Student bike accident serves as safety lesson
September 27, 2017
Forest Williams made perhaps the best decision of his young life the day he had a serious bicycle accident on the way home from Glenwood Springs Middle School.
"Before he left for school that day, he decided to put a helmet on and pull the strap tight around his chin," his father, Randy Williams, said during an all-school bike safety assembly at Forest's school Wednesday. The wreck occurred several weeks ago.
It was a quick and simple, yet crucial move that very likely saved his life, Williams said, stressing the importance of wearing a helmet, always, when bicycling, skateboarding, skiing or snowboarding.
Forest was doing his part to help keep cars off the road during the Grand Avenue bridge closure and detour, just as school and city officials have encouraged, in an effort to help ease traffic congestion during peak hours.
He was riding home from school on the Midland Avenue bike path by Glenwood Meadows with three other friends when he apparently sped ahead of the others. He entered one of the three bike tunnels through that stretch.
Classmates Dylan West, Elias Gardner and Cooper Proctor rounded the corner to find him on the ground with his bike on top of him and another bicyclist who had collided with him.
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As best as they could tell, Forest had drifted onto the left-hand side of the path and ran head-on into the other cyclist, an adult, who was coming out of the tunnel going the other direction.
"I was pretty freaked out when I saw it, I skidded off and stopped to help," Gardner said. He and the other two barricaded the area around Forest and the other cyclist, called 911 and waved down the ambulance when it arrived.
Forest ended up having to be airlifted to Children's Hospital in Denver after suffering a severe head injury and was put on a breathing machine.
"For 14 hours my wife and I were terrified that our son might die from this accident," Williams said to the GSMS students.
The good news now, Williams said, is that Forest is back home, expected to make a full recovery, and could even be back at school on a limited basis later this week.
"I heard once that, 'Smart people learn from their experiences, but wise people learn from the experiences of others,' " Williams said, citing an often-referenced quote.
After his son's accident, he said he spoke with GSMS Principal Joel Hathaway, who shared that only about half the students who are riding their bikes to school are wearing helmets.
"My goal was to come here and get their attention based on what happened to Forest, and hopefully they'll think a little bit more about when they leave school or any time they're on bike, to put their helmet on and pay attention," Williams said afterward.
Hathaway took the opportunity to invite not only Williams, but School Resource Officer Chris Dietrich, Brian Benson of Glenwood Adventure Co. and Taz Brown, part of the Bicycle Ambassadors group that formed during the detour, to talk about bicycle safety.
"The message here today is huge, and it's very important," Hathaway said in addressing the student assembly. "Our guiding message is, how do we remain safe on the walking paths and biking paths during the bridge construction, and always."
Dietrich went over the basic rules of the road and bike paths for bicyclists. He urged the students to pay attention, use hand signals when turning or stopping, use audible voice signals or a bell when passing pedestrians, and to dismount when crossing road intersections or going through roundabouts.
"It's important to slow down when you pass people walking down the path, because they often have earbuds in and are listening to music, and they may not hear you," Dietrich said.
"We do appreciate you riding your bike and your parents trusting you and educating you about this," he said. "It does eliminate some of the traffic on the roads, but please be safe doing it."
Benson went over a standard bike safety check for the students, noting that a low or worn tire, loose handle bars or other mechanical problem can lead to a wreck same as not following the basic rules of the road.
Roaring Fork Schools weighed in with a bike safety message for students and parents that is posted on the school district website.
"In anticipation of the Grand Avenue bridge closure, we asked parents, staff, students and community members to do their part to help minimize traffic," the message reads.
A by-product of that response has been a huge increase in the number of trail users on bikes, skateboards and on foot. That includes the daily "walking school bus" between Two Rivers Park and Glenwood Springs Elementary School, where buses drop students off in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon to avoid the detour route.
"Though this is exactly what was asked of the community, the increased use requires all users to follow the trail and road rules and exhibit caution to help keep everyone safe," the statement reads, noting that in addition to Forest's accident there have been other incidents and close-calls on the bike paths and along sidewalks and roadways.
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