Saturday, August 1, 2015

News-Press Feature: One Lee County bike crash changes many lives



In the News-Press continuing spotlight on bicycle safety in SWFL, "Share the Road Florida", feature writer Janine Zeitlin profiles the human consequences of one of those bike crashes--Naples bicyclist Milton Quinonez's fight to survive after suffering a brain injury during a 2014 crash on Fort Myers Beach.  For more information on the series, see  Share the Road:In-depth coverage of bicycle safety in Southwest Florida.




Naples bicyclist Milton Quinonez fought to survive after suffering a brain injury during a crash on Fort Myers Beach on July 12, 2014. Click here for the video by Andrew West/news-press.com
Photo by Andrew West/News-Press

"I just heard about Milton..." 
Elena Quinonez felt a knot in her stomach.

It had been there since her husband left on his bike ride earlier that morning. Maybe it was stress? She didn’t usually work on Saturdays, but the beachside restaurant in Naples where she was a waitress was slow. She had just one table: two people for a late breakfast in the company of sunshine and the Gulf of Mexico. She ducked from view to check her phone.

She saw a text from a friend.

I just heard about Milton….I am praying for him.

Her eyes rushed with tears. She called her friend.

“You don’t know anything?” her friend asked. “I’m so sorry.”

Milton, her husband of more than 20 years, had been hurt in a bad crash on Fort Myers Beach.
Elena dialed Milton’s cell phone. A stranger picked up.

“Who’s this?” the woman answered.

“Who’s this?” Elena responded.

It was an emergency room nurse.

“What’s going on with my husband?” Elena asked.

She told her of Milton’s injuries. He suffered six broken ribs, his scapula was split in two places, one of his lungs had collapsed, and the other was punctured. He had a large gash in the back of his head. But the worst thing was his brain.

“He’s breathing, just hurry up,” the nurse said.

Elena wept as she drove the 35 miles from Naples to Lee Memorial’s Trauma Center in Fort Myers. What would she tell their daughters? Would he survive? What would they do if he didn’t?

Shortly after 8 a.m. on July 12, 2014, 46-year-old Milton Quinonez was critically injured when an 84-year-old driver struck a group of bicyclists.

Related:7 Florida bicycle crash facts that may shock you

The past year has been fraught with fear, stress and frustration as Milton, his wife and their daughters, now 18 and 12, define a new normal for their family. The driver’s life has been drastically altered too. There was one redeeming consequence. The crash ignited an effort to make the roads safer.

“That, to me, was the turning point,” said Tish Kelly, a Naples cyclist behind a push to toughen legal punishments for drivers who injure bicyclists and other vulnerable road users. She rode with Milton in the past.

“Milton was definitely the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

"I should have hit them harder"

The morning of the crash, Milton Quinonez and nine other bicyclists left Naples and pedaled north. They were heading off Fort Myers Beach on San Carlos Boulevard near Buttonwood Drive in the outside travel lane. Lee Luenser, of Fort Myers Beach, was driving his white Elantra in the same direction. He was on his way to bridge class.

Lee Luenser, the driver, shortly after crash (LCSO photo).  

Crash reports and sworn affidavits offer this account:

Luenser barely missed the rear bicyclist but struck the next rider with his right-side mirror. He swerved away and then back toward the group and rammed into the back of Quinonez’s bike, throwing him onto the hood and windshield. Quinonez’s head smashed into the glass. Luenser veered left again and then back toward the bicyclists, hitting another rider.

Bleeding bicyclists and their broken bikes scattered across the road. Quinonez was in the worst shape.

Related:Southwest Florida's heartbreaking bike deaths

James Keith Spain, a Naples doctor on the bike ride, held the head of Quinonez, who lay lifeless on the pavement, in effort to keep him alive. He was unconscious and bleeding. Luenser stood a few feet from them and watched. He leaned against the bridge, a grimace on his face. His shorts were on backwards.

Did you not see us? Spain asked.

“You were in the road.”

Spain couldn’t believe what he heard, so he asked again.

“'Yes, I should have hit all of them.' Deputy Orlando asked if he understood what he had just said. 'I understood exactly what I said.'”

Luenser's response when asked about the crash

“I should have hit them harder.”

Deputy J. Orlando also asked Luenser what happened.

“They were on the road."

He asked Luenser if he realized he had hit some of the bicyclists.

"Yes, I should have hit all of them."

Orlando asked if he understood what he had just said.

"I understood exactly what I said."

Luenser was treated at the hospital for a neurological issue and possibly had a medical event while driving. An investigator gave him tickets for careless driving and an expired tag, which inspired outrage from other bicyclists, who deemed his actions criminal.

The statements weren’t enough to bring a criminal charge of reckless driving, said Tiffany Wood, a Lee County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman. “There was no way to prove he was reckless driving … He has to have malicious intent.”

Despite the affidavits from the doctor and the deputy, Luenser’s friends said he is not the kind of man to hurt people on purpose. He was active in his church.

“If he said it, it was certainly because he was so befuddled and so scared,” said Trudy Archer, who knew Luenser through St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church on Fort Myers Beach and the American Legion. She said Luenser cried when he talked of the crash. “Everybody is a victim, not to downplay that Lee was certainly the cause.”

Luenser has moved to Wisconsin, where he lives near his daughter, Linda. He could not be reached through a number listed in public records and Robert May, who identified himself as his son-in-law and reached at the home of Luenser’s daughter, said Luenser would be unable to speak under advisement of his attorney. Messages were left with Luenser’s attorney.

May said Luenser can no longer live on his own and can’t afford a care facility. May blamed the crash for his decline. He wishes there was video. He thinks the bicyclists were culpable, though the crash investigation and judge found otherwise.

“They destroyed his life and there’s really nothing he can do about it,” he said.

“I remember a healthy active guy ... This just kind of kills me to see him this way.”

"The theme is patience"

No one knew how Milton Quinonez would be when he awoke from 10 days in a coma.

Milton Quinonez was in a coma for more than a week (Photo: Andrew West/The News-Press)


In the days after the crash, Elena reached out to friends and asked them to keep his name off Facebook because their two daughters, then 11 and 17, were visiting family in Colombia. She hadn’t told them.

Broken bones heal predictably; brain injuries do not, said Dr. Robert O’Connor, trauma surgeon and co-director of the surgical intensive care unit for the Lee Memorial Hospital. “You’ll have a scheduled progression of repair for a broken bone.”

“Brain injuries are the exact opposite of the spectrum,” he said. “Different parts of the brain can be injured to different severities.”

When it comes to healing, “the theme is patience,” O’Connor said.

As more bicyclists and motorists co-exist on the roads, the greater the chances the two shall meet and collide. Bicyclists could better protect themselves with lights, which are required at night, and wearing reflective clothing and helmets, O’Connor said, but the best crash prevention is for people to pay attention. Many bike crashes are cased by unsafe driving, he said, and in those cases, there’s no iron-clad defense for bicyclists.

Related:7 bicycle -friendly cities that make Floridians jealous

“In Southwest Florida, we’ve got a bunch of 90-year-old people either having strokes and heart attacks behind the wheels and kids are texting. If you’re in the street, you’re a target. You can do everything right and they still can get you.”
 Visit sharetheroad.news-press.com for special coverage
(Photo: news-press.com)

"He can’t do what he really loves..."

Crickets chirped a cool evening in February as Milton and Elena Quinonez strolled around their middle-class Naples neighborhood. The moon glowed round. Elena switched on a flashlight. Milton used a golf club for balance. The crash left him with a bruised brain. He’s in a constant state of dizziness. It’s like living life on rough seas.
 
He steers clear of crowds. Bright light and noises bother him. He fatigues easily. He spends his days at home. He owns a small tile and marble business, but was also the installer and has been unable to work. The hardest part has been the loss of independence. He wasn’t driving due to the dizziness. He doesn’t trust his reflexes either and depends on his family, especially Elena, for everything.

Headlights flashed toward the couple this evening. Milton clenched Elena’s hand.
 
Photo by News-Press
“Car coming!” he warned. He rushed toward the grass, drawing Elena with him.
He used to scream.

Milton remembers little from his 14-day stay at Lee Memorial. The first thing he recalls is someone telling him he’d be transferred to a Naples hospital.

What am I doing here in the first place? he wondered at the time.
In Naples, he started rehabilitation and had about 30 sessions total.
“The other part was God. I guess he didn’t want me to go.”

Two months before the crash, he had been so strong, biking around Italy with friends and putting in up to 200 miles a week on the roads. But his passion had not been without danger. Just 13 months before this crash, he had been struck by a motorist in Naples. She was arrested for DUI. He had road rash, but nothing as severe as last year’s crash. He credited his helmet with saving his life.

“The other part was God. I guess he didn’t want me to go.”

His neurologist told him the first year would be the hardest, but he couldn’t promise a full recovery. He could be dizzy for 18 months. It could be for life.

Elena and Milton are suing Luenser for auto negligence and seeking damages such as lost wages and medical bills. Ted Zelman, a Naples attorney and a bicyclist, is representing them. Luenser’s coverage limit is $50,000, Zelman said, so he will look to Luenser’s assets or to the insurance company if there’s a judgment in the couple’s favor.

 “The most important thing is try to prevent this from happening to other people,” said Zelman. “His whole family has been impacted.”

The couple’s 18-year-old daughter, Andrea, cried when she thought about how much their lives had changed. For years, he had been taking her and her little sister on lunch dates each weekend. He no longer does this. He feels it would be unsafe to drive them.

“He can’t do what he really loves and we can’t do what we usually do,” she said. “The hardest thing is how frustrating it all is for him.”

"Isn’t there anything more?"

Tish Kelly spoke in Tallahassee several times last session to bolster support for a bike safety bill. Each time, she shared stories of Milton and her husband. In 2014, a pickup truck driver struck Chuck Kelly. Chuck counted more than 20 broken bones. He no longer rides. He’s in too much pain.
The driver received a $170 fine.

The real work of the bill began after Luenser’s hearing when Tish Kelly met Jeff Michelland, a federal prosecutor and another riding friend of Milton’s. Both were frustrated with a legal system that could dole out a maximum fine for Luenser of $1,000 and a yearlong license suspension. He failed to submit a medical report and his license will remain revoked unless he’s medically cleared.


Milton and Elena were upset by the outcome too.
Elena approached Tish Kelly in tears after the hearing.
“Isn’t there anything more?”
Kelly and Michelland arranged to meet with Collier commissioner Georgia Hiller.

The result was a bill sponsored by Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, Chuck Kelly’s law partner in Naples. Among many other safety provisions, it boosted the fine for careless driving that harms a vulnerable road user up to $2,000. The standard fine for careless driving is $161. Different versions of the bill made it through the House and Senate but session ended before they were reconciled. They plan to revive it next session.


Meanwhile, Tish Kelly and Michelland urge bicyclists to abide by the laws. They’ll need to foster political goodwill toward bicyclists to make the bill law. Tish Kelly heard of lawmakers who received anti-cyclist mail. But education about the rules of the road is lacking among drivers and bicyclists, said Kelly, who plans to create a public service announcement.

“Ignorance is off the charts.”

Cyclists are to conduct themselves as though they are behind the wheel and motorists need to realize that they have a right to do so.”

Would it be crazy to ride a bike again?

Milton Quinonez, Photo by Andrew West, News-Press
In the past year, Milton Quinonez has not lived a day without dizziness, but his body is feeling stronger. He stopped taking medications to help his brain and muscles relax. He’s started to drive himself on short errands.

“I don’t know if my brain is better or I’ve learned to live with it.”

The family has run through at least $40,000 to cover bills, by his estimation.

“If I didn’t have money saved, I would have lost the house and everything. That’s why I say, you never know how much this will change your life.”

Earlier this month, his wife drove him to a neurology appointment. Milton reached for Elena’s hand as they stepped inside the office. His neurologist watched as Milton walked on his toes, and on his heels. Milton told him there are days when he feels better.

Just don’t do anything crazy, the doctor told him.

Would it be crazy to ride a bike again? To Milton, now it would, but one of his road bikes remains in the garage. Elena thinks he will one day return to the saddle. Milton can’t answer in certain terms.

“That would be great if I could go back on my bicycle because the day I go back on my bicycle it means I’m done with this. This is all over.”

Share and learn about ideas to make the roads safer on The News-Press Facebook page, Share the Road Florida.



Wednesday, July 29, 2015

LeeTran announces improvements to Route 60, serving San Carlos Park/Estero and FGCU

The need to improve Route 60 was proposed in 2013, back when FGCU withdrew its contributions to the funding for Route 60.  It's nice to see the suggested improvements finally coming to fruition. Hopefully, the better route and shorter headways will promote more usage of this route by FGCU students and others in the area.  Naples Daily News 7/30/15 article on announcement.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE--LeeTran                                                                                                                                                
 LEETRAN TO IMPROVE ROUTE 60 WITH NEW CONFIGURATION AND SCHEDULE

FORT MYERS, FL, July 29, 2015 – LeeTran will revamp its Route 60 starting Thursday, Aug. 6, to make more frequent trips while continuing to serve the same locations.

Route 60 operates Monday through Saturday in the San Carlos Park/Estero area. It serves Florida Gulf Coast University, Miromar Outlets, Gulf Coast Town Center and the South County Library.

Instead of traveling the entire route in both directions, the bus will make a loop south on Three Oaks Parkway, east on Corkscrew Road and north on Ben Hill Griffin Parkway. It will enter FGCU by the north entrance, stop at the Student Union, and exit the same way. The first two morning trips will continue to be express service to FGCU.

The new routing improves frequency from 130 minutes to 85 minutes. The number of trips per weekday will increase from nine to 12.Saturday trips will increase from eight to 10. The revamped service is starting prior to the first day of FGCU's fall semester, Aug. 19.

“What our riders want most is more frequent service,” said Transit Director Steve Myers. “The new route cuts 45 minutes off the length of each trip without adding any expense. It also makes more connections with Route 240 which travels on U.S. 41.”

LeeTran operates 22 fixed bus routes in Lee County with connecting service to Collier County. In its last fiscal year it provided 3,939,812 passenger trips with 178,752 hours of service and traveled 2,803,150 miles in service. For LeeTran information and schedules, visitwww.rideleetran.com or call (239) 533-8726 (LEE-TRAN).

Sunday, July 26, 2015

July 27th: Upcoming running/biking/tri events


Upcoming events 
Running/walking:
·        Saturday, Aug. 15: 7th annual Cape 5K, Jaycee Park, 4125 SE 20th Place, Cape Coral. 7 a.m. (www.3dracinginc.com)
·         Saturday, Aug. 22: North Collier Regional Rampage 5K, North Collier Regional Park, 1500 Livingston Road, Naples. 7 a.m. (www.eliteevents.org).
·         Saturday, Oct. 10: Cops and Joggers 2015 5K, Starts from Centennial Park, downtown Fort Myers, at 7:45 p.m. (www.ftmyerstrackclub.com)
·         Saturday, Oct. 10: 2015 Busey Bank Run For Prevention 5K, 7:45 a.m. at Florida Gulf Coast University. (www.3dracinginc.com)
·         Saturday, Oct. 17: 7th annual 10K 4 FISH (Friends In Service Here). Starts at  Sanibel Community House, 2173 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel, at 7:30 a.m. (www.ftmyerstrackclub.com)


     
Cycling:
·         Friday, Aug.7: SWFL Critical Mass ride. Join a family fun slow ride through Fort Myers. Front and rear bike lights required. Grab your helmet, bring all your friends and meet in the open field next to Publix (at 7:30 p.m.) at First Street Village, 2160 McGregor Blvd. Fort Myers. (twitter.com/swflcm)

   Sunday, Aug. 30th. Starts at 7 a.m. Global Solidarity Ride to bring awareness and show support of the ladies in Afghanistan who are empowering themselves and their rights by riding a bicycle. There are 3 distances (15, 30, 45 miles), with food and entertainment at Go-Girl Cycling upon return from ride. (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/global-solidarity-page-registration-17712182615?aff=es2)
 
·         Saturday, Sept. 5: 33rd annual Tour of Sebring. Enjoy one to three days of cycling in the gently rolling hills of Highlands County. Fully supported routes, on-road route marks, rest stops, and dispatched SAG service vehicles. Daily rides ranging from 11 to 62 miles plus a Sunday Bok Tour Century (100 miles). (www.caloosariders.org)

Triathlons:
·         Saturday, Aug. 1: Siesta Beach Olympic and Sprint Triathlon. Starts at 7 a.m. (multirace.us)
·         Sunday, Sept. 5: Venice YMCA Triathlon. Sprint distance, based at Sharky's on the Pier, 1600 Harbor Drive, Venice. (www.swflymca.org/programs/venice-triathlon)
·         Saturday-Sunday, Sept. 12-13: Galloway Captiva Triathlon. Kid’s events Saturday, three age groups with different distances. Adult sprint tri Sunday, all based at South Seas Island Resort, Captiva. (www.captivatri.org)
·         Sunday, Oct. 4: Marco Island Triathlon (sprint0. Starts at 8 a.m. from Marco Mariott Beach Resort. (www.thefitnesschallengetriathlon.com)
·         Sunday, Oct. 18: Longboat Key International/Sprint Triathlon/Duathlon. Starts at 7:30 a.m. from Longboat Key Club & Resort. (www.lbktriathlon.com)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

BWL Column: Cyclists should ride right and go with the flow

Wrong-way bicycling has gotten a lot of attention lately. Yesterday's News-Press included an open letter to wrong-way bicyclists (http://bikewalklee.blogspot.com/2015/07/an-open-letter-to-wrong-way-bicyclists.html) and today's BikeWalkLee bi-weekly News-Press column (below) also explains why it's important to ride with traffic, not against it.

News-Press "Go Coastal" section, BikeWalkLee Column, July 23, 2015


So, which direction is the right one to ride?

If you read the letters to the editor, you’d see the occasional assertion that cyclists would be safer if only they rode facing traffic rather than in the same direction as traffic.

The logic goes that cyclists able to see what’s headed their way would be more able to take evasive action to avoid a collision with the much faster and heavier vehicles sharing the roadway.

Granted, there’s a certain simplistic sense to this at first glance. But take a moment to ponder the possibilities (and perhaps do a little research) and you’ll find out where this logic goes wrong and why riding with traffic is the smarter way:

It’s the law. Florida statutes are unequivocal: Cyclists on the roadway must ride in the same direction as other vehicles… because that’s what they are in the eyes of the law — a vehicle. (It’s the law in other states as well.)

It makes you more visible. Drivers are geared to look out for other vehicles on the road… at least the ones we want to drive beside. What are those drivers looking for? Other vehicles! So when you act like one of those other vehicles, you improve your chances of being seen by other drivers. Let’s also remember that all car-bike interactions occur on open roadways with both moving in the same plane. There are also turning drivers, passing drivers, drivers coming to an intersection or pulling on to the road. All those drivers are looking for other vehicles, so if you’re not acting like one of those you’re much more at risk of a collision.

It’s safer for you (even when you’re not sharing the road). One study (http://www.bicyclinglife.com/Library/riskfactors.htm) concluded your risk when riding against traffic on the roadway was almost doubled vs. riding with traffic. Ride on the sidewalk against traffic and your risk is quadrupled (again, for the visibility factor of where drivers normally look).

Another consideration (at least in low-speed conditions) is that riding with traffic lowers the impact factor should a collision occur. If a car going 30 mph interacts with a cyclist going 10 mph in the same direction, the impact factor is 20 mph (30-10). Have the cyclist going in the opposite direction (into traffic), and the impact factor doubles (30+10). That makes a major difference in survivability.

A final consideration is that, if everyone on a bike is riding in the same direction, it’s safer for all — even the motorists, since swerving cyclists trying to avoid each other inevitable can end up in the roadway.

Now, sharing the road is not for every cyclist — that’s why we have bike paths, shared-use paths and other more protective options. For those willing to ride right in traffic, however, there are a number of accessories — mirrors, lights, vests, etc. — that enable you to see and be seen by whoever is approaching from behind. But if you’re riding the roadway, you need to be confident, you need to be predictable and you need to be wary and aware as if your life depended on your defensiveness. It very well might.

The two-wheeled types reading this may ask: Why does all the burden of shared-road safety fall on the cyclist? Well, in a perfect world, that would not be the case. In the world we live in, however, cyclists are out-weighed and out-powered by motor vehicles — so cyclists have a lot more at stake, and it behooves the bicyclist to take precautions to prevent collisions. After all, if a motorist’s mistake ends up in an unfortunate car-cycle interaction, the driver might get a ticket — but the cyclist might get a trip to the emergency room, or worse.

BikeWalkLee is a community coalition raising public awareness and advocating for complete streets in Lee County—streets that are designed, built, operated and maintained for safe and convenient travel for all users: pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Information, statistics and background online at www.BikeWalkLee.org.


Ready to ride or run?

Run: There are two 5Ks Saturday for your running pleasure… one in Cape Coral (Beat the Heat at www.3dracinginc.com) and one in Naples (Eagle Lakes 5K at www.eliteevents.org).
Ride: Join the Caloosa Riders this Sunday to ride 100km (62 miles) as part of the Rapha Women’s 100, a global event getting thousands of women around the world to ride 100km. Meet at Daniels Crossing Plaza and ride from Fort Myers to Captiva Island, in a non-supported, self-contained no-drop ride. Please be able to ride 18-20 mph, and helmets are required. (www.caloosariders.org).
Both: While the Sept. 12-13 Galloway Captiva Tri is sold out, if you’re willing to drive north a little there are two choices on the horizon: The Siesta Beach Tri (Olympic and sprint) on Saturday, Aug. 1 (multirace.us), and the Venice YMCA Triathlon (sprint) on Sunday, Sept. 5 (www.swflymca.org/programs/venice-triathlon).



Safety movement
Want to support the “6ft Flag” Safety Movement — Bike Lights Campaign? It’s a grassroots movement to help improve the safety of cyclists in Southwest Florida? Go to http://www.gofundme.com/SWFL6ftflaglights for details.