By Chief Warrant Officer 4 Curtis Foster, Fort Campbell, KentuckyJuly 21, 2017
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (July 21, 2017) - It was 2005 and I was riding with a group of friends to the annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota. We had dedicated our ride to a fallen Soldier, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michael Blaise, who died in Iraq in January 2004.
The ride to Sturgis was incredible. When we got there, we set up our camp and, the next day, started touring the Black Hills. On one of our rides, we decided to enjoy the majestic beauty of God's creation by riding to the Crazy Horse Monument and then down to Custer National Park. Traffic in our direction was pretty light that morning and only slightly more busy in the oncoming northbound lanes. We were enjoying the ride - but that was about to dramatically change.
We hadn't been on the road for long when we came upon a bad accident. Several bikes had gone down and a badly mutilated body was lying in the road. We stopped to offer help. The rider on the road was obviously dead; his left leg had been amputated and stomach eviscerated.
I went to check on the other riders. The first rider I came to had a possible hip or pelvis fracture along with some road rash. The second rider I checked - a woman riding as a passenger on one of the bikes - hadn't been wearing a helmet and suffered severe head trauma. The last person I tried to help was by far the luckiest. Although he'd also failed to wear a helmet, he'd escaped the accident with only some light road rash.
It wasn't long before the police and paramedics arrived. As the paramedics took over the medical treatment, I assisted the police officer recovering the dead rider's body and leg. The police kept us there for some time. I believe they appreciated the help.
It didn't take long to find out what happened. A pickup in the northbound lanes had been hauling a trailer carrying eight portable toilets that the driver had failed to secure properly. One of the toilets fell off the trailer, striking a motorcyclist who was following on the road. When his bike went down, it threw him into the oncoming lanes and directly into the path of three bikes. It happened so quickly the lead rider couldn't avoid hitting the downed motorcyclist. The second rider then went out of control and crashed, while the third rider laid his bike down trying to avoid the accident.
We were in a pretty somber mood as we slowly rode back to camp. To make matters worse, it began to rain - which slowed us even more. However, the long ride gave me time to think about the consequences of people's actions. Unlike most accidents at Sturgis, this one did not involve alcohol. Instead, individual lapses in judgment, procedure or routine cost a rider his life and may have left a woman permanently disabled.
How does one even prepare to be struck by a portable toilet? Should the rider have kept more separation from the trailer? What about the woman with the traumatic head injuries? How would her life be different now had she been wearing her helmet? While these questions will, for the most part, go unanswered, this incident made each of us a better rider.
As soon as we returned to camp, we discussed the accident and what would we do to prevent a similar incident from occurring. From this tragic event, we took away the following lessons about surviving on the road:
• Always wear your helmet.
• If something ahead doesn't look right, increase your following distance.
• When riding in a group, watch out for each other's safety.
• Maintain group integrity on the road so you'll be more visible to other motorists.
• Go over your hand and arm signals before every ride and ensure everyone knows the route, including who will ride lead and who will bring up the rear.
• To protect less experienced riders, put them in the middle of the group next to a seasoned rider.
Since 2005, we have kept our riders safe by practicing these measures consistently during our annual "Blaise 'N' A Trail" rides. And we plan to keep it that way.
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