With anger and more than a little frustration I need to report to you that a motorcyclist was killed one evening last week after he ran over two fiberglass ladders in the middle of Highway 101. This collision sent him off of his motorcycle and into oncoming traffic where he was hit by a car. First, to his family, please accept my heartfelt condolences and sincerest best wishes during this horrible time.
As bikers, we try to avoid motorcycle accidents by pretending that we are invisible, knowing that cars will drive right into us if given half the chance. We pay closer attention to the configuration and pavement on the roadway knowing that deviations in the roadway can more easily cause motorcycle accidents and motorcyclist injuries. But how are we supposed to protect ourselves from debris on the freeway at night?
In this case, it is unknown how the fiberglass ladders, which were partially blocking two lanes, wound up on the freeway. We don’t know how long they had been on the freeway and we don’t know if anyone had called into 911 that the ladders were in the traveled portion of the lane. We do not know how often the CHP patrolled this portion of the roadway or if a truck driver failed to properly fasten the ladder in the bed of his truck or if they fell off a delivery truck. We do know that Hoc Nguyen, 28, was headed southbound on his 2009 Yamaha motorcycle at around 70 mph at about 11 p.m. on October 13th when he ran into ladders in his pathway.
Was rider inattention a factor? Was that five mile and hour of excess speed a factor? It is hard to say; however, we do know that whoever owned those ladders has participated in a wrongful death and should be made accountable.
As a San Francisco Motorcycle Attorney, and avid motorcyclist myself, I represent many riders who have been in motorcycle accidents. Although motorcycle riders understand that they face the risk of personal injuries when they share the road with cars, motorcyclists are entitled to expect the good and lawful conduct of others on the roadway and also of those who are supposed to keep the roadway safe. And bikers are entitled to a safe roadway, not a roadway littered with dangerous debris.
Every day distracted car and truck drivers engage in dangerous driving behavior that injures and kills motorcyclists who share the road with them. One way demonstrated here is when people let debris leave their vehicle to become a hazard on the roadway. Couldn’t the motorist who dropped the ladders have gone back to pick them up? Or couldn’t they have called the CHP to ask them for help in retrieving the ladders? Leaving the ladders in the roadway is reckless driving and should be punished as strongly as other types of reckless driving.
Does this person even know that they have caused a death?
As to what the family of Mr. Nguyen should do? They should at least check the 911 calls for that night to learn if the CHP learned of a hazard and could have done something about it in time. They should try to learn if there are any distinguishing marks to identify the owner of the ladders. They should run an ad to try to learn of any witnesses to the dropping of the ladders. They should contact a personal injury attorney to open an uninsured claim for the family. Mr. Nguyen’s own motorcycle policy probably will not be adequate to compensate his family for this wrongful death. However, the uninsured motorist provisions of his policy may be triggered by this event and it is a start that will help defray some expenses. Small compensation, but something. My heart goes out to his family and I hope this blog has helped in some small way.
Anyone with information regarding the two orange fiberglass ladders lost on U.S. 101 can contact Officer S. Parra of the California Highway Patrol at (408) 848-2324.