St. Louis, MO
Posted - 02/03/2011 : 2:50 PM
Something came to my attention last Wednesday and I've been trying to track it down since then. I present all that I know here with the sole intention of bringing relevant information from both H-D and other sources to the rider community. Each reader is encouraged to make up their own mind.
On May 15th, Eric McGraw, Manager, Rider's Edge, H-D corporate, sent out a letter that informed rider educators that there had been a crash in Rider's Edge on April 29th and a student had died from a heart attack. I, of course, didn't get a letter from McGraw. I was told about the letter on May 19th from someone who did. I now have a hard copy of that letter from McGraw. Here is the pertinent parts:
"I want to make you aware of an incident that occurred in conjunction with a Rider's Edge New Rider Course. On April 29, a student participating in a class at the Harley-Davidson dealership in Kenosha, WI, was involved in an accident and subsequently passed away on May 6."
"The student's family has advised us that, while in the process of learning to ride, the student suffered a heart attack, which precipitated the accident and his passing."
"The incident occurred during a standard training exercise, and no other individuals were involved in the accident."
The letter concludes with the "thoughts are with" language for the family, and those at the dealership.
The letter is vague in any sort of details so let me fill in some of them:
The dealership in Kenosha, WI is Uke's. Kenosha is just south of Racine, which is just south of Milwaukee. Uke's is Wisconsin's oldest dealership having been founded in 1930, back in the Depression. According to an article available through Dealernews, "The ties that bind," Keith Ulicki, the current owner and son of founder Frank "Ukulele" Ulicki (which was shortened to "Uke"), "All the Ulicki men on my father's side of the family either worked directly for Harley-Davidson or indirectly as a dealer." Two sons own or owned dealerships, Frank's brother, Pete, went to work for H-D as an experimental technician, and Keith's brother "has never worked anywhere but the Harley-Davidson factory", and a second cousin to Frank and Keith was Eric Buell's fourth employee.
Of course, Uke's was much smaller 76 years ago but it grew and changed locale over the years. They moved into the 60,000 big box store in 2003just about the same time a rival dealership in Racine sued H-D in civil court for violation of their territory rights that had been given to Uke's.
The Racine Wisconsin Harley-Davidson dealership, RHDI, lost that suit in appeals court in December, 2004. The plaintiff, RHDI, argued that their 1992 dealership agreement gave the entire Racine County to them and that Harley had violated the agreement in 2001 by granting the Burlington zip codes, to Uke's Harley Davidson in Kenosha. Burlington produced the second highest sales for RHDI in 2001, so the loss of zip codes not only affected their profitability, they would not be able to open a second dealership there. Both Uke's and RHDI are full service dealerships. Both also carry Buells, but Uke's offers Rider's Edge courses as well. The state appeals court said that Harley-Davidson often reallocates dealer's territories for various reasons so the modification of territory didn't represent a change in the dealership agreement.
Uke's has trained about 1,000 students through its Rider's Edge courses.
So that's the dealership that was involved in the RE death.
Now on to McGraw's explanation: According to a source who heard McGraw speaking about this incident, he said that the student had died immediately was not breathing and CPR was administrated and the victim revived before EMS arrived, though apparently McGraw also said the student's heart had stopped and was revived by EMS. At any rate, according to McGraw, the source said, the student was alive when the ambulance left the range.
The student, then, lived seven days until May 6th when he died. McGraw's letter states only what the family has said to H-Dthat the student had a heart attack before the accident.
McGraw's letter is silent on what the accident itself.
So that's what McGraw was heard saying about the incident and what his letter on H-D letterhead said. The letter, of course, is what was released to the rider education community and that's H-D's official statement on the incident.
However, there was a newspaper article in the Kenosha News dated May 3, 2006. It relates something quite different, which is not to say that the student did or did not have a heart attack prior to the accident. To purchase a complete copy of this article, call the Kenosha News Customer Care department:
According to the article, written by Jessica Hansen, "Man hospitalized following motorcycle accident," an Oak Creek resident, Robert J. Eskowski, 58, "reportedly hit a wall" at about 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 29th. He was taking the course along with his son and daughter. It goes on to say that the son "said his father was about to make a right turn when he lost control." The Rider's Edge instructor, Charles Miles, "told deputies that Eskowsi "grabbed a fist full of throttle about 50 or 60 feet from the building... Mile then yelled "clutch" and Eskowski squeezed the clutch." Eskowski was riding a Buell " a sport bike offered through Harley-Davidson." The article does not include that it was a Blast, though I suppose we can assume it was since it is the only authorized H-D training bike. According to the article, "About 12 students were in Eskowski's motorcycle class."
The article then relates "Eskowski drove straight into the wall at about 15 mph. Eskowski was wearing a helmet, but the helmet did not cover his face. Eskowski hit his face against the wall and fell over." He was able to speak at first even though he reported his "body was numb; he could only move his elbow." He stopped breathing as EMS arrived. He was first brought to Aurora Medical Center and then on to Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa.
According to the article, the family did not talk to the reporter. Keith Ulicki, owner of Uke's, however, said the daughter said her father " had a massive heart attack" before the accident. Ulicki said, according to the article, "He happened to be riding a motorcycle when it happened." But then he later said, according to the article, "I never would have expected it to happen because it (the motorcycle's speed during training courses) is so slow."
That's the article.
Let's look at Ulicki's and McGraw's assertion that the family said that a massive heart attack and look at heart attack information drawn from reputable websites:
Heart attacks are called myocardial infarctions, and cause death of the heart muscle by blockage of one or more arteries in the heart. These blockages are usually caused by a blood clot(s) that result from a buildup of plaque (deposits of fat like substances), a process called atherosclerosis though there can be other reasons. Blockage can also be caused by an artery spasm where the coronary artery tightens or contracts and blood flow is cut off. Such spasms can be caused by use of drugs such as cocaine, cigarette smoking, exposure to cold and emotional stress. Heart attacks of all kinds can also be the result of overwhelming stress.
Heart attacks often manifest themselves as intense chest pain that lasts 20 minutes or more. The chest pain is described as: squeezing or heavy pressure; a tight band on the chest; "an elephant sitting on [your] chest"; bad indigestion. Symptoms may include along with the chest pain: shortness of breath; cough; light-headness or dizziness; fainting; nausea or vomiting; profuse sweating; a feeling of impending doom or anxiety. About 50 percent of heart attack victims have symptoms prior to the heart attack. According to one medical expert, I spoke to, the few that don't have any symptoms are usually much older and have something like diabetes. Both the son and the instructor, according to the Sheriff's report, did notice the motorcycle going out of control. However, it does not indicate whether either noticed the rider having a heart attack.
If, according to the medical expert, Eskowski had felt a heart attack coming on, it wouldn't make him lose control. If he had lost consciousness such as in arrhythmia (such as in cardiac arrest rather than heart attack) before he hit the wall, he would've passed out and gone limp and not grabbed a fist full of throttle. If he was losing consciousness, he could've heard the command "clutch" and grabbed the clutch. (Too bad the instructor didn't also shout "Brake!"). If he had had a previous heart attack and recognized the symptoms, he could've panicked or not.
According to MedicineNet.com, blood flow must be restored in 20-40 minutes for heart muscle death to be prevented and muscle death continues for about 6-8 hours. "Most of the deaths from heart attacks are caused by ventricular fibrillation of the heart that occurs before the victim of the heart attack can reach an emergency room." Many sites give a 90% plus survival rate if they reach the emergency room alive.
All sites agree that the most important factor in increasing one's chances of survival is immediate medical response such as CPR and a quick EMS response such as McGraw says occurred. The article does not mention whether CPR was done before EMS arrived but rather says Eskowski's breathing stopped as the paramedics arrived. The E-medicine site states that if CPR is started within 4 mins of the attack, immediate death may be avoided which indicates that EMS was treating the man before 4 minutes had elapsed.
In fact, according to numerous sites, 50 percent of heart attack deaths occur within one hour of the attack, but, if they get to the hospital alive as the Rider's Edge student did, there's only a 6%-9% early mortality rate from heart attack and 24 out of 25 heart attack victims survive for a year or more if they survive the attack in the first place. Medline Plus, a website service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, says, "Approximately one third of cases are fatal. If the person is alive 2 hours after an attack, the probable outcome for survival is good, but may include complications. Uncomplicated cases may recover fully; heart attacks are not necessarily disabling. Usually the person can gradually resume normal activity and lifestyle, including sexual activity."
The only way we could know, my medical expert says, to know if he did have a heart attack before the accident is if the victim recovered consciousness and the ability to communicate and conveyed that to medical personnel and/or his family. Did the father do this and that is why the daughter allegedly told Ulicki (and H-D or did Ulicki tell McGraw? We don't know). We don't know if Eskowski ever regained consciousness or, if he did, what he said or to whom.
Absent any first hand information from him, there would be no way to tell whether the heart attack happened prior to or after the crash. The medical expert did find it odd that the patient lived for seven days, however, and then died from a heart attack. However, he did say that if there was head trauma from the impact with the wall, that would've complicated recovery or survival. My medical expert gave the example of someone with a heart problem that chose to ride a mistress rather than a motorcycle - they would, he said, have a better chance of living than the rider who crashed while having a heart attack.
According to websites, the most effective way to treat heart attacks is thrombolytic therapy, or blood thinning and/or ant-cogagulent drugs. These have a very high effectiveness rate. However, they won't be given if the patient has had head trauma within 3 months or has intercrannial bleeding or internal bleeding or major trauma to other parts of the body. In other words, no matter when the heart attack had occurred, the faceplant into the brick wall meant that Eskowski may not have received the treatment that had the best chance for increasing his survival odds.
If doctors can't use thrombolytic therapy, they'll do surgery to unclog the blocked arter(ies) by balloon angioplasty, stent or bypass surgery, etc. Of course, if there was other trauma, that would complicate the surgery as well as the patient's ability to recover from surgery. Bottom line, according to my medical expert, without knowing if the patient told family or medical personnel that he was experiencing a heart attack prior to the crash, there's no way to verify that it had occurred or it hadn't, but any additional trauma would've "impacted" his chance of survival.
Now we get to an anonymous, unsolicited and unverified e-mail that was sent to me dated May 16thone day after McGraw's letter was written to rider educators. I say again that the e-mail was unsolicited (at that point I hadn't heard that a death had occurred or even that the accident had occurred) nor can I verify who sent it so what is related should be, until prove otherwise, treated as rumor:
According to the e-mail, the writer was a student in the course where the crash occurred. The writer alleges that the Eskowski daughter had dropped the bike "several times" during the first hour and "was so frustrated but kept trying." Alter that morning in the first range session the Eskowski son had "done a wheely [sic] and crashed into wooden baracades [sic]" Within minutes, he then ran off into a "grass area" and crashed again. "It was very scary to see and be around all 3 of these family members strugglingc onstantly popping the clutch, killing the bike, and falling over." Allegedly, the class discussed at lunch how none of them felt safe nor wanted to be around any of the family because they were worried they would be run into and hurt. It is not known if they informed the instructor of their concerns or not.
The correspondent relates the accident in virtually the same way the article does but includes it was a brick wall and that he "fell off and never moved." The writer later says, "I do not believe he had a heart attack that caused him to crash into the wall. He may have, but based on how he was driving earlier in the day always applying the brake (not the clutch) and actually pressing the gas and taking off out of control" and that none of the 3 family members seemed to understand the controls of the bike - it didn't seem to be the reason.
The writer says also says this: "an instructor went to [Eskowski]...he was transported to the hospital. The instructor came back several minutes later after the ambulance had left and said the class was cancelled...
What happened at Uke'sno matter when the heart attack occurred fits the pattern of all four other known fatalities on the range since 1999. Prior to that year, while there were deaths, all of them were documented cases that resulted from pre-existing medical conditions.
The first happened in July 1999, the first year the Motorcycle Safety Foundation administered the Pennsylvania program, in Valley Forge, the first student died due to rider error as the precipitating cause. She failed to make a sharp turn correctly and drove into an Armco barrier. The bike slid along the barrier trapping her and tearing her aorta. She died en route to the hospital.
The other training death at a state sponsored site occurred in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Mother's Day, 200_ in an MSF Basic Rider Course. In this case, the woman hit a curb, and, although reports vary, all agree that her personally owned half-shell DOT approved helmet flew off at some point and resulted in a fatal head injury as she landed on the grass. It's unknown whether she would've survived if she had been wearing a full face helmet. (Btw, it may interest site owners and state program administrators that the M$F student waiver was thrown out in that case, which is still in litigation).
There has been at least two deaths in Rider's Edge training programs prior to the death that resulted from the Uke's crash.
Only one newspaper article remains available through the Internet to document the prior two deaths though there may (or may not) be others that are inaccessible since many papers do not permit their articles to be searched via the Internet. The first known one occurred in Festus, MO, and the second in Laconia, NH. In these Rider's Edge crashes, both women also drove straight towards a building and impacted with it, though one of the women hit a curb prior to hitting the building. There is also a report of a near fatal accident in a Southeastern state where the man rode into the side of a building on a Buell Blast during Rider's Edge course. That case, too, is still in litigation.
All four deaths involved a failure to navigate a turn as did the events leading to Eskowski's crash. The other four deaths, though, happened at some point during the second day of training. The students were also on Buell Blasts in the Rider's Edge deaths. In the state programs, the Colorado Springs woman was on a Suzuki DR 200 while the motorcycle involved in the first death in Valley Forge is not known. Regardless of when the heart attack occurred in the Uke's incident, then, there appears to be similarities between all known state program and Rider's Edge deaths and Rider's Edge near fatalities. In all three Rider's Edge deaths, the rider impacted a wall.
That concludes what I have discovered in the past week. Each rider knows the information that has come my way or I have gathered and can now make up their own mind: it could be that the rider had a heart attack before the crash and it could be that the rider didn't.
Now my opinion and commentary, which you are free to skip:
While my e-mail correspondent is hiding behind Internet anonymity, which I dislike, I can certainly understand why they would and can't blame them but, as I said, what was said must be treated as rumor. On the other hand, we haven't heard from the family themselves. We only have Eric McGraw's letter and Keith Ulicki's assertion that the family said the heart attack occurred prior to the crash. It could, then, be regarded as hearsay. Iow, that's an allegedly too and, one could say it's as allegedly as anything the mysterious correspondent's claimed.
And it is interesting to note that McGraw does not state that the man died of a heart attack. Rather, he writes that "he was involved in an accident and subsequently passed away on May 6. Then he writes that the family advised "us" that the student had a "heart attack [that] precipitated the accident and his passing." H-D's McGraw then, is very careful not to say that the head-on collision with the wall didn't have anything to do with it. Or that it did. The letter, then, omits more than it includes and very adroitly gives the impression that the heart attack was the cause of death. Which it may or may not have been.
McGraw's account seems to present the incident is a very different light than the article did, but the paper hasn't printed a retraction or correction or anything about the death. And there is a Sheriff's report on the accident that indicates the crash was serious.
Then there's Ulicki's own statement that he didn't think it could happen at such a low speed. Is this another of those "it depends on what the definition of is is" things? That a heart attack could happen at such a low speed? Or that a fatal head injury could be incurred at such a low speed? Once again, not enough is known to know - and Uke's refuses to discuss the accident.
So I couldn't help but wonder that my e-mail writer talks about an instructor, the instructor. The article only refers to one instructor being present, Charles Miles. But the article states there were "about 12 students." M$F range standard is 6 students to 1 instructor. I'm wondering if there was another instructor present or not? Once again, we don't know.
While this e-mail from the alleged student was unsolicited and unverified and so shouldn't be given much weight, it does match what the newspaper article says and reveals further details about what rider educators would see as pertinent information about what happened prior to the accident. All three family members had struggled. If what the writer says is what happened, it would seem to me that this is exactly the situation where students should've been counseled out long before the crash occurred. And, if they had been counseled out, that crash would not have happened even if the heart attack had.
There have been repeated allegations from Rider's Edge instructors as well as a healthy suspicion on the part of many in the rider education community that this is exactly the sort of thing that such vested interests that both H-D and the dealership have in offering rider training - and particularly driver's license waivers. And, according to a recent article, H-D claims that 80 percent of Rider's Edge students return to buy a motorcycle within four years of taking the course. Counseling out or failing a student, then, would seem to affect that ratio of student to buyer.
So, did Eskowski have a heart attack prior to running into a brick wall? Maybe so given that sudden, overwhelming stress can trigger a heart attack and given that seeing one's daughter and son crash and crash more than once - if they did crash - I can well imagine he may have. Then again, we don't know why the daughter - if the daughter/family - said there had been a "massive heart attack" prior to the crash since medical personal would be unable to tell which came first, the heart attack chicken or head trauma egg.
It is equally obvious yet worth saying that giving the impression that the heart attack occurred prior to the crash is in H-D's best interests since it could be a liability issue. I'm not sure why then I should give any more or less credence to McGraw than to my correspondent. I do not know why this alleged student wrote to me or what their motivation was. I was - and still am - curious why this person chose to write one day after McGraw sent out the official notification when they could've written any day after April 29th giving the same information. Yet the person's account better matches the newspaper version than McGraw's does and it especially doesn't match what another person overheard him say about the heart stopping and starting and being already dead even though others heard the victim speak.
McGraw's letter is a masterpiece - it tells the truth without revealing pertinent facts that could affect the most positive portrayal of the event. It serves H-D's interest, that's clear. However, if the "accident" as McGraw so ambigiously calls it was innocuous as he makes it sound, then why not tell the rider ed community the details? H-D's cleverness, then, makes them seem as if they are hiding something even if they aren't.
But if the daughter did say there was a massive heart attack or as McGraw's letter put it, the family advised H-D that there was "a heart attack", what could possibly motivate them to say that if it wasn't true?
If there was going to be an investigation, it is likely that M$F would do it as they have done such investigations in the past for the other deaths. Given H-D's importance to M$F and the financial dependency of M$F on H-D, that, too, would give the appearance - no matter what the reality would be - of vested interests if not other things.
Imo, what the article said and what my correspondent related are significant, relevant details that should've been revealed to the rider community especially since H-D is involved in a full court press in numerous states to allow RE courses the same rights and privileges if not more as state programs.
And no matter what role the heart attack played, the fact remains another death involving Rider's Edge in some way has occurred and that is of critical importance. In the past few months, there have been reports of broken ankles, collarbones and even a punctured lung with Rider's Edge courses. The incidence of severe injuries - and now death - appears to be higher than in state run programs. This is a serious issue and, imo, it does need investigation by an unbiased team that is beholden in no way to either M$F nor H-D before any more states grant driver's license waivers or allow Rider's Edge to be taught in their state.
M$F has made a reputation insisting on safe training for safety training. It's a shame that they are allowing H-D to use their curriculum in a program that has such high fatality and injury rates. No, it's an embarrassment to all the riding community. No, it's a potential liability. No wonder M$F wants that new indemnification clause.
It also suggests that a wide-scale investigation needs to happen to examine how many dealerships have ranges where there is a wall - and in this case 50-60 feet away - and new strict requirements for energy absorbing barriers be set up by the state to prevent such injuries and fatalities in the future. State may also want to consider legislation or in state rules limiting the engine capacity, regulating the clutch and throttle sensitivity and so forth for dealership based training.
Regardless of whether the chicken or egg came first and for whatever reason Eskowski crashed into that wall WFO, there is a clear difference between state run and dealership run courses:
33 years of state run programs, over 6 million trained. 2 deaths that involved running off the range with the throttle WFO.
5.5 years of H-D Rider's Edge, less than 50,000 trained. 3 deaths all involving running off the range into a wall with the throttle WFO.
Do the math.