Motorcyclists recount car accident

Posted: Friday, July 11, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) Riding first and second in a line of six middle-aged Ohio motorcyclists Wednesday, Dwayne Haavisto and Joe Halsey watched as a car moving at freeway speed drifted toward them over the center line.

''At the last second, I swerved to my right,'' Halsey said Thursday. The third rider also got out of the way, with only inches to spare. The three others did not.

In their mirrors, Halsey and Haavisto caught the scene behind them. ''I saw the explosion,'' Haavisto said. ''It was just an explosion of dust, people, pieces of motorcycle.''

The car smashed the other bikers, killing two of them and injuring the third.

Tim Boyce of Ashtabula died instantly, said Halsey, a paramedic, who examined his friend at the scene.

Greg Keyes of Mentor was taken to Providence Alaska Medical Center and died there.

Boyce and Keyes, both 56, were retired firefighters.

The rider who survived the collision, Biagio ''Ben'' Tomaro, 61, a retired heavy equipment operator from Highland Heights, was treated at Valley Hospital in Palmer and released. Tomaro suffered cuts and road burns and walked with a limp Thursday but was well enough to talk about the crash.

The occupants of the car, a rented Kia Optima, were driver Ben Shimbo, 73, and passenger Etsu Shimbo, 64, of Kirkland, Wash. They were treated at Valley Hospital for minor injuries and released, according to Alaska State Troopers. The Shimbos could not be reached by the Anchorage Daily News.

The driver of a van following the motorcycles veered off the road to avoid the crash but was not injured.

Troopers Sgt. Rodney Johnson said Thursday that a preliminary investigation indicates that Ben Shimbo ''may have fallen asleep at the wheel.'' The surviving bikers, interviewed at a friend's house in Anchorage, agreed.

''The car didn't waver,'' Halsey said. ''There was no change of direction until the first impact of a motorcycle.''

The six riders had left Ohio on June 25 and already had traveled 5,000 miles through the Midwest, three Canadian provinces and into Alaska. They drove the Dalton Highway past the Arctic Circle, then returned to Fairbanks and drove to Denali National Park. Their plan called for them to be back home July 25.

Each day, they rode about 13 hours, covering 500 to 600 miles, and camped at night. They rode through seven days of rain after leaving Ohio.

''The hardest part of the trip was over,'' Haavisto said. ''All that was left was the city riding.''

Their adventure was organized by Keyes, described by his friends as a man with a penchant for excitement, discipline and safety.

''He wanted everyone to come home safely,'' said Halsey, who at 40 was the youngest of the group.

Keyes, who had retired as a battalion chief and was an active part-time motorcycle police officer, already had biked in 48 states. Alaska was his 49th. Hawaii, on the schedule for next year, was to be his 50th.

''He gave us the idea of going to the Arctic Circle,'' Halsey said.

The Alaska trip was two years in the planning. Of the six riders, only Haavisto had visited the state.

Boyce was a member of the International Red Cross and participated in disaster recovery work in other countries, his friends said. He too was an experienced biker, Tomaro said.

Haavisto, 49, of Chardon, is a retired police detective who now works as an investigator for a county prosecutor, he said. The sixth member of the group, Tom Lucas, 51, is a computer programmer from Willoughby.

As they rode south from Denali on Wednesday morning, Haavisto was leading, followed by Halsey, Lucas, Keyes, Boyce and Tomaro. They traveled about 50 feet apart.

Troopers said the bikers encountered the Kia about 11:20 a.m. at Mile 116.5 near the middle of a long, easy curve in the two-lane highway. Keyes took the first impact. The northbound Kia had fully crossed into the southbound lane when Keyes, like Haavisto and Lucas ahead of him, tried to swerve right. But he didn't get away. His left front and side crashed into the left front corner of the Kia, Halsey said.

The impact threw Keyes forward about 75 feet into the brush alongside the road.

Boyce and Tomaro now faced the oncoming vehicle. The Kia and Boyce were headed straight for each other, Tomaro said. The Kia's driver apparently tried to avoid the imminent collision by swerving right. But Boyce swerved left, in the same direction.

''Tim hit him center to center,'' Halsey said. The impact smashed the Kia's front end, he said, and sent Boyce flying over the car and onto the pavement.

Boyce effectively stopped the forward motion of the car, which lay across the southbound lane.

Tomaro leaned back and to the side while braking, and his bike fell to the ground and slid into the rear of the Kia. He never intended to put the bike down, he said. There was no time to make a plan.

The impact knocked Tomaro unconscious. When he awoke, he could not get up. The road was crowded with people trying to put out fire in the Kia and paramedics and passers-by helping.

''We have to thank the people of Trapper Creek,'' Halsey said.

Anchorage too, he said. Chaplains and an honor guard from the Anchorage fire and police departments visited the men Thursday evening.

The bodies of Boyce and Keyes are expected to be flown home early Saturday, and the honor guard as well as an escort from the fire and police agencies will accompany them to the airport, Halsey said.

For the four riders, the road trip is finished. They too will fly home.

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