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Curves, motorists tough for bikers

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The sunny Sunday afternoon was perfect for a motorcycle ride.

Daniel Chandler took his Honda Saber 1100 from his home in Indianapolis south to Brown County, following winding county roads and taking in the scenery. He started heading back home around 4 p.m., taking State Road 44 through Johnson County.

A curve in the road near County Road 225W was sharper than he thought. He couldn’t make the turn, and his bike went off the road and into a ditch. He woke up in an ambulance, on his way to the hospital, where he would spend five days with three broken ribs, a broken shoulder blade and collar bone, and a bleeding spleen.

“I just can’t explain it,” he said. “Nine times out of 10, I negotiate them just fine. This one for some reason I just didn’t do it.”

The road he drove on — State Road 44 — is one of the most dangerous in the county, especially for riders from out of town, Johnson County Sheriff Doug Cox said. The many curves in the road are sharp, and motorcycles can easily miss them and run off the road, he said. In the past month, at least two motorcycle accidents happened on that road, according to police reports.

Last year, a total of 74 motorcycle accidents were reported in Johnson County. In 93 percent of those accidents, someone was injured. Statewide, 3,187 motorcycle accidents were reported, and in 62 percent of them someone was injured, according to the Indiana University Public Policy Institute.

Motorcycles don’t have the safety features or seat-belts of a car, so accidents are especially dangerous, Cox said.

Accidents often are caused when the motorcycle rider can’t make it around a curve or the driver of another vehicle isn’t paying enough attention and strikes the motorcycle, officials said.

Cox had noticed the cooler weather this summer has brought more motorcyclists out, and police are responding to more accidents. In the past month, at least six people were injured in motorcycle accidents, according to police reports. One of the main causes Cox cited is riders from out of town who don’t know the roads, he said.

Chandler had driven on State Road 44 only once the year before, when he and his wife took his motorcycle out for a ride.

“I plum forgot about that curve,” he said.

Motorcycle owners like Chandler, who has more than 30 years’ riding experience and had never been in an accident, are not usually the cause of an accident, Greenwood Police Department Assistant Chief Matt Fillenwarth said. They take the time to get permits and licenses and take classes.

But accidents often happen when the driver of another vehicle doesn’t see a motorcycle, he said.

“The problem is you can be a great rider and be really skilled and people in cars don’t see you,” Fillenwarth said.

In Greenwood, which has fewer curvy roads than the county, more accidents are caused by inexperienced drivers and often at high speeds, he said.

“I don’t care if they’re wearing a helmet or not, when they get ejected from a motorcycle at over 100 mph it doesn’t matter,” Fillenwarth said.

Chandler wasn’t speeding and was wearing a helmet when his motorcycle crashed. He believes that if he hadn’t been, he might have died.

He still can hardly move his left arm. Recovery will take at least another month or more if he needs surgery, he said.

He bought his first motorcycle more than 40 years ago, when he was 17. The Honda was totaled when he crashed, and he won’t buy a new one.

“I’m 60 years old, and I just don’t heal as quickly as I used to,” he said. “I’m done now.”

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