Railroad Tie Kills Rider

November 9, 2008

All Posts, News, Obituaries

Road debris killed another biker last week.

Carl Pierson, a member of an informal motorcycle club called the “Lake Pirates,” was killed and three others were injured after the lead two bikes in a small pack hit a railroad tie. The collision happened on a service road of US Route 75 in McKinney, Texas.

“All of a sudden I just saw smoke, motorcycles colliding and they started flying” George Henley told television station WFAA in Dallas. Henley was riding in the back of the pack. He told the station he escaped serious injury when he threw his “motorcycle to the side.”

Railroad Ties

The standard dimensions of a railroad tie are 9″ X 7″ X 102″. Harley-Davidson motorcycles generally ride about five inches off the ground.

Besides supporting railroad tracks, wooden railroad ties are typically sold in home improvement stores and used in landscaping. Some ties are cut and designed specifically for that purpose. The tie involved in the Texas accident was clearly a used railroad tie. These used ties are cheaper than “landscaping ties” and weigh about 200 pounds. The accident scene is within sight of a Home Depot.

Henley told the Dallas television station that he believed the debris had been intentionally placed in the road as a prank and was not an accident. “I know it’s intentional,” he said. “It was completely horizontal on the road, and it was in a very dark spot.”

The Lake Pirates are offering a $3,000 reward to anyone who can explain how the railroad tie wound up in the road. One place to look might be the sales records of the Home Depot near the accident.

Road Debris

All bikers know how dangerous road debris can be. Everyone knows how dangerous road debris is except the people in charge of cleaning debris off the roads. Studies of the problem are few and far between. The last time the hazard was newsworthy was in 2007 when the New York Times ran a 1300 word, tongue-in-cheek feature on the subject.

The British Motorcyclists Federation estimated that 6 percent of all motorcycle accidents in Britain in 2005 were caused by road debris. The Ohio State Patrol estimated that 13 percent of all debris related crashes from 2004 to 2006 involved motorcycles. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimated in 2004 that road debris causes about 80 deaths in the United States each year.

However, AAA may have significantly underestimated the actual hazard.

Unintentional Litter

In California alone, 155 people were killed in accidents caused by road debris in 2005 and 2006. In 2006 the California Department of Transportation (CALTRANS) removed 140,000 cubic yards of debris from the freeways. That volume would fill about 9,000 dump trucks.

Most debris on the California freeways is what CALTRANS calls “unintentional litter.” Typically, unintentional litter is unsecured cargo like railroad ties, mattresses, stoves and refrigerators that fly off the backs of pickup trucks and the roofs of automobiles.

One of the few states that has tried to do something about the problem is Washington. In 2005, Washington passed “Maria’s Law.” The law is named for a woman who was blinded when a wooden shelf flew off a trailer and smashed through her windshield. Maria’s Law raised the penalty for carrying an unsecured load from $194 to a maximum of $5000 and a year in jail.

Carl Pierson was engaged and he was the father of a 13-year-old daughter.

Requiescat In Pace

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