Pa.-Koch injured in terrible car accident: “None of this takes me to a place of despair”

One night in June, Keith M. Taylor was driving home late on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and encountered a car speeding toward him in the wrong direction.

He didn’t have time to prepare for what happened next.

As a car swerved in front of Taylor to avoid a head-on collision, the wrong-way driver crashed into Taylor’s car near the Lehigh Valley exit, according to the Pennsylvania State Police. The two cars burst into flames, killing a 95-year-old passenger in the other car.

“I can’t even remember the impact,” said Taylor, a well-known Philadelphia-area chef and consultant from Radnor, who runs Zachary’s BBQ & Soul restaurant at the Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center in Harrisburg.

Taylor later learned he had crawled out of the burning car, only to return to pack belongings including a backpack. A bystander at the scene assisted and helped Taylor call his wife, Elizabeth Taylor.

Taylor, who was driving home from an Allentown restaurant, ended up in the hospital with a concussion and traumatic brain injury, as well as serious injuries to his wrists, elbows and neck. He continues to do physical and occupational therapy and plans to eventually return to the kitchen full-time.

Grateful to be alive, Taylor said he relies on his faith and family to make ends meet.

“In that moment my car caught fire, I couldn’t help but believe that God or guardian angels got me out of my car because the Lord said he had more for me to do,” Taylor said.

“A traumatic experience”

Before the accident, Taylor, 58, ran two restaurants, including a Zachary’s BBQ joint in Allentown and a successful Philadelphia-area consulting firm, Chefsoul Culinary Enterprises. During his career, Taylor has worked as a chef at the University of Pennsylvania, the Meadowlands, and Disney’s Grand Floridian Beach Resort.

Realizing the seriousness of Taylor’s injuries, the family had no choice but to close his Allentown restaurant and catering business, affecting the family’s finances.

“We really had to make some really, really difficult decisions,” Taylor said.

He attends rigorous and time-consuming therapy sessions several times a week. The brain injury left him with blurred speech and vision, short-term memory, and mobility problems.

“After the accident, it is of course a traumatic experience. There is more to come. There’s a lot of what am I gonna do? Immediately you can no longer do what you did a year ago. Something as simple as holding a toothbrush is painful,” he said.

Gradually, Taylor is making progress and has overcome slurred speech and dizziness. It was recently cleared for short-distance driving.

Balance issues were addressed through repetitive motion therapy designed to mimic moving back and forth at a frying station to prepare and cook ingredients. Taylor’s therapists, who were dealing with severe headaches and neck pain while reading on computers and phones, helped him with improved posture and computer settings.

Despite this, he said he suffers from headaches and that bright light makes his symptoms worse.

Next, Taylor focuses on getting movement back into his hands so he can hold frying pans securely, a task chefs do hundreds of times a day. He wears braces on both wrists.

“None of that makes me despair because I see new doors opening and I see a lot of goodwill from people who are tremendously helpful,” he said.

have faith

There’s nothing fun about recovering from trauma, but Taylor admits there’s a silver lining.

“I was the guy who got up at 5 a.m. and didn’t go home until everything was done. One of the things I do is spend more time with my kids,” he said. “Everyday life has become easier.”

His family, including children Zachary, 7, and daughter Samantha, 15, read together and enjoy cooking and dining out. Taylor has recently made homemade ravioli and enjoys tinkering around in the kitchen and experimenting with different ingredients.

Chef Keith Taylor

“Part of me says that these people dare ruin my life by driving the wrong way, and the other half of me is sad that someone died in this car accident,” said Keith M Taylor, a chef who runs Zachary’s BBQ & Soul restaurant in Harrisburg. November 21, 2022. Sean Simmers [email protected]

Family aside, Taylor said his strong faith helped him overcome the hurdles associated with the accident. He relies on a Bible app for daily devotions and inspiration, and among his Facebook photos and posts are Bible quotes like “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

“Faith is what you cannot see, but you hold on with a very tight grip. You can’t see God, but you know he’s there. I thought about it a lot in this whole process,” he said.

Taylor is having a hard time returning to the restaurant full-time. He spends a few hours a week on site, mainly doing payroll and providing coaching and moral support to employees. In his extra time, he reflects on employees’ days and how they can streamline their work to make operations more efficient.

He said he particularly appreciates the patience of the HMAC team and management during the recovery.

Jonas Hair, operations manager at HMAC, said they have decided to keep Taylor’s restaurant doors open while they await his return. Also, he emphasized that this isn’t the kind of scenario where you close the restaurant or move to a new owner.

“His team has really strengthened. I have to tell you they had the systems shut down and everyone knew the gravity of what happened,” Hair said.

“You can’t be more grateful”

Almost five months after the accident, Taylor admits that the incident distresses him.

“Part of me says how dare these people ruin my life by driving the wrong way, and the other half of me is sad that someone died in this car accident,” he said.

As Thanksgiving approaches, he counts his blessings and looks forward to spending time with his family.

They will celebrate with Friendsgiving on Friday, a day when his older children return home with their friends. As every year, Taylor and his family cook dinner for around 50 guests, even if the preparations take a few days longer than in previous years.

“I am and cannot be more grateful this year than any other year for my faith, for my family, and for all the financial rewards the Lord has in store for me,” he said.