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Sunday, August 14, 2022

Florida motorcycle crashes increase

Michael Terry clearly remembers the hours before his friends died in the early morning of October 16, 2011.

They were at Froggy’s Saloon in Daytona during Biketober Fest. Terry’s friends Javier Remonsanzol and fiancee Allison Sellers were getting ready to leave at about 1 a.m. Terry tried to get them to stay the night, but Remonsanzol wanted to sleep in his own bed at home in Sanford. Then they said their goodbyes.

At about 2:30 a.m., Terry received a call from Remonsanzol. The couple were at Denny’s eating breakfast. They were safe, Remonsanzol said over the phone.

Terry didn’t know that was the last time he would talk to his friend. He didn’t know that about two hours later, an SUV would drive up behind the couple riding on Remonsanzol’s motorcycle on Interstate 4 and hit them. He didn’t know that Sellers, 32, would hit the shoulder, dying on impact, and that Remonsanzol, 34, would fly into the road and get run over over by multiple cars before he died.

“I really couldn’t comprehend it that well,” Terry, 45, said, “that it happened to my friends of all of the people out there.”

Remonsanzol and Sellers were part of 8,621 people involved in motorcycle crashes in 2011 in Florida, an increase of 15 percent from 2010, according to the most recent data from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

From 2000 to 2010, the number of motorcycle crashes and injuries increased overall, according to a study from the Florida Department of Transportation and the University of South Florida Center for Urban Transportation Research.

Chanyoung Lee, a senior researcher at the USF center, said this spike could be the product of a few reasons.

Motorcycle registration has more than doubled in the 10-year period, he said. And in 2000, Florida passed a law that allowed motorcyclists over the age of 21 to ride without a helmet if they had at least a $10,000 insurance policy, he said.

Motorcyclists have a much higher risk of crashing on their own as well, Lee said. About 30 percent of motorcycle crashes do not involve a second vehicle.

However, in cases of two-vehicle crashes like Remonsanzol’s and Sellers’, automobile drivers were found to be at fault about 60 percent of the time.

Lee said car drivers don’t expect to see a motorcycle and underestimate how much space it takes up on the road.

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“People have a tendency to make a judgment based on the size of the object,” he said.

Back at the scene of the crash, Florida Highway Patrol troopers could not find the car believed to have hit Remonsanzol and Sellers.

Meanwhile, a police officer traveling to the accident recognized a 2007 Ford Explorer that matched the description of the vehicle involved in the crash pulled over on the side of a road off Interstate 4 not far from the accident. The car was driven by UF student Rita Laurie Carter, then 19, who troopers now believe is responsible.

Officials tested her blood alcohol content level, and it was reported to be .043 about three hours after the crash. Using a mathematical process called retrograde extrapolation, officials found that her BAC level at the time of the crash was .095. The legal limit is .08, according to Florida Highway Patrol.

After a year-and-a-half-long FHP investigation, officials connected Carter to the crash. She now faces two counts of DUI manslaughter and two counts of leaving the scene of a fatal crash, among other charges.

And after a year and a half, Remonsanzol’s and Sellers’ family and friends are still reeling.

“It was so painful I still can’t even believe it,” said Sellers’ best friend of 26 years, Samantha Schmidt, who vacationed with Sellers just two weeks before her death.

She won’t even touch a motorcycle.

Schmidt’s father, Greg Bush, 64, and Terry were in the process of building a bike for Sellers. Now, it won’t be ridden, he said.

Bush still rides his own motorcycle but looks behind him more often after the accident.

Since the crash, Terry remembers the hours before he lost his friends.

He wonders, too, about what would’ve happened if he left with Sellers and Remonsanzol that night.

“Maybe if I could’ve been there, I could’ve helped out,” he said. “Maybe I would’ve died. You just never know.”

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