April 13, 3004

I saw a motorcycle accident yesterday.

Anyone who is familiar with Coldwater Canyon Avenue near Mulholland through the Hollywood Hills can tell you this winding road (one lane each direction) is a busy thoroughfare connecting Century City with the San Fernando Valley. It is also a popular destination with motorcycle enthusiasts.

I was driving home from work near the end of a warm, typically sunny southern California day. It was around 6:30 p.m., an hour before sunset. As Mulholland runs along the crest of the hills, there was a combination of shadows and sunlight peaking through the trees. I took particular interest in the motorcycle rider behind me because, unlike most bikers I see during this trek, he was riding at a safe speed relative to existing weather and traffic conditions.

As we approached the light at Mulholland (it was green), I let him pass me on the left. At the intersection, there was a car in the left-hand turn lane and a car in front of me. For some reason, the biker “punched it” through the light, missing both cars, narrowly avoiding the right mirror of the car on the left by leaning the bike slightly. When he came back up, he overcorrected twice, hit a soft spot near the shoulder, and went down.

From what I can tell, he did a good job of laying the bike down. Unfortunately, there was a three-foot high stone and cement retaining wall in his way. At his accelerated burst at what I would guess as around 40-50 miles per hour, with all the dust flying, I couldn’t see where he went. Did he hit the wall or fly over it? Being about 30-50 yards directly behind the scene, I saw the bike hit the wall with tremendous force, so much that it flew about five feet in the air before crashing in the middle of the northbound lane.

I pulled over behind the crash site and immediately - all in one motion – put on my emergency flashers, took off my seatbelt, called 9-1-1 on my cell phone and jumped out of the car. I was the first one at the scene and saw him lying on his back a few feet from the bike. I was expecting to see bones and broken legs and lots of blood. At first glance, I was somewhat relieved that he didn’t have visible injuries. He was conscious but in lots of pain.

Thank God he was wearing a helmet. However, without gloves or a leather jacket, I was certain he endured a lot of scrapes on this paved-but-worn and gravel-filled road. It was surreal seeing his shoes and backpack lying neatly against the wall, as if it was placed there on purpose.

Before I could ask him how he was, he groaned loudly and tried to move his left leg. Then he screamed, “My back is broken!” I calmly told him to lie still and try to control his breathing. He noticed blood on his hand. I told him not to worry, that it was a minor scrape (it was). I told him to keep his knees up. With my occasional lower back problems, I know that lying on my back with knees propped up greatly relieves the pressure and the pain, though I have never been thrown against a brick wall at forty to fifty miles per hour wearing nothing more than jeans, running shoes and a light cotton jacket. Since the pain came from moving his left leg, I suspected he broke his pelvis or left hip, not his back. But I'm not a doctor nor would I pretend to be.

Others started to arrive. Some pulled over. Some got out of their cars. Some just slowed down, stared, then continued on with their lives. One person that got out was also calling 9-1-1 and, like me, was on hold.

Another person mentioned there was a fire station just up the road, maybe a quarter of a mile. We all looked at each other. We weren’t trying to be heroes. We were just trying to help. We decided that two of us would stay on the phone and keep the accident victim calm while the third guy ran up the road to the fire house. I was on hold with 911 for nearly 15 minutes! By this time, another biker joined us and talked to the guy about motorcycle riding. It was a great distraction. As long as he didn’t move his left leg, he’d eliminate those screaming lightning bolts of pain.

I finally got through to the 911 operator and gave him the details. After a few minutes, a fire truck from up the road arrived, followed by an ambulance. They immediately came to the conclusion that he needed to be stabilized. First, they cut off all his clothes except his underpants to check for other injuries. Since he had some trouble breathing, I suspect he broke some ribs. While not trying to minimize his injuries from such a horrific crash, I was amazed at the few visible signs of trauma that the human body can withstand: he scraped his hand, had a lacerated shoulder (where his right arm connects to his torso), a slight scrape to his left knee and a major scrape to his right hip. No bones sticking out, no twisted arms and legs.

Now, I have always had a great respect and admiration for fire and police officers. What they do on a REGULAR basis - performing miracles and near-super human tasks - is beyond what most of us could ever do even once. I have mentioned many times to friends that, in December of 1999, firefighters saved our home from an inferno of a hillside fire behind our neighborhood. I am forever in their debt.

The combination of care and professionalism I witnessed to treat this victim will never be forgotten. We all knew that moving him from the concrete to the stretcher (and later to the gurney) was going to be excruciating. Everyone was prepared and, while there was an unforgettable scream from nearly unbearable pain, it was accomplished, for lack of a better word, efficiently.

By this time, the shadows consumed us. As the sun was setting over the hills, a cool breeze sent a chill down my spine. The police arrived and took my witness report. As the ambulance drove him away, my thoughts turned to the security of my own family and for the victim and his family. His path to recover will be extensive. And while I never caught his name, I prayed that God’s mercy and compassion be upon him and that he recovers quickly.

As I left the scene, I was still in shock to what I had witnessed. I called my wife, explained my situation and, even though it was quite evident, I told her I would be home late. While she too was exhausted from a long day at work and struggling with our mischievous pre-teen son, she eased my anguish with her gentle, soothing voice and comforting words. Thirty minutes later, before I knew it, I was home, staying on the phone with her all the while.

She was waiting for me at the door with concerned eyes and a loving embrace. And after all I had witnessed that day, I knew very well that I was the lucky one. I was coming home.