A Major Cycling Accident

February 25, 2015

7 comments

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The Facebook post dropped on my news feed like a ton of bricks "Heading to Ukiah via ambulance. Hit by a car.” It was January 30th, 2015.

My good friend, Deb Banks, owner of Rivet Cycle Works, had been involved in a serious crash along with four others while doing a 300 mile credit card tour in California. With just shy of nine miles left on the first of three consecutive 100 mile days, a car careened into her and her crew.

This shouldn’t have happened. It was 5pm. It was a beautiful day. There was plenty of light left in the sky. The pavement was dry. The road was curvy but she was on a very straight section of it. Everyone was an experienced rider who knew the rules of the road and that cars always have the upper hand. But it did happen. And it gets worse…it was criminal.

The 18 year old driver had a blood alcohol level of 0.22. To put that into perspective, here’s how a variety of reputable sources describe that state of being: "Stupor - Lose Understanding - Impaired Sensations - Severe Motor Impairment - Loss of Consciousness - Memory impairment” The 42 year old passenger had a warrant out for his arrest. The crime - murder.

After surveying the scene, the driver coolly stated, “Well it looks like you guys are alright so we should get going.” Unfortunately for him though, Laura, one of Deb’s crew was now under the car. Not good.

For Deb, the rest of the next hour or so were spent in a ditch and in a blur. Slipping in and out of consciousness, she didn’t hear the approaching ambulances and didn’t see the Flight For Life helicopter that whisked Laura away to the hospital. She also didn’t see the police making two arrests. The next thing she knew, she was in an ambulance heading to the hospital as well. Pretty soon she would learn that she had a cracked pelvis, a compound fracture in her right ankle, and a serious gash on her left arm. Fortunately, there were no obvious head or neck injuries. Deb has had surgery to fix the broken ankle but the doctors removed a significant amount of cartilage. She’ll learn the impact of that over a long period of recovery that for now has her in a cast and immobile.

The rest of her crew sustained a list of injuries reminiscent of an intense dialogue from E.R - compression fractures, multiple contusions, broken clavicles and ribs, abrasions. Serious and painful as they were, no injuries were life threatening and despite the long road to recovery, everyone will walk and presumably ride again.

Although she is still coming to grips with the accident, I asked her for some perspective. “I’ve ridden 10,000 miles a year for the last 5 years. I’ve been incredibly lucky not to have anything serious happen so far. I guess sooner or later things happen. It’s the nature of the beast.”

Despite her willy-nilly feeling toward bike accidents, even Deb admits she is angry and has her dark moments. “I’d like to see the driver put away for a long time. Sure he’s in jail. But he’s getting three meals a day on the taxpayers’ dime. I may be walking by August and who knows when I’ll be back on my bike. I cannot drive for the foreseeable future. Yeah, I’m angry.”

I asked Deb what her dark moments are like. She spoke of the fear of never being whole again - wondering if she will walk without a limp or ski, another passion of hers. 10,000 miles a year puts one in really good shape and she can already feel her body slipping. At 57, she is too young to ride a motorized cart around the grocery store but she has. “I feel like my mother,” she says.

But like the experienced randonneur she is, Deb pushes on. “I’ve set my sites on the 2016 1200 kilometer Great Southern Randonnee Australia. With any luck and a lot of work, I’ll be there.”

I admitted to Deb that I was currently a bit unglued about riding myself given that she’s the first person I’ve really known to have been involved in a major cycling accident. The response - classic Deb.

"You love riding your bike. Do the things you love.”

- Jonathan



7 Responses

P. Laura Balogh
P. Laura Balogh

April 12, 2015

I’m so sorry to hear about your accident. I wish you a rapid recovery and return to your active life. I understand how angry you are at the person who did this to you. I found getting some counseling was useful in dealing with the rage and frustration that came with my own major accident.

I was hit while on a solo bike tour on the AlCan Highway. An extended cab pickup pulling a huge fifth wheel crossed the double yellow line trying to pass me on my left as I was finishing a left turn. The driver who hit me had end stage cancer so he was on narcotic pain medication and had no business driving. I was driven by ambulance then flown by Life Flight to Anchorage. A day later I got a ride on a Life Flight Leer Jet to Portland. Unfortunately, I barely remember the flight, which cost my insurance $115,000… my first and last hours as part of the 0.1% jet set. My injuries included a badly broken pelvis, fractured vertebrae, broken ribs, collapsed lung, and extensive soft tissue damage. I had seven surgeries, was in a wheelchair for four months and couldn’t work for a year. I have permanent nerve damage in my right calf and foot and was resigned to never biking again, however, my physiatrist recently set me up with a rigid plastic foot and ankle brace and I’m finally back in the saddle after almost three years of recovery. It is incredibly difficult accepting being permanently disabled because of someone else’s negligence. He was never held accountable for what he did, in fact he blamed me for the accident and tried suing me for damaging his truck and trailer. I have prevailed, however, and have found ways to get my life back.

Todd Ortiz
Todd Ortiz

February 25, 2015

Deb, all our prayers are for you and for those that have been injured while riding their bikes through no fault of your own. We all know the young/ middle age/ older experienced male mostly riders that swerve in and out of traffic, bomb red lights and hills and you guys are not that type of rider! Wanting to hear about your recovery!

Dave
Dave

February 25, 2015

Was an avid cyclist for 35 years when my first major crash happened on a Rail Trail of all places! Apparently I crossed a root under the asphalt, @ 20mph and flipped, separating my right shoulder, fracturing my left hand, and some ribs. No cell reception, no homes, or people – in the middle of nowhere – I rode 20+ miles back to my car. Able to load the bike in my Outback, I was able to drive and while driving back to the motel realized if I go to the ER, they’ll immobilize my shoulder, probably cast my hand, and maybe even admit me. 600 miles from home in Pittsburgh, PA., and starving, I went to a restaurant near the motel, ate and had a few beers.after thinking of my predicament, I decided I would attempt to drive the 600 miles. Back in Pittsburgh, I was diagnosed,shoulder immobilized, cast on my hand, and after 3 weeks, began PT on the shoulder, began riding 2 months after my injury.
After riding a week, a mile from home, at dusk, a driver who did not see me (no light – definitely my fault) at 34mph coming down a hill, turned left. I missed the car, but not the pavement, and fractured 3 pelvic bones! Four months later I was back on the bike!
Fortunately, I was able to avoid surgery after both accidents. The doctors agreed that because my muscles were so strong,they essentially stabilized the fractures and allowed them to heal without setting or screwing them together.
I have 90% range of motion in my shoulder with some minor pain when lifting heavy weights and complete range of hip motion, but with pain. Nevertheless, I still ride 10 – 40 miles almost daily, ski, swim, and lift weights. I also stretch daily with yoga.
Being 69 years old and having had my aortic valve replaced and the mitral valve repaired, I cycle 4- 5,000 miles a year, visited every US state and cycled and skied in most of them! Traveling to most of Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, South Ameerica, Canada, Mexico, and planning a trip Africa now, I’ve still got places to go, people to see, and many more miles to ski and cycle.
With goals to achieve, lots of adrenaline, the need for speed, determination, lots of good food and drink, it’s surprising what can be achieved.

Carol
Carol

February 25, 2015

So, so sorry to hear this. I was just in my first big crash Sunday (not nearly as big as Debs, however) and your story made me sob, this just hits so very close to home, even more so now, and angers me so deeply. I do about 6000 miles/year. I too was hurt and ruined a great bike due to someone else’s negligence, involving a dog in this case. Absolutely infuriating and heartbreaking. My thoughts are with Deb for a speedy recovery. I wish I was closer to come hug her and help/encourage her along the way.

Duront Walton
Duront Walton

February 25, 2015

I cringed as I read this account. So sorry for such an awful development on a wonderfully planned outing.
Thanks for sharing it with those of us who, like you and Deb love to ride.
I hope that she and the rest of her crew make a speedy and full recovery.
Ride safe.

Hugh Givens
Hugh Givens

February 25, 2015

Hate hearing stuff like this.

I suffered similar injuries last May when I lost traction on a wet turn, fell and slid out of my lane into the path of an oncoming car. The impact resulted in a collapsed lung, ruptured bladder, 5 cracked vertebra, 6 cracked ribs, a broken pelvis and a broken sacroiliac joint.

Deb, all I can say is get back on the bike as soon as you can: I drug myself out of the wheelchair and onto the mag-trainer 4 weeks after pelvis surgery, was back on the road at 8 weeks, and returned to racing cyclocross (albeit slowly) by October. It was super helpful to find a PT and physical trainer who were cycling focused.

I’m still not 100 percent recovered and my back bothers me quite a bit from time to time. But I think I’ll be at full power at the year mark. I think I treasure riding more than ever.

So set some lofty goals, be zen-like in your focus, and do whatever you can to stick to your recovery program. You can do it!

Michele
Michele

February 25, 2015

Tell your friend Deb I had my ankle rebuilt 2x and I am an avid skier and ski patroller! I am back on skis after being sidelined for quite some time. I thought I would never ski again and happily got my life back (age 55).

I would be angry too! But there is hope.

Regards-
Michele

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