Monday, June 23, 2008

that bus with your name on it

this story about 3 local cyclists arrived in my inbox this morning. names have been changed.

it's reason to:
1) hug your friends
2) throw over your fears and strike up a conversation with that person you think you've no business approaching
3) drink that bottle of rioja you've been saving for the "right" time
4) if something's making you unhappy, change it

Melanie, Les and I were heading south when we were hit. Melanie and Les were planning on doing a hundred miles, while I was aiming to be back around 10. Because those guys were doing a lot more than me, I told Les I would pull along at a moderate pace.

I was in the front with Les and Melanie single file behind me (not sure who was directly behind me). As is my wont -- and much to the dismay of many in this group -- I was far to the right. I was approaching the intersection, past the entrance to the picnic park, along the guard rail section of the road, when I noticed a mini van coming from the opposite direction had crossed the double yellow line aiming for us. What happened next and what went though my head probably took less than a second. My first thought was that the driver would correct this, as I had seen this before. Instinctively, I moved even closer to the right, even though I was almost on the white line as it was, and there was precious little room left. I then noticed that the driver was not taking any corrective action. My second thought was that the driver was intentionally aiming for us, that is, playing chicken.

Contemporaneously with my second thought, or perhaps, milliseconds later, he hit me. At this point I was abreast of the rear of the van. I suspect that my left arm, which is fairly swollen but not cut, hit the very back of the van. I did not go down. The next thing I heard was the driver slamming into Melanie and Les. Ultimately, his vehicle continued along the guard rail, across the entrance to the picnic park and came to rest - disabled - on the other side of the picnic park entrance. I stopped and while still on the bike turned my head back. Both Melanie and Les had been launched over the guard rail and were lying motionless down the embankment perhaps 20 to 30 feet from the road and 10 or more feet below the surface of the road. I dismounted, turned and began to run backwards as fast as I could. The severity of this accident hit me like thunder and lightning: Seeing them at the bottom of the embankment that far away from where they had been, I knew was severe; registering the severity and calling 911 took a few seconds. I stopped got my phone out of the seat bag and called 911 while coming to a good point to jump over the guard rail and down the embankment.

At some point, I believe perhaps before I jumped the guard rail I became cognizant of Melanie's painful cries. I assumed Les, still motionless, was dead. There were some people either already with Melanie or running toward her. I knew I had to get to Les and give him CPR as I saw no one headed in his direction, and as I went toward him I yelled at the people with Melanie to give her CPR if she needed it. When I got to Les, I discovered he was breathing and amazingly did not appear to be in shock. His eyes were fluttering and I truly did not believe he was going to make it. At about this same time, while talking to him and attempting to keep eye contact and keep him alert, I noticed gaping holes in his head and thigh that were bleeding profusely. My next thought was that he would bleed to death. The head wound looked to me like it went through the skull. At this point, people began popping out of no where and I was handed some t-shirts to put pressure on his wounds. One of these persons was an EMT and Nurse who is a full time employee at the picnic park. He was on the scene quickly. He and the other EMTs that attended to Melanie and Les were absolutely professional. Doing their job without hesitation; calm, cool and collected. I wanted to go over to Melanie, so I asked someone near by to take over the keeping-pressure-on-the-wound duty and without blinking an eye whoever it was did so. I went over to Melanie who was clearly in shock and a great deal of pain. Her only visual external injury was a gaping leg wound; surprisingly it was not bleeding like Les's, but someone had pressure on it. At first, she did not recognize me, but then muttered my name, which gave me some comfort. The EMTs were arriving by this time and shortly thereafter two separate helicopters. I don't know how long it took before both Melanie and Les were airborne, but it seemed like a long time.

There are few accidents that one can look back on and come to the conclusion that absolutely nothing could have been done differently to avoid it or mitigate its consequences. This is one of those few. Les and Melanie were sitting ducks. They were riding on the right side of the road with a guard rail to their right. They weren't in the middle of the road; they weren't on the wrong side of the road; they didn't run a stop sign or red light. They were obeying all traffic laws. They simply had no escape route for a driver so blatantly negligent. Even if their last thought before being run down was to pull to the left, I doubt that would have helped. Once the mini van hit the guard rail, it was guided by the rail to its resting point and, in the process, taking anything in its path, i.e., the south bound lane, with it.

I, like some of you, have been riding these roads on and off for 30-35 years. I have never had a car come this close to me before or been involved in an accident like this. Although I don't believe that this is less likely or more likely to happen in the future, one thing is for sure: The roads we ride are far more crowded every day and drivers have far more distractions such as cell phones, hand held devices, etc., which do in-fact, in both cases, increase the probability of these types of accidents. That was the case here as the young, inexperienced 19 year-old driver told me as I yelled at him "What the f__K were you doing?" He said he was not paying attention as he was attempting to pickup a dropped bottle in his car. It is clear that he did not have his eyes on the road as he took no evasive maneuvers. The arc of the path his van took never altered.


Mayrasmom said...

Yikes. Took me to or three times to get through that one.

finn said...

melanie is in ICU and "stable"; dont know about les.

i know i should get on my bike this afternoon but kinda i dont want to.

fatmammycat said...

Can't say I blame you after reading that. Sitting Ducks is exactly right. Poor people.

Anonymous said...

Les is likely to get out of the hospital today, but has a long road of PT and I'm sure some emotional therapy to go through. If anyone can fully recover from this type of tragedy it's him.

finn said...

thanks for the update. my best to M & K.