FORT JACKSON, S.C. - On the morning of Nov. 16, 2008, Staff Sgt. Rodney Spears had a bright Army career ahead of him. He had already earned the Expert Infantry Badge, been to sniper school, served as a drill sergeant and was a member of the cadre at the Drill Sergeant School.

In a split second that Sunday morning his life changed forever.

A motorcycle accident has left him using crutches to get around and blind in his right eye. Half of his body is being held together by titanium screws. He is now assigned to the Warrior Transition Unit as he rehabilitates and awaits a medical discharge.
Yet, Spears considers himself lucky.

"I've been given a second chance at life," he said.

Spears does not remember the accident, but he was able to recount it during Tuesday's Victory Thunder Motorcycle Rally, thanks to the eyewitness report of a buddy who was riding right behind him when it happened.

"From the church parking lot to the intersection was about a fifth of a mile. As I approached the stop sign I got on the brakes," Spears said. "There was some gravel close to the intersection and when I applied the front bake, I guess didn't slow down soon enough. When I hit that gravel the front end of my bike came out from under me putting the bike on its right side and I slid right through the stop sign.

"Right as I was sliding into the intersection a BMW going about 50 mph hit me from the left. The bike was knocked clear; unfortunately I was stuck underneath the car. The car dragged me about 150 feet."

Spears' injuries included a fractured skull, his pelvis snapped in half, four broken ribs and his left hip socket completely destroyed.

"I probably would have been scarred for life (psychologically) if I could have seen myself," he admitted.

Spears came to close to becoming part of what has been an alarming trend in the Army, more Soldiers dying due to motorcycle accidents.

According to the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center, since 1997, motorcycle deaths rose each year from six in 1997 to 51 in 2008 for a 733 percent comparative increase in motorcycle fatalities. For Fiscal Year 2009, 10 Soldiers have been killed in motorcycle accidents compared to 20 for the same time frame during FY 2008.

While motorcycle deaths Army-wide are on pace to see a decrease, the Army's top safety NCO is cautious.

"In the third and fourth quarters of the fiscal year is when we see a lot more accidents and deaths simply because more bikers are on the road with the warmer weather," said Command Sgt. Maj. Tod Glidewell, U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center. "That's why education is a concentrated effort from the Secretary of the Army on down. Rallies like this bring cyclists together. It gives lower experienced riders a chance to meet and team up with a more experienced rider who can mentor them."

It's been three years since a Fort Jackson Soldier has been involved in a motorcycle fatality. Fort Jackson Safety Director Sean O'Brian credits the post leadership for helping keep Fort Jackson Soldiers from becoming one of those statistics.

"We have engaged leaders at all levels stressing operator responsibility," he said.

Events like the rally help get the message that operator responsibility includes knowing how automobile drivers think.

"Motorcycle accidents are very seldom from a single cause, but rather from a chain of events, many of which are preventable," O'Brian said. "We normally see the same causal factors over and over: speed, fatigue, overconfidence, loss of control, and adding to the severity of injury, a failure to wear a DOT approved helmet."

Rick Williams, lead instructor for Fort Jackson's Army Traffic Safety Training Program, wants to remind all motorcyclists not to get complacent and fall into bad habits.

"We have to be very aware of our surroundings, our skills as a rider become more critical. Automobile drivers don't have the perception of what a motorcycle is and its size or capabilities," he said. "When it comes to vehicle to vehicle accidents the most dangerous place for motorcycles is intersections. Cars pull out in front of motorcycles because when the car driver looks and sees a truck coming he can judge how far away the truck is and how fast it is going based on size, and how he will get larger as he closes on the intersection.

"This is not true with a motorcycle. As drivers look left and right, if they see a motorcycle, it looks small so they think it is farther away than it really is and they pull out not knowing how fast the motorcycle is closing on them because he does not appear to get much larger."

Everyone involved with the rally stressed over and over the importance of safety gear when riding. Spears is thankful it is a message he took to heart that November morning.

"I was wearing a helmet, but I still managed somehow to crack my skull," he said. "It scares me to think what if I hadn't had the helmet on. The gear saved my life."