Emilee MacDonald had heard about the fatal mid-September crash on Clark Butler Boulevard that claimed the life of a Gainesville motorcyclist in his 20s.
It brought her back to one day when she and her husband were out motorcycle riding.
“We had a close call where someone almost hit us,” recalled MacDonald, operations manager of Gainesville Harley-Davidson.
Before that incident, her husband wore a helmet only on occasion when the couple rode motorcycles.
“From that moment forward, we have always had helmets,” MacDonald said, adding that her husband, Jerry Amos, in fact now wears a full-face helmet when riding.
According to the crash report from the Gainesville Police Department, Abner Miguel Rubio Estrada, 23, was not wearing a helmet at the time of the mid-September crash.
Estrada had been riding alone on his blue 2017 Yamaha motorcycle when he drove between the rows of cars, ran a red light on Plaza Boulevard and crashed into a red truck at the Clark Butler Boulevard intersection, according to GPD spokesman Officer Ben Tobias.
Estrada was taken to UF Health Shands Hospital with life-threatening injuries, Tobias said. He didn’t make it and was later pronounced dead.
Gainesville resident Kathryn Dees, 61, told GPD officers on the scene that she was driving southbound on Clark Butler Boulevard and had turned eastbound on Plaza Boulevard with a green arrow displaying. As she was turning, the motorcycle slammed into the front passenger side of her red Nissan Frontier.
Dees and her passenger, Cecily Wirsching, 74, of Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, were wearing seatbelts and did not receive medical treatment, according to the report.
When contacted on the phone, Dees preferred to not comment about the accident.
A full investigation will take six to eight months to complete, according to Tobias.
“Anyone that was driving a vehicle is going to have a blood test just to make sure that there was no drugs or alcohol in their system,” he said.
Tobias explained that part of the investigation includes marking up the pavement where the accident occurred with spray paint. Lasers are then used to measure the scene and create the scene to scale.
Enforcing motorcycle helmet use is a difficult task, Tobias said, because the state of Florida allows drivers and passengers over 21 to choose whether they want to take such a safety precaution on the road.
Despite this recent fatal crash, motorcycle accidents have decreased overall within the Gainesville city limits, from 127 in 2016 (78 with injuries; seven were fatal) to 62 so far this year (41 with injuries and two fatalities), according to data gathered by Sgt. Summer Kerkau from GPD’s traffic unit.
“We’re trying to reduce that number through enforcement actions, through education,” Tobias said, “but it’s so tough to get in the mind of every single driver and have them follow the rules of the road 100 percent all the time.”
While there have been no fatalities within the past two years on scooters — another transportation vehicle where riders and passengers are not mandated to wear helmets — accidents are on track this year to be just as prominent. There were 90 crashes in 2016 (65 with injuries) and 79 crashes so far this year (55 injuries reported).
Kerkau said via email that the data included all crashes that occurred on U.S. Highways, state roads, local roads and parking lots in Gainesville.
Harley-Davidson store manager MacDonald agrees that the community needs to be aware of safety protocols when it comes to driving a motorcycle or scooter.
“The more we educate the community the better,” MacDonald said. “Whether it’s the rider of the vehicle or it’s just the community at large, because one of the biggest responsibilities is to just be aware of what’s going on.”
MacDonald said her passion with the sport of motorcycle riding has a lot to do with it being how she and her husband fell in love.
“There is nothing like the freedom of being on two wheels, whether you’re the rider or the passenger,” said MacDonald, who has been married for seven years.
Wearing proper riding attire is crucial for riders to stay secure on major roads, MacDonald said. Everything from the right boots, helmet, eyewear or jeans can make a difference and add needed protection during a skid or an accident.
“The more comfortable a rider is,” MacDonald said, “and the more comfortable with the bike they are riding — no matter what make or model it is — then the safer they can ride.”