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Eglin civilian recounts motorcycle-deer collision

  • Published
  • By Michael Jago
  • 96th Civil Engineer Group
Feb. 28, 2010, was a clear and crisp Sunday afternoon.

I was riding my 1100 Honda Shadow on Range Road 213. I can clearly recall right up to the point when a doe appeared to my left and ran along beside me. Then ... nothing.

After that I was looking up and some guy was asking if I knew where I was. I didn't actually know, but I could tell I was in Florida--and not my previous station at Holloman AFB, New Mexico--by the type of pine trees. That was a close as I could guess.

I recall the emergency technicians loading me into the helicopter and my big toe being massively painful. I was unaware of my other injuries and would be for the next two days. Morphine is a great medication, but it lies to you as to how injured you really are.

Here's the list: a broken collar bone, shoulder, scapula and ribs all on my left side. I had broken bones in my hands and feet. I cracked my spine in three places. I lost my left boot so my foot was deeply abraded. I had a leaky spleen that had to be repaired as well.

Several people have asked, and I myself wonder, how I miraculously survived a statistically un-survivable accident, with an 85 percent fatality and survivors left with serious brain and spine injuries. As a scientist, I took this apart and thought out several possibilities.

It wasn't the doe I saw on my left I needed to worry about. I t-boned a really nice four-point buck from my right, not the doe running beside me. I never saw the buck.

Apparently, the buck didn't want to share. I failed to consider that deer would be out at 2:30 in the afternoon until I woke up and remembered it was rut (mating) season.

Looking at the damage to the bike and myself, I believe the front of the bike lifted up off the ground on impact, going up and over the deer. As the deer came in from my right at a full run, it caused the wheel to turn sharply left as it lifted from the ground. This caused my left hand to impact the tank leaving a very distinct impression. As the bike was rising and spinning left, I stayed on as it twisted.

The impact energy of my body was completely on my left shoulder so I managed to shatter my scapula, collar bone and ribs and damage internal organs (spleen). By managing to hang on to the bike for as little as a second, I reduced my road slide distance by 50-100 feet (55 miles per hour = 80 feet per second).

My jacket was scraped on the back but not worn through, except at the left elbow. Leather generally lasts about 1 to 1.5 seconds in a full highway drag at 30-50 mph. Because my leather was covered by a mil-spec brand vest, it was damaged but not significantly worn through. That indicates a slide of about 1 second (less than 100 feet) or a relatively low speed slide (under 40 mph).

The crash bars lived up to their name and protected my legs from getting pinched under the bike.

I would have been a lot worse off had I been on a sport bike, where the rider's center of gravity is much higher. A sport bike rider would be ejected over the top of the deer because the bike would react by the rear end lifting, not the front. The newspaper article on the accident incorrectly stated I was ejected, because that would be the expected method of leaving a motorcycle in this type of collision. It is a fine point, but a critical one.

The low cruiser helped me to ride through the impact and beyond. Low center of gravity and high vehicle weight ensured the deer did not flip the bike and make me a projectile. I fell to the side, similar to falling off a horse.

I have since met two other deer collision survivors. Both were on large touring or cruiser style bikes. Could this be a pattern?

There are many lessons learned from my experience.

As a mentor and nine-year Motorcycle Safety Foundation instructor, I've always said, "Your skill will keep you going, but the dear and the deer will get you." I was referring to our dear fellow auto drivers and the four-legged creatures. Both will do something unpredictable and take away all of your options. I'm two for two on this theory in 33 years of riding.

Gear is important! I had on the best helmet I could own: full-face and Snell rated. I initially thought I had no head or neck injuries, but any trauma resulting in loss of consciousness means there was some sort of damage. Mine has so far been an inability to recall some words even though I can define them. That's minor, though, considering the digs in the helmet show I might not have survived with no helmet or a half shell. My vest and jacket kept my skin intact so my blood loss was minimal. I examined my clothing after the fact and was surprised by how little blood there was.

It also looks like I lost use of part of my right thumb, and I have tissue damage to my legs and shoulder that will cause me stiffness and pain for the rest of my days. Still, I am very fortunate to be walking at all.

Some might call it blind luck, but the angels were there for me. Short of being completely uninjured, I can't imagine having come out much better than I did. The best possible people initially found me within five minutes: a cop and a fireman. This was way beyond luck.

I am doing better than expected now, as I am too stubborn to admit I was as hurt as I was. Most riders will not be as lucky to even have the opportunity. I did what the experts recommend; I wore the best gear I had and it worked. It is never too hot to wear good gear. Give yourself every advantage; it's only your life.

After 33 years of riding, I am calling it quits. I survived two major accidents and I don't think I can handle a third. The doctors all tell me how my system has taken all it ever should, so I am quitting while I'm still mostly in one piece. I will take up another sport, maybe skydiving--something safe!