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UPDATE: Tom Draper, owner of WBOC, dies following bike crash

76-year-old airlifted to Baltimore Shock Trauma for surgery
WBOC owner Tom Draper was critically injured following a bike crash Sept. 7. FILE PHOTO
September 8, 2017

Tom Draper, owner of WBOC, has died following a Sept. 7 bicycle crash on Slaughter Beach Road.

Delaware State Police Master Cpl. Gary Fournier said Draper died at 2:37 a.m. Sept. 8 as a result of his injuries.

Draper was riding his bicycle at 7:30 a.m. on Slaughter Neck Road in the area of Wells Road when he was struck by Shawn E. Armstrong, 37, of Lewes, who was driving a 2013 Ford F150 pickup truck eastbound on Slaughter Beach Road. Armstrong stopped immediately after the collision and called 9-1-1. Fournier said no charges have been filed.

Draper was first taken to Milford Memorial Hospital, but then airlifted to Baltimore Shock Trauma.

On Sept. 7, Draper Media President Craig Jahelka said Draper was in surgery, but he remained optimistic Draper would come through and be back to work.

The Collision Reconstruction Unit is continuing its investigation into this incident. Fournier said drug and alcohol use do not appear to be a factor in this case. Slaughter Beach Road was closed for about three hours while the crash was investigated and cleared.

WBOC ran a tribute on Draper Sept. 3, celebrating his 50 years in the news industry. Draper entered the industry at age 26 when he bought his first radio station, WTHD radio 93 in Milford. A few years later, he bought WAFL. Draper credits talented people with his success. “When I think I can learn something, I’m all ears,” he said during the televised tribute.

In the late 1970s, the owners of WBOC put the station up for sale. Draper was outbid twice for the station, but on his third attempt the sale went through. He sold his radio stations to focus on his television station.

“I was a committed marketer and grower of WBOC,” he said. “I was committed to the fact that I thought news and information was the core of our business.”

Jahelka said Draper had an office at the Milton station that he visited every day.

“He was semi-retired but he was still very involved,” Jahelka said.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated

WBOC mourns loss of Draper

WBOC Official released the following statement on Draper’s death:

The man who built WBOC-TV in Salisbury, Maryland into one of the most dominant television stations in America has died from injuries sustained in a bicycle accident near his home in Delaware. Thomas H. Draper was 76.

Draper was struck by a pickup truck Thursday morning while out for his daily bicycle ride. According to Delaware State Police, after calling 911, the driver stayed with Draper until help arrived. No charges have been filed in the accident. Draper was initially taken to Bayhealth Milford Memorial Hospital and then airlifted to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore where he underwent surgery Thursday afternoon but did not survive the night.

“There are no words to express the profound grief the WBOC family feels at this time,” says Craig Jahelka, President, Draper Media. “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 with his family.”

Jahelka says Draper had just celebrated his 50th anniversary in broadcasting on Sunday, Sept. 3. His broadcasting career began with the purchase of his first radio station WTHD, which bore his initials as its call letters, in 1967.

Five years later Draper signed on WAFL-FM in Milford, Delaware. Draper's broadcasting career would take 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 was outbid twice. Draper and his group of investors were asked to make a third bid for WBOC-TV and its two radio stations. After the deal was done, Draper sold off the two radio stations to focus on TV.

Draper would go on to buy and sell other TV stations in Kansas and Texas. But WBOC always remained his first love.

“Tom wanted to serve the people of Delmarva with high-quality news and information,” says Jahelka. “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 expanded his CBS affiliate to include FOX and Antenna TV on sub-channels. He launched a separate digital division, and in 2015 got back to his roots with the purchase of a 50,000-watt radio station, WBOC-FM.

Draper was poised to announce the launch of Delmarva’s newest television station, Telemundo Delmarva.

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

“I have been so honored to work for Tom. He was not only our leader, but he was also our friend,” says Laura Baker, chief operating officer of Draper Holdings, parent company of WBOC-TV. “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, form the Board of Directors for Draper Holdings.

“Tom was adamant that WBOC live on past him,” says Baker. “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 daughters Molly Draper Russell and Mariah Calagione both worked in News; Bill Draper worked in Creative Services and Hank Draper worked in Sales. Mrs. Russell is now co-president of Draper Holdings, and chairman of the board, and Hank is a vice president of Loblolly LLC the farming and land division of the company.

“I am confident they will honor their father and his vision for WBOC and for Delmarva,” Baker added.