WBOC-TV says, "I have been so honored to work for Tom. He was not only our leader, but he was also our friend. Many people know him as the owner of WBOC, but he was also passionate about farming and land preservation. He was unique in that way—owning farms and broadcast stations."

Baker says his legacy will live on through his children, who with others, from the Board of Directors for Draper Holdings. Baker says, "Tom was adamant that WBOC live on past him. Although we are a private company, he did have a Board of Directors and made sure all four of his kids knew about the business. All of them have worked at WBOC over the years, and they share his dedication."

Baker says his daughters Molly Draper Russell and Mariah Calgione both worked in News; Bill Draper worked in Creative Services and Hank Draper worked in Sales. Mrs. Russell is reportedly co-President of Draper Holdings, and Chairman of the Board and Hank is a Vice President of Loblolly, L.L.C, the farming and land division of the company.

Baker says, "I am confident they will honor their father and his vision for WBOC and for Delmarva."

Senator Gary Simpson has released a statement on the death of WBOC Owner Tom Draper:

Delaware Senate Minority Leader Gary Simpson made the following statement upon learning of the death of WBOC-TV founder, and his friend, Tom Draper:

"It is an understatement to say that Tom Draper was a unique individual; philanthropist, naturalist, businessman, hunter, leader, friend, father, grandfather and so much-much more.   He was a proud Delawarean, and an unashamed lover of southern Delaware and its natural beauty, taking great pains throughout his life to protect it for future generations.

One of the things that struck me most about Tom was his uncanny ability to quickly sift through the BS of an issue and get to the heart of the discussion.  He was a smart and unparalleled visionary who could see into the future and make wise decisions on how things could be made better.

Tom was never content in doing things as they had always been done in the past or in maintaining the status quo if he thought he had a better idea.  He was willing to take calculated risks that almost always turned out to be correct.  

Tom enjoyed life and always lived it to its fullest.  If he could have, I'm sure he would have enjoyed being an early pioneer and explorer of the old West or taking that first step on the moon.

Tom was a personal friend and I hate to lose his wise counsel when it comes to all things political.  Tom had little patience for waste in government and for ineffectual politicians.   He liked straight shooters and was willing to support those candidates who he thought could make a difference.

Tom Draper was a humble man and didn't need to build himself up in the public eye.  He was not boastful.  He could be forceful, but had a quiet strength about him that garnered respect from all those around him.  I will miss him.  Delaware has lost one of its best."

More Stories in the News