Former McAllen, Texas, firefighter Ronaldo “Ronnie” Gomez considers himself one of the lucky ones.
In May 2008, a suspected drunk driver clipped him as he turned his motorcycle at the intersection of North 10th Street and Trenton Road.
He sustained a punctured lung, broken ribs, a broken eye socket, a broken nose and hip injuries. And the lower portion of his left leg would be amputated.
But he survived.
“I was in bad shape,” Gomez recalled. “The doctor said that if it wasn’t for the physical condition that I was in — a condition you have to keep up when you’re a firefighter — I might have not come out of it.”
The 28-year veteran firefighter would have to learn how to walk again with a prosthesis; his injuries would force him to retire.
“It’s usually the guy that you don’t see that gets you,” he said, reflecting on the wreck during a recent interview.
The two places where serious motorcycle collisions commonly occur are at intersections and when changing lanes, Texas Department of Transportation officials said.
The agency launched a “Share the Road” campaign in April in part to highlight a dire trend: Motorcyclists are dying in record numbers, and if aggressive steps to promote safety on the road are not taken, the statewide death toll could double within four years, according to a TxDOT news release.
Motorcyclists and their passengers accounted for 14 percent of the state’s traffic deaths with 434 fatalities in 2009, the year for which the most recent statistics were available, according to TxDOT. More than 5,800 others were also seriously injured that year.
Gomez, who began riding motorcycles when he was 15, noted two key survival factors: Experience and training, he said, will help motorcyclists learn how to better maneuver their bikes during heavy traffic, hazardous weather and emergency situations.
But there has been a dramatic increase in the number of new motorcyclists on the roadways, which might mean more inexperienced drivers. The number of motorcycles in Texas alone has more than doubled to 422,815 in the last decade and is expected to double again in the next four years, according to TxDOT.
Rising gasoline prices may be one of the driving forces behind the spike.
“We know that 66 percent of motorcycle crashes result in death or serious injury for the motorcyclist,” said Carol Rawson, TxDOT’s Traffic Operations director. “As more and more people turn to motorcycles for affordable transportation and recreation, it’s more important than ever to remind drivers to look twice for motorcycles.”
At least three people from the Rio Grande Valley have died in collisions since the beginning of the year, including Edcouch-Elsa School Board President Benigno “Benny” Layton, who was involved in a single-vehicle accident near San Antonio.
Layton was wearing a helmet at the time of the wreck, but even with the protective gear, drivers are still vulnerable because motorcycles don’t have seatbelts, which increases the risk of ejection.
Under Texas law, all riders under the age of 21 are required to wear a helmet when operating a motorcycle. But riders 21 and older may choose to ride without one if they have completed a safety course or are covered by an applicable insurance plan.
The Department of Public Safety location in McAllen does not offer any training courses, but there are at least two other locations where riders can look for guidance — Edinburg’s Coastal Cycle Academy, which meets at the University of Texas-Pan American’s parking lot, and Harlingen’s Texas State Technical College, 1902 North Loop 499. The courses are designed to help both new students and more experienced drivers, as well.
Despite his wreck, Gomez continues to ride — on a slightly modified three-wheeled motorcycle with his firefighter riding club, the Dragon Slayers.
But he offers a word of caution.
“I have friends that said to me,’ I have a bike and I saw your accident and I don’t trust myself with it,”‘ Gomez said. “If you have any negative thoughts about riding, don’t get on it because you have to have a clear mind when you ride.
“You have to be in the right mindset.”
Information from: The Monitor
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