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Dalai Lama’s Nephew Killed by a Car While Walking for Tibet on A1A in the Hammock

| February 14, 2011

The scene on State Road A1A in the Hammock moments after Jigme Norbu's body was readied for transport to St. Augustine. (© FlaglerLive)

The scene on State Road A1A in the Hammock moments after Jigme Norbu’s body was readied for transport to St. Augustine. (© FlaglerLive)

[Note: A ceremonial tribute and a symbolic three-mile walk in Jigme Norbu’s memory was held on Thursday, Feb. 17, at the accident site. Details here.]

Jigme Norbu, nephew to the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, had logged 7,800 miles on 19 walks and on his bike before beginning his latest today, and what proved to be his last–a 300-mile trek starting in St. Augustine and going south. Norbu and two companions were to have ended their “Walk for Tibet Florida” later this month in West Palm Beach.

Norbu, 45, was struck and killed by a passing driver just before 7:30 this evening (Feb. 14) on State Road A1A in the Hammock, across the street from the Adult and Community Education building, some 10 miles north of Flagler Beach and 25 miles south of St. Augustine.

Norbu was about three minutes away from his rendezvous point with his companions, who’d gone ahead in late afternoon to wait for him at T.J.’s Seafood Shack, the restaurant. (Just last September, an employee from the restaurant was killed by a motorist while biking home late at night on A1A.) A mile or so south, Damian Collins, owner of the Hammock Wine and Cheese Shoppe, who may have been the last person to speak to Norbu, had set out drinks, food and other provisions for him and his companions, along with a tent–for Norbu–and other accommodations for the others so they could spend the night.

The note he never saw. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Collins had driven up to speak with Norbu when she found out he was nearby, taking him coconut milk to reinforce him. The sun had just set. He was barely two or three miles north. “He was really smiley and calm and all about what he was doing,” Collins said. He told her: “This is why I’m doing this. Here are some fliers. You’re why I’m doing this.” He wanted to get to Flagler Beach that night. She dissuaded him, citing the distance, and offered him and his companions a place to stay. Back at her shop, Collins, who was on her way elsewhere for the evening, set out a few goods on a picnic table in the backyard–including soap and a towel–and a note: “Tibet Group! Hi! Please make yourselves at home. It is an honor to have you here. Damian.”

It is about the time when Collins was writing the note, or moments later, that Norbu died.

“He was walking southbound and was struck by a car. It’s still under investigation whether he was partly in the road or off the side of the road,” a Florida Highway Patrol trooper at the scene said this evening. At 9:15 p.m., Norbu’s body was still on the west side of the road, covered by a tarp, awaiting the arrival of the medical examiner from St. Augustine (he arrived shortly after, and the body was moved to a morgue in St. Augustine). “He was walking on the edge of the road, on the white line, or very close to the white line, and he was walking with traffic,” the trooper said later.

It’s not clear why Norbu had chosen to walk on the west side of the road: there is a wide sidewalk on the east side of A1A, though the road isn’t lit, and the trees’ canopy obscure what glimmers might help guide a silhouette: Norbu may well have been hugging the white line as his only visible means of navigation. .

The Kia at the scene. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Norbu was struck by a dark gray 2001 Kia Sportage driven by Keith O’Dell, a 31-year-old resident of Blackwell Place in Palm Coast. O’Dell had a 5-year-old child with him, according to a highway patrol report. (The trooper at the scene said he had two children with him.)

O’Dell appeared willing to speak to a reporter, but his father intervened, said O’Dell was “too traumatized,” and drove him away in a pick-up truck at 10:10 p.m., leaving the Kia on the side of the road. By then O’Dell had spent several hours patiently cooperating with troopers, who had no more questions for him.

The right-front of the Kia was dented. The hood had buckled from the impact. The side mirror’s top plastic frame had chipped in a jagged pattern, likely from the violence of the impact, which also bent back the car’s antenna. The passenger side of the windshield was smashed in, but hadn’t shattered. The highway patrol late Monday evening had not determined whether charges would be filed. Alcohol was not a factor.

Norbu, a father of three, was the owner of a Tibetan restaurant in Bloomington, the Snow Lion. He was the son of the late Takster Rinpoche, elder brother to the Dali Lama. Rinpoche taught Tibetan studies at Indiana University Bloomington, was the founder of the Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center there, and had himself started long treks for Tibet. (Norbu was also overextended: In late 2009, he was “facing nearly $7 million in mortgage foreclosures on high-profile retail properties his company owns around Bloomington,” according to the Bloomington Herald-Times.)

Norbu was joined on his last walk by Donna Kim-Brand, who was providing support and a van, and two other companions.

“I want to personally request your support for the upcoming walk from St. Augustine along the coast to West Palm Beach,” Norbu wrote on a web page devoted to the Florida walk. He’d flown from Indianapolis to Jacksonville on Feb. 13. “On February 14th, our walk will cover over 300 miles and have many oppourtunities (sic.) to share our message of world peace, human rights, and the Tibetan struggle for independence. I am asking for your support on spreading the news of this walk for our global cause.”

Just last December he undertook a 250-mile walk in Taiwan, an especially significant location given Taiwan’s tortuous relationship with China, Tibet’s occupier. In fall, he’d taken a 557-mile walk from Indianapolis to Toronto.

Thinking back on her brief moment with Norbu–no more than a couple of minutes: “I didn’t want to bother him, I didn’t want to stop him,” she said–Collins remembered that she’d had her own Save Tibet bumper sticker on her pick-up truck. It’d been there 10 years. It had long since faded to something barely visible against the metal.

Jigme Norbu and Damian Collins at sunset just north of the Hammock, shiortly before Norbu was struck and killed. Click on the image for larger view. (Courtesy of Damian Collins)

Jigme Norbu and Damian Collins at sunset just north of the Hammock, shiortly before Norbu was struck and killed. Click on the image for larger view. (Courtesy of Damian Collins)

Jigme Norbu

Jigme Norbu in Jacksonville (from his website)

Watch Jigme Norbu speak outside the Chinese Consulate in chicago:

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42 Responses for “Dalai Lama’s Nephew Killed by a Car While Walking for Tibet on A1A in the Hammock”

  1. scott says:

    You have to wonder if this was an accident.

  2. Jill Campoy says:

    This is a very sad day. Please pray for his family and the Tibetan cause. They truly needs our support. Let the world know that we understand and support human life. Don’t let Jigme Norbu and his work be forgotten. Stand up for Human Rights.

  3. Jenn Kuiper says:

    This is so tragic! Definitely pray for Norbu’s family and for the cause but let’s remember the driver and his child as well. This stretch of A1A is VERY dark, even at 7:30 in the evening. I’m sure this was an accident scott. This man was traveling with his 5-yr old and he may have simply not seen him, whether he was distracted or not. I’m sure it’s traumatic for him and his child as well. Let’s keep everyone involved in our prayers.

  4. K says:

    This makes my heart hurt for everyone involved and their loved ones.

  5. Marilyn Stanley says:

    I am so sorry to hear this. I live near where this happened and had no idea.
    Peace go with you

  6. ngawang dorjee says:

    ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ།

    དགེ་བ་འདི་ཡིས་མྱུར་དུ་ཁོང་། །ཕྱག་ན་པདྨོས་རྗེས་བཟུང་སྟེ། །
    གངས་ཅན་ཁ་བའི་ཞིང་ཁམས་སུ། །དལ་འབྱོར་མི་ལུས་འཐོབ་པར་ཤོག །

    བསེ་རུའམ་ངག་དབང་རྡོ་རྗེས། 2011.2.15

  7. palm coaster says:

    Very sad. Hope his goals will be a reality one day while God keeps him at his side.

  8. FREE TIBET says:

    Jigme la was a hero who fight for our cause and he shall forever be remembered in our hearts and prayers. OM MANI PED MEIN HUN. MAY HIS Soul rest in peace. My condolence goes to the family.

  9. Marilyn Stanley says:

    I have been thinking about this tragedy and for those who are not familiar with this stretch of A1A it has a high rate of vehicle and motorcycle fatalities.
    From Marineland through the Hammock the speed limits change and it changes from 2 lanes to 4 and back to two.
    The last picture of Jigme Norbu standing in front of those condos there were 2 people killed…one a motorcyclist crossing over into the other lane and one an auto hitting the tree.
    A1A is a historic, popular and beautiful road along the Atlantic for long distance walkers and bicyclists who are walking and cycling for their causes.
    There is a beautiful wide walk and bike way on the east side of the road.
    This is all so sad.

  10. gomang sonam says:

    དེ་རིང་གི་འགྱུར་འདིས། བདག་གི་ཡིད་ག་ཡོངས་སུ་འགག ངས་གནམ་ལ་ཁ་གཏད་ནས་རང་གི་གང་ཤེས་པའི་གསོལ་འདེབས་དབྱངས་སུ་གྱེར་བ་ནི་ཁྱེད་ཀྱི་ཕྱོགས་སུ་བཏང་། བོད་པ་ཡོངས་ཀྱི་ངོས་ནས་བཤད་ན་ཁྱེད་འགྲོ་བ་སྔ་དྲག་སོང་། ངོ་ནས་སྔ་དྲག་སོང་། ཨོྃམཎིཔདྨེཧྰུྃ།

  11. G. Gyaltsen, Mundgod says:

    This tragic and untimely death is a great loss to the Tibetans. His “Rangzen Walk” all over the world is a great inspiration to us. I want to extend our heartfelt condolence to his family on behalf of all the Tibetans in Mundgod. May he take rebirth again in a Tibetan family and fulfill his cherished dream.

  12. Lee says:

    When I first heard where this accident took place, I was not surprised. This stretch of A1A is very dangerous, as at night it is very difficult to to have any clear vision. This is a horrible accident for all involved…

  13. Lou says:

    I was on a recent business trip to this area and jogged along A1A starting around 8PM. I noticed how absolutely dark it was along the roadside. I would agree with the reply regarding the accident being truly that, a tragic accident for all involved. My sympathies go out to everyone.

  14. Kurt says:

    very sad news

  15. Anne says:

    Very, very sad for all concerned and affected by this. Hammock stretches generally have limited visibility, especially at night, and twist and turn. The east side of A1A has a sidewalk….if only he had been on that side….

  16. Jojo says:


  17. emile says:

    What a dreadful thing to happen. Both for the victim and the poor father who was driving. If only…

  18. Donna says:

    MY Daughter had talked to him very shortly before this tragedy, gotten his pamphlet. Said she startled him he was on the phone.SHE had tears in her eyes when she heard of this.HE told her of his journey and cause,s was after day, ( Damian ) had her pic with him. WE are all sad. THIS is terrible thing HE said nothing of stopping soon. THIS road has taken many lives poorly lighted. so SORRY CODOLINCES to his family, Trudy Crouch, the hammock. was 6;30 was with him said how happy he was of his cause, AGAIN so sad…

  19. གངས་ཅན་པས། says:


  20. John C says:

    This is why I ride my bike against traffic when there is no sidwalk or bike trail……the state, counties…especially Flagler are to cheap to extend the road 4ft on bothe sides for bikes and pedestrian…..i hold Flagler county respondsible……Not a bike, pedestrian friendly county!

  21. Dan Q. Tham says:

    I am honored that Flagler Live posted my video of Jigme Norbu from last year. I am a journalism student in Chicago and I am going to Dharamsala, India this summer with my friend to make a documentary about youth efforts at mobilization. Jigme Norbu-la’s passion and work will not be forgotten. May he rest in peace. :(

  22. Daido says:

    Very sad. And kids, please remember, when walking along roads, walk AGAINST the flow of traffic. The reason is because you can see oncoming cars better than they can see you. Give you more time to get out of their way. Also, this is not necessarily the driver’s fault. It’s just a very sad and tragic accident.

  23. freetibetnow says:

    Thanks for Damian Collins and other kind people who took care of our hero.
    its very hard for me to hold me tears back when I went through this very SAD news! I really hope this is an ACCIDENT, and the VOICE FO TIBET will never ceased as long as there is no death in human spirit!
    Free Tibet and Om-ma-ni-ped-may-Hum

  24. emile says:

    How could it be anything but an accident?? A dark night, walking on the wrong side of the road. Just a tragedy that could have been prevented if Mr. Norbu had been more aware of the danger he was in.

  25. kevin young says:

    rest in peace, jigme norbu. a true loss for the tibet movement. jigme led our tibetan freedom torch bike tour from SF to LA in 2008. We spoke at Stanford, UCLA and UCSB, before screaming chinese students yelling ‘liar liar liar’. Jigme was our best speaker. i pledge to work for tibet in your memory for the rest of my life.

  26. Wangchuk says:

    All Tibetans are very sad to learn about the tragic death of Jigme Norbu-la, a Tibetan patriot & activist for a free Tibet. His late father, Taktser Rimpoche, was the Dalai Lama’s elder brother who died in 2008 at the age of 86. Taktser Rimpoche was an ardent supporter for Tibetan independence. This is just a terrible tragedy for the Norbu family. Walking on the side of the roads in the USA, esp. at night, is very dangerous. Many people in the US are killed each year in the very same way that Jigme Norbu-la died. I don’t know if the driver in any way was negligent but I’m sure he has been very traumatized & he had his 5 yr old son w/ him at the time. Just very sad. Tibetans will be in mourning for 49 days.

  27. Anita says:

    I simply want to let the family of Jigme Norbu and the Tibetan people know that many of us in Flagler County share your sadness at the passing of his peaceful soul.

  28. Richard says:

    I am sad for Jigme’s wife and children. I am sad that I never had the chance to meet himself, and that my meeting with his companions on the walk was in such tragic circumstances. I had hoped to be able to welcome them all to Flagler County. However I hope that all his friends and family feel our support for himself and his cause. The Hammock is a special natural place and we are blessed to have his spirit with us, even temporarily, as he moves to continue his cause in his next life.

    I hope we have a chance to honor his cause, and to somehow continue the journey he started.

  29. Matthew says:

    He finished his work, but the work is never finished, don’t be sad about it, everything moves on eventually, if you feel sad, that’s not a crime but it is a sign that maybe you were holding on too much to a specific identity pattern. Remember, we are all fundamentally the same person, when you face another person and you both raise your right hand, you both think the other is doing the opposite, which is what creates the illusion of duality, that there is a void and a singularity and that they are opposites, but the truth is, there is only singularity, that’s all there ever can be or will be, and we are inside it, counting every number that there is. Numbers never end, but the pattern becomes ever more beautiful. Don’t be sad, Norbu merely counted a number higher than us, because he was ready to.

  30. སྨོན་ལམ་མཐར་ཕྱིན། says:

    ཨཱོཾ་མ་ཏྲི་མུ་ཡེ་ས་ལེ་འདུ། ཨ་དཀར་ཨ་རྨད་དུ་ཏྲི་སུ་ནག་པོ་ཞི་ཞི་མལ་མལ། ཨ་ཨཱོཾ་ཧཱུྃ། ཨཱ་ཨ་དཀར་སལེ་འོད་ཨ་ཡཾ་ཨཱོྃ་འདུ།

  31. Jesse Johnson says:

    I live in bloomington and I’ve know Jigme for about 8 years. On a personal level, Jigme was a great guy and treated everyone with respect. I’m friends with his wife Yah-Ling, who just happens to be one of the sweetest people you will ever meet. The most screwed up thing about all of this is that his three beautiful children, Tensen, Jensen, and Yensen, (I think those are their names) are going to grow up without a father. All because some motorist wasn’t paying attention.

  32. Xedar says:

    The loss of a kind-hearted man is a loss to all humanity. Jigme Norbu was a good leader to the Tibetans and the cause of human rights. Our heartfelt prayers for his family.

  33. Tsoltim N. Shakabpa says:

    By Tsoltim N. Shakabpa

    Jigme Norbu
    He sure did do
    What he could do
    To stage a coup
    ‘Gainst China’s Hu

    He walked and walked
    For Tibet talked
    And never balked
    Though he was mocked
    And often stalked

    He’s a hero
    Without ego
    Like in Cairo
    He dealt a blow
    To Hu, our foe

    Though he is gone
    We must go on
    Now we must spawn
    And carry on
    Till freedom dawn

    Copyright: Tsoltim N. Shakabpa – 2011

  34. Some guy says:

    John C To say you hold the County of Flager at fault is just wrong. IT was an accident that could have ben prevented if HE only was walking on the correct side of the road, Had a light of some sort at NIGHT was not walking on the road at NIGHT or on the pathway that IS on the east side of A1A.

  35. tenyang hagmann says:

    God” i’m shocked about the tragedy! My condolence goes to the family.

  36. pema Gyatso says:

    our Tibetan hero death today very sad . l hope he will again born in Tibet. Mo Mai Ne Pa Mei Huo.

  37. Katherine says:

    Please don’t forget that what happened in Tibet is a tragedy but the 40,000+ people killed on U.S. highways every year are a tragedy, too. We absolutely DO have the power to make roadside conditions safer for people like Jigme Norbu who choose to get around by foot or bike, rather than by car, which is obviously a highly dangerous and much more polluting mode of travel. I hate that the police blame his death on him for walking. By dismissing this as a mere “accident”, instead of a *very* predictable result of engineering roads and cities to accommodate automobiles rather than people, we abdicate responsibility for all these needless deaths. We got ourselves into this mess, and we can get ourselves out. Whoever said that it’s only money for wider shoulders and better speed enforcement hit it right on the head. What happened to Norbu and the other people who died on that stretch of road was absolutely avoidable, if only we valued human life in this country enough to stop it.

  38. Marilyn says:

    Jigme’s father was Thubten Jigme Norbu, the eldest brother of the Dalai Lama and a tenacious symbol of the Tibetan struggle for independence, and he had died in Sept. of 2008 in Bloomington, Ind. Now Jigme is gone from a horrible, questionable accident. They are both already greatly missed here in Bloomington, IN, by the community and the TMBCC. We know that they will live on in another life though, because they were such good and kind souls!

  39. 路過 says:


  40. Steven Huntt says:

    Jigme died right next to my aunt’s mailbox and she saw his body!

  41. Linda says:

    Each state bar association should have a database of complaints and reprimands
    on each practicing attorney. Do not take your injury lying down, get legal help, ASAP.

    However, contrary to popular belief, wills do not avoid probate.

  42. John Scott says:

    I met Jigme Norbu in 84′ and learned of the Tibetian situation first hand thru Jig. He was a true character! Back the he had a red Datsun 240 Z boy was it fun days. It is so hard to believe its been almost 7 years since the accident in Florida. I often over the years wondered what Jigme was up to or into. I named a dog Tibet, I have another dog named Norbu ( giant schnauzers ) I was / am Truly Lucky to have met the Norbu’s. He was a friend. I still often think about Tibet and the stories that were told to me .
    Jigme you will always be remembered ! We will meet again and fly amongst Everest and Lhotse.

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