Even now, Edie Spaulding doesn’t believe in bad luck.
She and her husband, Bob, got married on Friday the 13th, 34 years ago. They raised black cats and placed black-cat decorative items in their home.
It was good luck, she says, that their marriage lasted 34 years. And when Bob 77, died after a car struck his motorcycle June 9 on Route 79 in Richford, bad luck had nothing to do with it.
“Bob was really a safe rider. It was just ironic he would be in an accident,” said Edie Spaulding, 70. “The people I ride with … we don’t do the bar scene — no drink and ride. We would do poker runs and have a soda, but we never decided to have alcohol. You need to have your wits about you.”
Bob was one of four motorcyclists killed on Tioga County roads this year — an unusually high number — and more than 100 across the state. And as the number of deaths nationwide has held relatively steady, experts say safety precautions and vigilance — from motorcyclists and other drives alike — can help avoid, but not always prevent, these devastating crashes.
Bob and Edie, Town of Caroline residents, had gone to church that summer morning and were headed east to the Tastee Treat in Richford for ice cream and taking in the countryside along the way. They were veteran bikers who took safety precautions: Bob Spaulding had been riding motorcycles since 1977 and taught his wife to ride, too. By June, Edie had over 30 years of experience under her belt. Both were members of Harley Davidson motorcycle groups in Binghamton and the Finger Lakes.
Bob wore a white helmet, kevlar on his knees and hips, leather boots, a jacket and gloves. He was an advocate for motorcycle safety who had worked with the fire company to present safety training to local motorcycle clubs and frequently posted safety reminders on his Facebook page.
He rode his new, fully dressed 2018 Harley Davidson Road Glide Ultra; she rode her 2017 Harley Davidson Road Glide Special. Her bike was in the lead position on the outside line of the road when she accelerated around a curve and waited for her husband to catch up.
Jia Liufu, a 19-year-old from Wellington, Florida, was driving a car traveling westbound and veered into the opposite lane, missing Edie Spaulding and hitting Bob Spaulding, who was riding in the middle line, before striking another car, according to a New York State Department of Motor Vehicles police accident report.
“As soon as I stopped and got off my bike, I knew 911 needed to be called, and I told the dispatch person that I knew three ambulances were going to be needed,” Edie Spaulding said.
Bob was coherent after the crash, but gravely injured: He suffered internal injuries and had a badly broken leg, Edie said.
“He was laying there in pain,” she recalled. “Adrenaline hit him, but after it was gone, he was complaining about being in pain.
“He was upset because he wanted to ride his bike more.”
Bob was transported to UHS Medical Center in Johnson City, where he died from his injuries.
The community rallied around Edie in the wake of Bob’s death. A well-known local figure, Bob had served as Caroline town supervisor from 1992 to 1998. Some 350 to 400 people attended his funeral at Bethel Grove Bible Church, and Edie received countless sympathy cards, dozens of which she placed on walls in her home and about twice as many that she’s kept in a United States Postal Service box.
“The outpouring from the community was great. It helped me a lot,” she said. “I was really taken back by 200 people going to calling hours.”
But for Edie, who did just about everything with Bob, the loss remains difficult to bear.
“I miss him. I know he has come and visited me a couple of times. Sometimes, I probably do not know he is there,” Edie Spaulding said. “When I know, I’ll usually be driving down the road in my car, and I smell a different scent. A friend was talking with a medium and had a message that Bob wanted me to be happy.”
Before the crash, the Spauldings had been planning to move south, somewhere like North Carolina or Kentucky. They’d be closer to her family, but still close enough to relatives in New York.
“We were thinking about moving south so we could be closer to riding year-round and so that we could be in a better tax climate,” Edie Spaulding said. “Bob was a staunch Republican and wanted to be in a better political climate, but we would miss our grandkids. Now, everything is on hold. I don’t know what to do.”
And so, she does the one thing she knows to do: keep riding.
“It’s what Bob would have wanted me to do,” she said.
A deadly year in Tioga
Preliminary data from the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research shows there were 4,917 motorcycle crashes across New York last year, with 102 fatal crashes as of Nov. 25. In 2018, there were 145 fatal motorcycle crashes, and 143 in 2017.
In Tioga County, four deadly crashes totaled more in one year than in the previous three years combined. There were two fatal motorcycle crashes in Tioga County in 2016, according to ITSMR, and none in 2017 or 2018.
In addition to Spaulding’s death, these are the other three fatal crashes that occurred in Tioga as of Nov. 25 of this year:
- Timothy Tagliavento, 30, of Brooktondale, died after a crash on Ithaca Road in the Town of Candor on July 21. His motorcycle struck a car that was traveling eastward on Gridleyville Crossing to turn onto Ithaca Road.
- Jeremy Taylor, 41, of Horseheads, died after a crash on Spencer Road in Candor on June 17. Taylor failed to negotiate a curve and crashed into a field.
- Carl Hoaglin, 42, of Newark Valley, died after a crash on East Berkshire Road in Berkshire on June 4. The Tioga County Sheriff’s Office arrested Dylin E. Abbatoy, 27, on a felony charge of leaving the scene of an incident. An investigation revealed Abbatoy had operated a vehicle eastbound in the westbound lane of East Berkshire Road in Berkshire while Carl E. Hoaglin Jr. was traveling westbound, causing Hoaglin to lose control of his motorcycle. Abbatoy then left the scene prior to the arrival of deputies and failed to report his involvement in the incident to law enforcement, deputies said.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Lt. Shawn Nalepa, of the Tioga County Sheriff’s Office. “For most of these, it has not been the motorcyclists fault. It’s tough to attribute to what causes the increase. I don’t know if it’s just a coincidence.”
Preliminary data from ITSMR and media reports show there have been 13 fatal motorcycle crashes this year in an 11-county area that includes Cayuga, Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben and Tompkins counties, as well as Tioga County, New York, and Tioga County, Pennsylvania.
Those crashes include:
- Peter Vasilopoulos, 26, of Apalachin, died after an Aug. 4 crash on Route 17 westbound, just west of exit 69.
- Daniel J. Quackenbush, 46, of Delhi, died in a crash on state Highway 10 near Betts Hill Road in Delhi on Aug. 22. Delaware County sheriff’s deputies said they believe alcohol was a contributing factor.
- Deedee Carnes, 48, of Bath, died after a crash on Route 249 near the intersection of Short Hill Road in Chatham Township, Tioga County, Pennsylvania.
- Shawn Stanton, 30, of Horseheads, died after a crash on Interstate 86 westbound between exits 52A and 52B on July 18 in Horseheads.
- Alan VanEtten, 39, of Corning, died after a crash on Interstate 86 in the Town of Corning in Steuben County on June 23.
- Anthony Fasse, 51, of Mansfield, died after a crash on Route 660 in Covington Township in Tioga County, Pennsylvania, in June.
Trooper Aga Dembinska, spokeswoman for New York State Police Troop C, which covers Broome, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Otsego, Tioga and Tompkins counties, said the number of motorcycle fatalities there has been relatively consistent over the years. There were no fatal motorcycle crashes in 2019 in either Cortland or Tompkins counties, and two fatal motorcycles in Chenango County as of Nov. 25.
While the number of motorcycle fatalities decreased by 5.6% nationwide from 2016 to 2017, fatalities in New York increased from 119 to 136 — a 14.3% increase in that time frame, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
What has NHTSA reported nationwide?
There were 5,172 motorcyclists killed nationwide in 2017 — a 3% decrease from 5,337 motorcyclists killed the previous year.
Overall, however, the number of motorcycle fatalities have been relatively stable throughout the years. The fatality rate has stayed roughly the same as well.
Like other crashes, speed and alcohol can play a role in accidents. Twenty-eight percent of motorcyclists killed in crashes were drunk. In 2016, 33% of motorcyclists involved in fatal crashes were speeding.
Do helmets help?
While car drivers should ensure they wear a seat belt, motorcyclists should make sure they have the right helmets when they ride.
“Get a good helmet,” Edie Spaulding said. “Not one of those cheapos.”
Data shows that helmets do reduce the chances of someone dying from a motorcycle crash.
Motorcycle helmets absorb the impact of your head hitting the ground or other object, thus protecting your brain. The reduction of the impact at the crash point decreases the impact on the neck and spine. Because of this, riders wearing helmets suffer far fewer significant spinal injuries than motorcyclists who do not wear helmets.
All motorcycle operators and riders must wear a helmet in New York. In Pennsylvania, helmets are required unless you are 21 or older and have either two years of riding experience or have completed a motorcycle safety course approved by PennDOT or the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
Across the country, helmet laws vary by state. Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire don’t require people to wear helmets. About half of the others require all motorcycle riders to wear helmets; the other half have partial helmet laws. Those laws place restrictions based on things such as age, learner’s permit and health insurance.
Nalepa said drivers should pay attention to the road and be more aware of motorcyclists, and they should not follow motorcycles as closely as they would follow a car.
“A motorcyclist has no protection when being struck by a vehicle,” Nalepa said.
But there are ways motorcyclists can protect themselves, said state police Troop C Public Information Officer Asa Dembinska.
“Use your head and wear the proper helmet and the right gear. It may not be as fashionable, but it should be reflective so people will see you. Be extra vigilant and alert of other drivers who may not see you,” Dembinska said. “You should be more defensive when riding a motorcycle. Check your equipment so its not faulty. Have in mind an escape route, so that if something goes awry, you can get away. Do not ride a motorcycle in bad weather.”
Dembinska said motorcyclists should also have the correct license.
“There may be people who have a motorcycle permit, but they don’t think they need to have the right license because they rode dirt bikes,” Dembinska said.
The trooper also suggested motorists need to be more aware.
“When you are on a motorcycle and you are a passenger, you notice how little people realize you are there,” Dembinska said.
Motorcyclists also should drive a motorcycle that aligns with their skill level instead of operating a motorcycle with too much power they would not be accustomed to, Dembinska said.
But most of all, people need to be aware that people they know — their friends may be operating a vehicle other than one that has four wheels.
“We are their neighbors,” Edie Spaulding said.
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