25 April 2018

Voices Of Crash Victims

He'd planned to go for a bike ride.  Twelve days later, he woke up.  "I didn't fully understand what was going on or why I was there," recalls Paul Gobble.  Still, he doesn't "recall feeling surprised" that he was in a hospital bed.

Paul Runnels was on the bike ride Gobble couldn't recall.  Like Gobble, he spent "nearly two weeks in the hospital" after that ride.  The last thing he remembered is pedaling to the right of the white line on the side of the road and hearing fellow riders shout "Car back!"

Jennifer Johnson's last memory of that day's ride, which she led, was seeing the sign for Markin Glen Park.  The next thing she remembers is waking up, seeing her right arm tangled in a fence and burrs in her clothing.  Scanning her body, "I struggled when I couldn't find my right leg," she recounted.  "I found it very acutely over my right shoulder."

Sheila Jeske met Johnson, Runnels and Gobble in a parking lot for the ride. Her next memory is from hours later, at 9:15 pm, in the hospital.  Doctors asked whether she knew what had happened.  "I said I knew I was on a bike ride and I asked where Deb and Suzanne were," she testified.

Debra Bradley
Suzanne Sippel

She was referring to Debbra Bradley and Suzanne Sippel.  They would not remember the ride:  They did not survive it.  Nor did "Larry" Paulik,"Tony" Nelson and Melissa Fevig-Hughes.  

"Larry" Paulik
"Tony" Nelson

Melissa Fevig-Hughes

Jeske, along with Runnels, Gobble and Johnson, described the ordeals they have lived through since the day Runnels heard "Car back!"  Although they are all riding again, they endure all sorts of pain and continue to undergo therapies and even surgeries.  Gobble, who suffered a brain injury, sometimes struggles with finding the right words.  Still, he and the others, were determined to testify, no doubt in memory of their cycling buddies who met them every week for over a decade.

Their testimony came this morning, on the second day of a murder trial for Charles Pickett Jr of Battle Creek, Michigan.  In addition to five counts of second-degree murder, he also faces five counts of driving under the influence:  The police allege that he had metamphetamine,  muscle relaxers and pain pills in his system at the time he plowed his blue Chevy pickup truck into the group of cyclists who called themselves "The Chain Gang."

Now Jeske, Runnels, Gobble and Johnson are linked in two other ways:  They survived a horrific crash, and they are giving voice to their friends who died that awful day.