On July 25, 1990 at 12:34:40AM, I was riding a motorcycle in Indianapolis, southbound on Meridian St, on my way to see a gal I was dating, in her downtown high-rise apartment.
At the same time, one Mary V. Slafkosky, who was loaded up with quite a lot more than the (then) legal blood alcohol limit of .10% BAC, was travelling eastbound on 21st St in her white Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.
Mary was too drunk to judge that the green signal for eastbound 21st St was ‘stale.’
10 seconds later, at 12:34:50AM, the signal for traffic eastbound on 21st St turned yellow.
The signal I was approaching, for southbound Meridian St, had been red, so I was decelerating. About a city block north of the intersection, I had downshifted into 4th, closed the throttle and was covering the front brake lever with my right index and middle fingers, preparing to stop.
Mary was also too drunk to judge the length of the yellow signal.
6 seconds later, at 12:34:56AM, the signal for eastbound 21st St turned red.
Mary didn’t stop- she didn’t even slow down. Mary barrelled right on into the intersection, against the red signal.
At the same time, when I was about 150 feet north of the intersection, then moving at about 25mph, the signal for southbound Meridian turned green. I released the front brake lever and rolled on a small amount of throttle to return to the 35mph speed limit.
The 4-story apartment building on the northwest corner of the intersection of 21st and Meridian completely blocks the view of traffic approaching on 21st St from the west for drivers proceeding south on Meridian.
I had less than 1 second to react to Mary’s car entering the intersection while the signal was green for me.
Cognitive dissonance for 1/3 of a second.
…why is there a car entering the intersection from my right, when the signal is green for me?
Another 1/3 of a second passes.
I managed to get my fingers back on the front brake lever and mashed the rear brake pedal.
With eyes the size of dinner plates, I saw the white left front fender of Mary’s car, with chrome Cutlass Supreme insignia, looming ever larger, larger and larger, like being viewed through a zoom lens advancing at top speed into a focal point.
I can still hear it, even now, 20 years later.
My front wheel squarely hit Mary’s left front wheel, crushing her left front suspension. The forks of the bike folded to the left and the remaining mass of the bike collapsed the Cutlass’ left front fender.
The bike and I went airborne, both flying over Mary’s car. I flew about 50-60 feet, rolling and tumbling through the air.
A witness following me said the bike was on its side while airborne, spinning. He first mistook it for a lawnmower spinning through the air.
Not being terribly good at flying, I returned to earth.
My first contact with the Meridian St pavement was on my full-face helmet’s chin bar and on my chest. The chest impact caused my heart to go into fibrillation, stopping efficient blood flow to my brain.
I bounced and rolled several more times, fracturing my right knee’s tibial plateau, tearing my left knee’s anterior cruciate ligament and injuring my spine in three places. Both ankles were fractured, as was my left wrist. Despite the thickness of a leather jacket over a down-filled jacket (it was a rather cool night for July in Indianapolis), the point of the ulna bone near my left elbow, tore through the skin, leaving an inch-long gash which required several butterfly bandages to close.
I finally stopped rolling, about 75 feet from the point of impact, lying on my back. The lack of blood flow to the brain caused me to be semi-conscious at the time and ultimately caused a temporary stroke-like condition, where my entire left side was paralyzed for several weeks.
The chin strap of the helmet was tight across my neck, partially cutting off my airway. Some amazingly prescient nearby person almost immediately came to my aid, loosening the strap, but not removing my helmet in case I had broken my neck.
While all this was happening, not knowing her car was fatally wounded, Mary panicked and decided to flee the scene- and leave me for dead. Despite the crushed left front suspension, Mary mashed the throttle. The front-wheel-drive Cutlass dragged its left front wheel while the right front spun and smoked, while Mary struggled through her drunken stupor and with the nearly inoperable steering. She managed to get the car, on three operable wheels, about a block away from the scene. 5 witnesses came forward, one describing Mary’s hasty, semi-controlled exit from the scene as ‘like something out of the Dukes of Hazzard.’
If you’re going to have one, downtown Indianapolis is a pretty good place to sustain severe injuries in an auto accident, given its close proximity to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where quite a lot of that sort of thing tends to happen. I was only 2 minutes by ambulance away from Methodist Hospital, a Level 1 trauma care center. Since witnesses saw the whole thing happen, police and ambulance were summoned almost immediately and were on scene scant minutes after the collision. Paramedics defibrillated my heart, stabilised me and transported me to Methodist, where I remained for many months afterward.
While in hospital, I had several knee surgeries. A band of tissue was grafted from the center of my left patellar tendon to repair the torn ACL in my left knee. A piece of bone from my right hip was grafted out and used to repair the flaked bone on my right knee’s tibial plateau, along with the installation of 8 very nice stainless steel screws and an equally pretty 4″ long stainless steel plate. The hardware was removed about a year later as it was causing severe pain when I encountered large changes in air temperature.
Despite her escape, Mary was located and arrested about 2 hours after the fact. She was charged with ‘operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated causing serious bodily harm,’ a felony, as well as ‘leaving the scene of a serious bodily injury accident,’ another felony. This was Mary’s first drunk driving offense- but you can’t convince me for a nanosecond that anyone who can find their car keys, much less semi-successfully drive a car, with nearly double the legal BAC, isn’t a ‘pro drinker’ who has driven home drunk many times before. I just was unlucky enough to be her first victim.
Mary got herself a good attorney, who did precisely what criminal defense lawyers do. This attorney attempted to use traffic signal sequencing information to pin the fault for the collision on me and tried to persuade witnesses to describe my very ordinary 1981 Suzuki GS450 commuter bike as a ‘souped-up racing motorcycle’- and managed to get the charge reduced to ‘operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated,’ a misdemeanor, presumably because Mary had not previously been convicted of any DUI offenses. Mary at the time was employed by the Indiana Department of Motor Vehicles. No word on whether Mary kept that job after being convicted, but she did eventually (about a year later) plead guilty, but only to the misdemeanor OMVWI charge.
Despite all the injuries and surgery, one of the the most painful things about the whole mess to me was that during the court session where she was convicted, Mary never even looked me in the eye to apologize. She just snuffled and blubbered and stared at her shoes. Mary was given a year’s suspension from driving and a nominal fine, about $100. I’m quite sure the attorney cost her several thousand dollars, but it was nothing compared to the loss of income I have suffered in the last 20 years. I received a paltry $36,000 settlement in the early 1990s for pain and suffering, about half a year’s worth of pay for me. I did manage to return to work about a year after the accident and was able to struggle through for the ensuing 11 years, but in 2002, my knees absolutely failed me and I have been unable to work since. I live on a disability pension of about $15,000 per year.
I am in constant pain to one degree or another, every single day. I constantly struggle with effective pain control with my three spinal and bilateral knee injuries. I presently need more surgery- the left knee is totally shot and I need a total knee joint replacement. The problem being that at age 48, I’m too young to have the work done- artificial knee joints only last about 20 years before a revision surgery is required. The mechanical joints simply wear out and must be replaced. However, replacing an artificial joint is difficult and risky, particularly when the patient is in their 70s. It’s best to wait as long as possible for the surgery so that one doesn’t outlive the usefulness of the mechanical joint.
Mary’s not done too badly for herself in the last 20 years. She’s now employed as the Executive Director at the Muncie (Indiana) Children’s Museum and has acquired bachelors and masters degrees. I hope like hell Mary has addressed her alcohol problems and hasn’t drunkenly run over any other innocents.
If you drink and own a car, think carefully about this story. If you’re a thoughtless, self-centred drunk who can’t be bothered to get a cab home, provided you don’t kill your victim/s outright, you stand a very high likelihood of leaving them to live in poverty with lifelong disabilities.