The following was the letter I posted to the Harley Digest and the rec.motorcycles.harley newsgroup shortly after the April 2001 wreck on the Cruiser.
The Whole Sordid Story…
As many of you heard, Mary and I were involved in an accident back on April 22nd. The dust is finally settling, so I now have time to make my public confessions and pay tribute to those who stepped forward to help during the crisis.
So, there we were . . .
Mary and I were planning to do the spring Vermont group ride with our fellow netscum, so we decided to do a little shakedown cruise over the weekend. We headed into Ohio to the Hocking Hills area and enjoyed a little sightseeing. This was Mary’s first full weekend touring with me on the Cruiser (all other rides had been short day trips) and she was enjoying the experience.
Sunday was a bright shiny day with light wind and we were making our way home using lots of country back roads. By about 3:30pm, we were on OH95 just east of Mt. Gilead. It was then that Murphy’s law intervened.
We were last in a line of three vehicles: a car, followed by an old Ford pickup, followed by us. We were approaching an intersection and the pickup applied his brakes and slowed to turn. I distinctly remember noticing that his left brake light was out. The pickup continued to slow and then moved to the right, with both his right wheels off on the right shoulder. By now, we were closing on the pickup. Since there was no oncoming traffic from the opposing lane, so I moved to the left to go around the pickup as he exited to the right. The Cruiser was about 10 yards off his left rear bumper when the pickup lurched back into the lane and started a left turn. The speed differential was too great and (judging from skid marks and road scars at the scene) I only had time to dodge left about halfway across the left lane before impact. The front wheel impacted at the back bulkhead of the pickup’s cab and was violently thrown on its left side, dumping both Mary and I on the ground.
Before I go any further, I’ll point out the lessons learned. First and foremost, I committed the cardinal sin of assuming the actions of another driver. In my mind, all of his “body language” screamed “right turn”. It never occurred to me that the missing left tail light (especially on an older vehicle) could be hiding a left turn signal (which he claims was on). I didn’t consider that the driver would improve the angle of his left turn by swinging right before going left.
The officer handling the accident felt similarly. She felt we were both at fault. He should have had working signals and should not feint right before a left turn; I shouldn’t have passed him at an intersection. The officer did not feel that serving matching citations would solve anything. I all honesty, she was very understanding and quite helpful. I’m sure we could have done much worse.
People started stopping and offering help immediately. A nearby resident called 911 and the Ohio State Police arrived within five minutes, with the paramedics close behind. By that time I was already next to Mary who obviously had a broken lower right leg. As the medics pulled traction on that leg, we could see another deformity in her right thigh just above the knee, indicating yet another break.
We were transported to Morrow County Hospital where Mary was made a little more comfortable and was x-rayed. In the lower leg, both the tibia and fibula were broken about 1/3 up from the ankle. The fibula break was compound and left a wound on the right side of the lower leg. In the upper leg, the femur was fractured about five inches above the knee. All the breaks were clean, but would require surgery to fix properly. We were to be transferred to Ohio State University Hospital, 40 minutes away in downtown Columbus, OH. Not wanting to miss Mary’s ride to OSUH, I refrained from having the Morrow staff check me out. To minimize the need to carry baggage, I left a jacket, helmet, and our T-bag at Morrow, where a nurse agreed to lock them up for us.
During the transfer to OSUH, I called Yo Adrian (who was visiting in Toledo) and told him we would not be making it for dinner. In retrospect, that was a most amusing conversation. I rattled off a bunch of short sentences, each one describing our situation in a little more dire detail. Between each sentence, Adrian would respond with a surprised (and escalating) four-letter expletive.
At OSUH, Mary was in surgery for just over two hours. I was told that everything had gone well. By the time Mary was out of recovery and taken to her room, it was almost 2am. Apparently, the staff had underestimated just how petite she was and the anesthesia had hit her a little hard. With Mary resting in her room, I finally (3am) found my way back to the emergency ward and had them look me over.
As it turns out we’re both pretty god-damned lucky. Both of us were wearing Shoei full face helmets. Mine was cracked on the back left side, and badly scraped all around. Mary’s helmet shows a truly scary impact from the top of the chin guard and on her forehead, where the finish is totally gone and the core fiberglass is well exposed. This forehead impact was hard enough to create a 3/4″ cut on Mary’s forehead, through the foam (yikes).
Both of us have the majority of our injuries where the Cruiser impacted the pickup. Where Mary’s right leg has the three breaks, I only have bad bruising from the knee to the ankle. Mary has little other damage, just the cut on her forehead. I have a sore right shoulder, right hip, and some nasty bruising on my lower left rib cage (I think I cracked one or two). We were both wearing leather jackets and chaps, so road rash was almost non-existent. Mary has a scrape or two on the back of her right hand and I have a scrape on my left thumb.
After some additional tests and some physical therapy, Mary was released from OSHU Thursday, April 26th. I rented a car and drove us home to Michigan.
Like I said . . . lucky.
An now, the list of those who I’d like to thank for their help and support:
First, I’d like to thank the benevolent masses of the online biker community for their well wishes. When I arrived home with Mary on Thursday I had literally dozens of emails from friends, including a message from someone I’d never met but was geographically close by and willing to help. The extended family comes through again. Mary and I thank you all.
Yo Adrian: Thanks for being the first contact and getting the word out so the supporting masses could gather. Also, thanks for offering to drive me home. We’ll have to do that dinner some other time, and I’m buying.
Dana: Thanks for spreading the word and coordinating with the Columbus natives to lend us some assistance. Consider a career in disaster recovery management.
Tom Ohmer (Fire Nazi): Thanks for calling us at the hospital and checking in. Though I did not take you up on your offer for assistance, it was good to hear a familiar voice.
An finally, the two who went way above and beyond the call of duty . . . I owe both of you . . . huge.
Charlie Smith: Thank you for taking time out of you schedule to pick up our wayward baggage at Morrow County hospital and serving as pack-mule to get it up to Mary’s hospital room. Your’s was the only non-hospital-staff visit the entire stay and it lifted both Mary and my spirits to actually have a person-to-person conversation with a friend.
Ron Matthews (Bluiz): Thanks for sacrificing an entire Saturday, as well as the use of your vehicle and trailer, to get the Cruiser back in its home garage. Two hour drive down, loading the Cruiser, buying me lunch, two hour drive back, unloading the Cruiser . . . quite a day.
So . . . what happens next?
Mary will be using a walker and crutches for a few months. She can get around the house OK and can take stairs with some help. She’s already starting to wean herself off the narcotic pain meds and is slowly building some endurance, otherwise, getting around right now is a bit exhausting.
I’m already fairly well healed, but will have some sore spots for a month. I’ve already rejoined my soccer team, but in a limited role and not running around much. Much like Mary, I simply need to be patient and let the body heal.
The Cruiser is another story. Before Saturday, I’d only seen the impact side of the bike, and it was a mess. After picking up the Cruiser and visiting the accident site (to pick up a few more wayward bits and pieces) it appears the after impact, the Cruiser layed over on its left side and slid without tumbling. Consequently, the damage isn’t as bad as I originally thought.
Everything in front of the neck is a total loss, with both forks broken off (right side at the lower triple tree, left side at the axle). Behind the front forks, the frame downtubes look fine, but the voltage regulator and oil cooler were both munched a bit and will have to be replaced.
The right side of the bike has some damage to the air cleaner cover, rider and passenger footboards and the engine guard and dresser bars. The right tank has a crease where the fork hit it, but is not leaking. Amazingly, the exhaust, carb, rear brake cylinder, etc. are all fine.
The left side of the bike has scrapes on the frame, engine guard and dresser bars where it slid on the road, but is otherwise in good shape.
The good news is that the engine, tranny, primary are all fluid tight. The engine runs, the tranny shifts, and the rear wheel turns. Both saddle bags are lightly scuffed but certainly usable. The rear of the bike is fine, with no damage.
If the frame is all right, the Cruiser could be reborn as long as the insurance company is willing to re-create the front end. If not, I’ll have to show proof of all the mods to the engine/drivetrain and hope that the cost of compensating the mods is more than the cost to buy the totaled carcass. The insurance adjuster should be here later this week and I’ll keep everybody posted as to what happens next. If I find time, I’ll have some pics developed and posted.
Again, I can’t thank everyone enough for their help and support. Mary and I will both get through this and, with time and luck, join you all on the road again. Our participation in the spring Vermont run is definitely off. MITM could be a possibility, but I’m not sure Mary will be in shape to handle the trip. Also, I don’t know if I can stand the ridicule of caging to MITM two years in a row (yeesh).
Ride light (I’ll join you when I can),