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Sunday, June 26, 2005

Eyewitness to Carnage

In Detroit, they're called "gawkers," in Chicago, "gapers." Those are the drivers who cause traffic jams by slowing down at the scene of an accident in order to get a glimpse of catastrophe. The worse the accident is, the slower they drive.

On Thursday, I was one of them, whatever we're called. I found myself slowing to a crawl on eastbound Rte. 58 west of Martinsville in order to avoid debris (and a state trooper) and to take in the sight of this horrific accident.

Collision kills Danville man

A Danville man was killed Thursday in an accident on U.S. 58 in Axton, according to State Trooper E.J. O'Connell.

Emory Midget Thomas, 69, of 115 Ash St., Danville, was driving a 2003 Suzuki Burgman motorcycle west on U.S. 58 when the accident occurred at 12:26 p.m., O'Connell said.

Thomas was driving in the right lane headed toward Ray Lambert Auction Co., O'Connell said. Witnesses said Thomas was interested in looking at lawn equipment at the auction house, the trooper said.

He apparently missed his turn and attempted to make a U-turn in the crossover about a mile east of the U.S. 58 bypass when the accident occurred, O'Connell said.

The motorcycle collided with a 1995 Dodge Neon traveling in the left lane, he said. (
link)
Collided. There must be a verb that better describes the encounter when a car traveling at a high rate of speed makes contact with a motorcycle that is crossing broadside in its path. The report provided above is actually rather antiseptic - probably in deference to the victim's relatives - compared to what I saw. A crushed motorcycle with parts scattered across the highway. A small red compact car with both its windshield and the front of its roof caved in, the cause of the damage to both being obvious. By the time I got to the scene, the injured - and dying - had been removed and taken to the hospital but, when I gazed on the extent of the damage, I knew someone's life had come to an abrupt end. That day. Near Axton. On State Route 58. Moments before I drove by. It was a haunting experience.

If you've never been involved in an accident while riding a motorcycle, you can't truly relate to this experience. You probably have a reasonable understanding of that which can happen. The vulnerability. The lack of protection. Blood. Injury. Worse.

But you don't know the pain. The trauma. In my case, the inability to breathe. I described it afterwards as feeling like I'd broken my lungs. They didn't seem to function. The overwhelming distress from the many broken bones did reasonably mask the dysfunctional breathing apparatus but both seemed to contribute to a feeling of profound shock, as I tried to ascertain just what harm I'd inflicted on myself, without being able to fully grasp that which was happening. The notions that interrupt the thought process contribute to the shock: Can I walk? Am I dying?

In my case, on a beautiful summer day, riding a sleek, handsome Yamaha 650 Special, I steered straight when I should have turned. Doing about 25 mph, I slammed into the side of a brick house. For years I blamed the accident on a throttle that stuck (in order to avoid accusations that I had no hair on my chest; a man-thing) but aficionados saw right through that excuse and knew without hesitation that I'd simply lost control of the bike.

The valuable lessons learned from that accident are four: (1) The human body is extremely fragile. (2) A motorcycle affords no protection in a collision with a stationary object. (3) The extent of the damage done to the body is in direct proportion to one's rate of speed and the physical nature of the object met. (4) The catastrophic damage that is inflicted never completely heals.

So, when I passed that accident over near Axton, it brought back memories. Ugly memories. And I immediately knew that someone's life had been forever altered.

It's odd. The thought came and went that perhaps the rider was only permanently disfigured; his bones rearranged. As if that were a good scenario. I knew from my experience that that was the best that he could expect. I also knew, though, after seeing the depression left in the roof of that car, that the motorcyclist was not injured.

His luck had run out on Thursday, June 23, 2005.

As for me, after spending what had to be 15 seconds gawking at the accident, I drove on. I had work to do.