Summers see spike in motorcycle crashes

County has about 3 or 4 fatal motorcycle collisions a year

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian Breaking News Reporter



This map shows traffic fatalities involving motorcycles in Clark County from 2003 to June, 2014. Some of the more recent incidents may not be included because agencies have up to 60 days to file their reports with the Washington State Department of Transportation. (Map by John Hill/The Columbian)

As the weather continues to get warmer, law enforcement sees more and more of one of the most gruesome kinds of crashes: those involving motorcycles.

Det. Jim Payne, a collision reconstructionist for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, said that when he responds to a motorcycle crash, he expects to see a lot of blood and injuries at the scene.

“(Motorcyclists) have no protection from being injured, or killed, unfortunately, when they get struck by a car,” he said. “There’s so much more mass in a car than there is in your body, so you are going to lose that battle.”

Payne said that witnessing the carnage led him to decide to no longer ride a motorcycle.

“I know motorcycles are fun to ride. I used to ride one myself,” he said. But, he added, “I’ve seen what can happen. … I have too many responsibilities to put myself at risk like that.”

In the summer, the number of crashes involving motorcycles spikes as riders break out their bikes for the sunshine.

While January and December each have an average of only two or three crashes in Clark County, July and August each see numbers reach into the 14 to 15 range, according to a Columbian analysis of 10 years worth of Washington State Patrol motorcycle crash data.

Thirty-two people have died in a motorcycle crash in the past 10 years in Clark County. In 18 of the crashes, or 56 percent, the motorcyclist did something to contribute to the crash. In 15 of the fatal crashes, there was no other vehicle involved.

“This isn’t about clueless drivers pulling out of their driveways in front of motorcycles,” Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste said in a release.

“Riders themselves have the power to change this horrible statistic.”

In 2013, 73 riders across the state died in motorcycle collisions, according to state patrol. That number has remained fairly steady over the past several years. In Clark County, the amount of fatal motorcycle crashes hovers between three and four per year.

Danny Eastham, 63, came close to being a part of that statistic.

On April 28, Eastham, who lives in the Fern Prairie area, was riding his 2006 Harley Davidson Softail Deluxe with his wife trailing behind him.

On his way to lunch in Portland, he took the westbound onramp from state Highway 14 to southbound I-205 and lost control. He said that another vehicle crowded him out, and he went straight off the roadway instead of staying with the turn.

He crashed and broke his neck in three places. His doctors told him that if it had broken differently or if he had moved the wrong way, he could have died.

“I did some pirouettes; the wife gave me 8 out of 10,” he said. “That was my fifth of my nine lives.”

Despite his close call, Eastham said he won’t stop riding but said he always wears a helmet and stays vigilant of other vehicles.

“It’s like flying a plane … the freedom and the wide-open panoramic view you get, the wind,” he said. “It just settles you down in this hectic world.”