Lightning in Colorado

A man who crashed his motorcycle after being struck by lightning credits his safety gear with saving his life.

A Greeley, Colo., man who was injured last week in a motorcycle accident after he was struck by lightning is urging all bikers to wear a helmet and safety gear every time they ride as he does, writes Joe Moylan writes for The Tribune. Although he suffered broken bones and other injuries, Eugene Villines probably survived because of the safety gear and helmet, a doctor says.

The crash took place as Villines, 31, was riding his motorcycle home from Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, where he is on active duty with the aviation unit of the Colorado Army National Guard, Moylan writes. There was a storm lurking in the west, but Villines believed most of it would miss northern Colorado, so he took a northbound route on Interstate 25. But things took an unexpected turn, Moylan writes:

‘There wasn’t any rain or thunder; it was a pretty typical cloudy evening, so I got on I-25 thinking I would miss the storm,’ Villines said. ‘I remember riding under the 136th Avenue overpass. I never saw 144th.’

About 6 p.m. somewhere between 136th and 144th avenues — a distance of about one mile — motorists recall seeing a bright flash of light followed by Villines, who was now slumped over on his motorcycle, veering off the right shoulder of the interstate from the fast lane. When he woke up about seven or eight hours later at the University of Colorado Hospital Burn Center in Aurora, Villines learned he crashed his motorcycle because he had been struck by lightning.

Rare Occurrence

Dr. Arek Wiktor, a burn and trauma surgeon at University of Colorado Hospital, surmises that the lightning hit the road first and then bolted at Villines, Moylan writes. Although it is rare for people to be struck by lightning, about 100 people die annually in the United States due to lightning strikes, he writes. The deaths occur within an hour of the lighting strike in about two-thirds of the victims, usually due to cardiac arrest or the aftermath of severe lung damage. Wiktor said Villines might have died had he not been wearing safety gear, especially the helmet, Moylan writes.

As this blog has written, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation, in Colorado, riders age 18 and older are not required to wear helmets, even though helmets are proven to save lives. Motorcycle operators or passengers under age 18 are required to wear DOT-approved helmets in the state.

Villines sustained contact injuries on his right shoulder, right hand, and left thumb; a punctured lung; three broken ribs; and some scrapes and bruises, Moylan writes. Jessica Oh writes for 9News that several motorists, one of them a nurse, pulled over to help when Villines veered off the road and crashed.

‘Act of God’

Wiktor called it a “one in a million chance” that Villines made it out alive, Oh writes. Villine’s wife, Katie Villines, called it a miracle, she writes.

Asked if he plans to ride again, Villines said he does, just as soon as he can save up the money for a new motorcycle and if his wife is OK with it, Moylan writes. Acknowledging that the accident was not her husband’s fault, but rather “an act of God,” Villines’ wife said that motorcycles are scary to begin with, “and when you add lightning, you get a very scared wife,” as Moylan reports. She added that she can’t tell her husband he is not allowed to ride again. “But he’s going to have to convince me,” she said. According to news reports, Villines was still being treated at the hospital as of Monday night.

Image by By Jeff Beall, used under its Creative Commons license.

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