Eglin civilian recounts motorcycle/deer collision

  • Published
  • By Michael Jago
  • 96th Civil Engineer Group
Editor's note: this is the recounting, description and analysis from Michael Jago, 96th Civil Engineer Group, who ran into a deer while on a motorcycle earlier this year.

Feb. 28 was a clear and crisp Saturday afternoon.

I was riding my 1100 Honda Shadow on Range Road 213. I can clearly recall right up to the point when a doe appeared to my left, and ran along beside me. Then ...nothing.

After that I was looking up and some guy was asking if I knew where I was - I didn't actually know, but I could tell I was in Florida not New Mexico by the type of pine trees. That was a close as I could guess.

I recall the emergency technicians loading me into the helicopter and my big toe being massively painful. I was unaware of my other injuries and would be for the next two days. Morphine is a great medication, but it lies to you as to how injured you really are.

Here's the list: a broken my collar bone, shoulder, scapula, and ribs all on my left side. I had broken bones in my hands and feet. I cracked my spine in three places. I lost my left boot so my foot was deeply abraded. I had a leaky spleen so that had to be repaired as well.

Several people have asked and I myself wonder how I miraculously survived a statically un-survivable accident, (85 percent fatality with the survivors being seriously injured - brain/spine). As a scientist I took this apart and thought out several possibilities.

It wasn't the doe I saw on my left I needed to worry about. I t-boned a really
nice four-point buck from my right, not the doe running beside me. I never saw the buck.

Apparently, the buck didn't want to share. I failed to consider that deer would be out at 2:30 in the afternoon until I realized it was rut (mating) season, (I thought of it as soon as I woke up).

Looking at the damage to the bike and myself, I believe the front of the bike lifted up off the ground on impact, going up and over the deer. As the deer came in from my right at a full run, it caused the wheel to turn sharply left as it lifted from the ground. This caused my left hand to impact the tank leaving a very distinct impression. As the bike was rising and spinning left, I stayed on as it twisted.

The impact energy of my body was completely on my left shoulder so I managed to shatter my scapula, collar bone, ribs and damage internal organs (spleen). By managing to hang on to the bike for as little as a second reduced my road slide distance 50-100 feet (55 mph = 80fps).

My jacket was abraded on the back, but not worn through (except at the left elbow). Leather generally lasts about one to 1.5 second in a full highway drag at 50-30 mph. As my leather was covered by a mil-spec brand vest, it was damaged but not significantly worn through. That indicates a slide of about one second (less than 100 feet) or a relatively low speed slide (under 40 mph).

The crash bars lived up to their name and protected my legs from getting pinched under the bike.

I would have been a lot worse off had I been on a sports bike as the rider's center of gravity is much higher. A sport-bike rider would be ejected over the top of the deer as the bike would react by the rear end lifting, not the front.

The low cruiser helped me to ride through the impact and beyond. Low center of gravity and high vehicle weight assured the deer did not flip the bike making me a projectile. I fell to the side, similar to falling off a horse.

I have since met two other deer collision survivors. Both were on large touring or cruiser style bikes. Could this be a pattern?

There are many lessons learned from my experience.

As a mentor and instructor, I've always said "my skill will keep me going, but the dear and the deer will get you." I was referring to our dear fellow auto drivers and the four-legged creatures. Both will do something unpredictable and take away all of your options. I'm two for two on this theory in 33 years of riding.

Gear is important! I had on the best helmet I could own - full face Snell rated. I have no head/neck injuries and the digs in the helmet show I might not have survived with no helmet or a 1/2 shell. My vest and jacket kept my skin intact so my blood loss was minimal. I examined my clothing after the fact and was surprised by how little blood there was.

Call it blind luck, but the angels were there for me. Short of being completely un-injured, I can't imagine having come out much better than I did. The best possible people initially found me within five minutes - a cop and a fireman. This was way beyond luck.

I am doing better than expected now, as I am too stubborn to admit I was as hurt as I was. Most riders will not be as lucky to even have the opportunity. I did what the experts recommend - I wore the best gear I had and it worked. It is never too hot to wear good gear. Give yourself every advantage; it's only your life.

After 33 years of riding, I am calling it quits. I survived two major accidents and I don't think I can handle a third. The doctors all tell me how my system has taken all it ever should, so I am quitting while I'm still mostly in one piece. I will take up another sport, maybe skydiving-something safe!