OH, DEER! - It's motorcycle vs. nature in highway mishap

  • Published
  • By Maj. Jason Ross
  • commander of the 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Misawa Air Base, Japan
On a beautiful spring day May 7 in Autauga County, Ala., I had just started my morning motorcycle ride into work as a student at Air Command and Staff College, Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. I turned off of County Road 40 onto County Road 85 and was about five minutes into my commute when I settled into a comfortable position, enjoying the ride on the straightest part of the road. I shifted to fifth gear, which for the way I rode my 2013 Harley Davidson Road King meant I was traveling somewhere between 50 to 60 mph.

As the sun crept above the horizon, it cast golden rays across the lush, green landscape. I couldn't have asked for better riding conditions, with temperatures sitting at about 70 degrees. To top it off, I had the road to myself. ...

Or so I thought.

From my right at about my 2 o'clock position, I glimpsed a flash of movement. A deer darted from the trees and bushes lining the street. In two short jumps it had bounded from obscurity to directly in my path!

It was a bang-bang moment.

With no time to brake or swerve, I hit the deer straight on.

The four-legged beast struck my two-wheeled vehicle at the right fork. Its chest hit the right headlight, and its front legs smacked my front wheel.

For a split second, we came face-to-face. I can still picture staring into the deer's big, brown eyes as they were about 6 inches from my nose. This was the last image I recall of the impact.

My world turned black. ...

I regained consciousness as I was rolling side-to-side like a log. I thought, "Bunch up and keep my head up." At this point I brought my arms into my chest and tried to make myself as round as possible.

As I continued rolling, I worried about hitting my motorcycle as I had no clue where it was. Seconds seemed like an eternity. I finally came to a stop in the dirt on the right side of the road, my eyes blinking into the sun.

I wiggled my fingers and toes. I slowly moved my arms and legs. My quick self-diagnosis didn't turn up any substantial pain. I noted a tingling in my wrist as I started to get up, and spotted a small circle of road rash.

I looked left (northward), and there were some cars in the distance. I looked right and saw a truck still a good bit away. 
My motorcycle had stopped sliding near the center of the oncoming lane about 20 feet to my left. With traffic bearing down on the scene, I thought, "Get the bike out of the road!"

As I reached the motorcycle, I shut off the ignition and power even though the engine wasn't running. I picked up my bent and broken Harley, which seemed heavier than I had anticipated.

I quickly depressed the broken clutch handle and pushed the bike off of the road.

By this time, the vehicles that had been off in the distance were now on scene. They had pulled over, and their occupants had run to my aid.

They all asked if I was OK, which I felt I was. I did another assessment of my body -- this time visually. My right wrist had road rash in the exposed area between my Airman battle uniform sleeves and my gloves. My left knee had a tingling sensation where the ABU pants had torn. I peered through the hole and saw my knee had suffered some road rash as well. Aside from those two parts of my body I did not have any pain.

At this point, I pulled out my phone and tried to call my wife, Becky. Cell service wasn't good, so the call did not go through.

The people who had stopped began to pick up some of the pieces of my bike, which were strewn across the road. After I reassured them that I was OK, they got back in their cars and left.

About this time, Becky called me. I told her about my mishap and explained where I was.

One last car pulled over, and a retired Air Force couple got out. I did not catch their names, but they were a bit more insistent on staying to ensure I was indeed OK. I felt a sense of embarrassment but now am deeply grateful for their aid.

The man called 911 to report the accident, while his wife took a closer look at my injuries. She inspected my wrist and knee and discovered some scrapes on my right elbow as well. She went to her car and returned with a first aid kit.

She proceeded to clean my wounds.

As the Good Samaritan finished tending to my scrapes and cuts, I thought, "I hit that deer pretty hard. I wonder where it is?"

I scanned the road and nearby field, but did not see it anywhere. I started to search for it.

I walked along the asphalt and found the deer about 200 feet away lying on its side in the tall grass near the road. It was still breathing, but it wasn't long before the slight rise and fall of its abdomen stopped completely.

At this point, I went into mishap investigation mode. I started taking pictures of the accident scene with my phone. The first time-stamp was 7:41 a.m. I continued to take pictures for the next few minutes to try to capture as much of the accident proof as possible.

It was amazing what detail was revealed. I could see the point of impact because of the tire mark on the road, which must have been left when the deer hit me. I could see in the flattened areas of the tall grass how the deer flipped over and eventually ended up in its final spot. I could see the motorcycle's impact spot on the asphalt as well as its stopping point.

At 8:08 a.m. I stopped taking the first round of pictures.

Shortly thereafter, the Alabama Highway Patrol showed up, at which point the couple who had stayed to help left. A patrolman took my driver's information to run a report. About this time, Becky showed up. The patrolman called a tow truck. Once the bike was on the tow trailer, I took a few more pictures ... the last one with a timestamp of 8:57 a.m.

Then Becky and I headed home so I could change clothes and do a better assessment of my injuries.

My injuries were very minor. The worst scrapes I had were on my left knee, right elbow and right wrist. My right knee and left wrist had minor abrasions. As far as pain was concerned, my wrist hurt the worst. After changing and looking over my injuries, we went to the hospital and spent the rest of the day there.

A day later, I reflected on and analyzed what happened.

From a safety perspective analyzing the "chain-of-events," perhaps I could have driven slower at that time of day and along that route. Deer tend to feed at the side of the road more at dusk and dawn, and the road is lined by a wooded area, which provides a good refuge for deer to hide. That said, the road I took was my favorite route to work, and I had never seen a deer along this route before. All events were "normal" and no extenuating circumstances existed prior to the accident to suggest that anything other than "normal" was to occur.

Based on the evidence captured in the pictures I took the previous day and using Google Earth for measurements, I was able to determine that the bike, which was totaled, slid nearly 238 feet.

I rolled approximately 278 feet.

Although I don't recall leaving the bike, I can only assume -- based on my injuries, position of the motorcycle's wheel and scrape marks on my helmet -- that I left the bike with my right arm extended farther than my left. As I flew through the air, my legs must have been traveling higher and faster than my core as the impact spot on my helmet suggests my head scraped the pavement at about a 45-degree angle. This seems consistent with my injuries. My right wrist probably came into contact with the pavement first, followed by my right elbow and head. Then, as I began to roll, my left knee took the next hit and then I started to slow down because my other knee and other wrist sustained less damage.

The deer, of course, didn't make it.

I might have suffered the same fate. But it is without question my protective gear helped save my life.

I was wearing a helmet, which protected my head at the impact and also during the roll. My gloves were military-issue tactical gloves with knuckle guards. Based on the scrape marks on the guards, undoubtedly they prevented knuckle injury. The ABUs helped during the roll; but at the points of impact with the asphalt, they ripped. Had I been wearing a jacket with armor, I think it would have kept the scrapes from occurring on my elbows.

With no time to brake or safely swerve, hitting the deer straight on might have worked in my favor, as well. While I don't recall leaving the bike or impacting the ground, I can only guess the fact that I didn't hit my head directly was because my body was in alignment ... that, and, of course, a good bit of luck.

I hit a deer head-on traveling between 50 to 60 mph and walked away. Sure, luck played a role, and maybe some will say it just wasn't my day to die. But take another look at the "evidence." The reason I survived to see my wife and two children again was no accident.