By BOB VAN ELSBERGMarch 24, 2011
How long does it take for things to go horribly wrong on the highway' In less than three seconds on a September night, a distracted driver forever changed a Soldier's life.
The Harley-Davidson emitted a low rumble as Sgt. 1st Class Ron Gullion waited for a break in traffic to turn left into the entrance to the K-Mart where his wife worked. As he sat on the idling motorcycle, something caught his eye - headlights bouncing up and down as a vehicle entered the road on his right. Glancing over his right shoulder, he saw a Ford Ranger speeding straight at him.
"I thought, 'Oh crap, he's going to hit me!'" Ron said. Quickly glancing back to the left, he looked for a break in the oncoming traffic to cross the road and get out of the pickup's way. But there weren't any breaks, and trying to cut through the fast-moving oncoming traffic would be deadly.
Waving his arms and screaming, Ron tried unsuccessfully to get the driver's attention. He'd just begun to leap off when the Ranger's bumper slammed into his right leg, knocking him off the bike and several feet across the intersection. Amazingly, he landed on his feet, but with his right leg badly injured, he immediately collapsed onto the road. As he did, the pickup ran over the bike and pushed it farther into the intersection, stopping only a few feet from Ron.
Dazed, he lay in the street and saw the pickup's driver get out and start walking toward him. Unsure whether the driver was drunk or what was going on, Ron warned him away. Instead, the driver kept coming and said, "I just want to know if you're OK." Angry at being run down in the road, Ron yelled at him, "Get away! I'm not OK. You just ran over me with your truck!"
Before long, the police arrived and Ron's sense of humor returned as he began joking with them. More than anything, he was just glad to be alive. The police soon began questioning the driver. They were amazed to discover he'd apparently been lighting his pipe while trying to cross a busy intersection. Police estimated he was going at least 25 mph when he hit the Harley.
Beth Gullion, Ron's wife, learned of the accident when she was paged to take a phone call. A woman on the other end told her the news. Immediately, Beth ran out of the store, across the parking lot and toward the emergency vehicles in the street. She was shocked at what she saw.
"I looked down on the ground and I saw Ron," she said. "... When I looked over at his leg, I saw it was bent backward and up. You could tell it was broken."
Soon an ambulance arrived. As he was being prepared for transport, Ron asked an emergency medical technician about the severity of his injuries. He told him it didn't look good.
" I looked at him and said, 'You know what, if I pass out or whatever and I wake up without a leg, I'm still alive, so do whatever you have to do,'" Ron said.
Rather than going to a nearby hospital in Hopkinsville, Ky., Ron asked to be taken to Fort Campbell's Blanchfield Army Community Hospital. That night, doctors stabilized Ron and kept him there. However, his injuries required surgical care he could best receive at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, Tenn. He was taken there the following morning and underwent surgery in the afternoon. The bones in his lower right leg were both broken right below the knee and directly above the ankle. The surgeon used a titanium rod and several screws to repair Ron's leg and shattered ankle. After the operation, the surgeon told him his foot would never regain full range of motion and he'd always have pain. Fortunately, Ron's injuries healed better than expected and most of the screws were removed, returning nearly full range of motion to his foot and relieving his discomfort. Ron went from limping to walking normally again.
After two days in the hospital, he went home. The doctor gave him a prescription for a hospital bed, which he used at home for three months during his recovery. He ultimately returned to duty with the Warrior Transition Battalion (WTB) Fort Campbell as the noncommissioned officer in charge of Morale, Welfare and Recreation. He requested that position so that he could create what he named the Healing Outside of a Hospital (HOOAH) program. The program's goal is to encourage WTB Soldiers to see themselves as "enabled," not disabled, by getting them involved in sports and outdoor recreation activities.
Considering what happened that night on Fort Campbell Boulevard, Ron is grateful he survived. Although he'd arrived at the K-Mart without all his normal riding gear, he'd borrowed his wife's helmet and riding gloves and was wearing long pants, boots and eye protection. He believes the piece of personal protective equipment (PPE) that helped him the most was his riding boots. A long scar going up his right foot shows the damage done during the collision. If not for the boots, he believes he would have lost the foot. And that night, even though he rode less than a mile, wearing PPE proved a prudent choice.
"Don't ever think it's just a short ride and I don't need it," he said. "It doesn't matter how far you're going or where you're at, an accident can happen any time."
Ron also has a message for impatient, distracted drivers such as the one who hit him.
"Don't be in such a big frickin' hurry," he said, explaining that was a big part of the problem with the driver who hit him. The Ranger's driver only glanced briefly to the left - never looking directly ahead into the intersection - before shooting out into road. Distracted by trying to light his pipe, he never noticed Ron stopped ahead in his path. However, reckless driving is a common problem drivers and riders must deal with.
Ron said, "I see that every day on the highway. Someone will blow by me and I'll catch up with them at a light or in slow-moving traffic. I wish I could tell them, 'You're not getting anywhere faster than anyone else - it just feels faster. You could get there a lot safer if you slowed down.' Hurrying leads to not paying attention - and not paying attention leads to accidents."