Safe Riding

Reader Feedback on 2006 Daytona Bike Week Fatalities

Written by  May 31, 2006

Welcome back to those of you who I didn’t piss off last month. I was gonna talk about drinking and riding this month, along with all the little things you may not know about the DWI/DUI laws, but that is going to have to wait until next time.

For those of you who may not have read last month’s Behind Bars column, I discussed the large number of fatalities at Daytona Bike Week this year. I received an e-mail from the daughter of one of the men who lost their life in Daytona whose name was mentioned in the list of fatalities. After reading her letter, and after Stephanie had a long phone conversation with her, I believe what she has to say is important for you to hear as her words clearly illustrate the point I was trying to make. The photos below are of Stephanie Hembach’s father Dean Ruland, her mother and her daughter. I wanted you to be able to put a face to at least one of the names I wrote about. You will also find pictures of the accident scene. They are not graphic, but I included them to demonstrate how easily an accident could happen at this intersection and so many intersections just like it. So without any further adieu, here is a little something from a very strong lady named Stephanie Hembach.

Dear Mr. Wilcoxson,

I read your article Behind Bars. My father Dean Ruland was one of the people killed during Bike Week. He drove down here from New York to spend time with my children, husband and myself. Our friends also drove down and looked forward to riding. He wasn't fond of Bike Week because of the crowds, but wanted our friends to experience it as we already have. My father rode for over 40 years and was never a careless person. He always wore a full face helmet and leather jacket. It was Sunday March 5 at around 3 p.m.; we decided to leave Daytona early, sick of the crowds and wanting to get home to my mom who was watching my twins. We were traveling on US1 north when a van pulled out in front of my dad. Two minutes prior to the accident I had told my husband to let my dad lead. My husband and I were behind him on our Fat Boy when my dad’s FXDX hit the car. Nothing he could have done would have changed the situation. I have analyzed it for over two month and I am unable to get any peace. All I can pray is that he didn’t feel pain. At the scene he was unresponsive and didn't move a muscle, being a Critical Care Nurse I knew as soon as I saw him that I wanted him to be dead, and I expressed that to the police and EMTs over and over again. All I wanted was to be with him when he died. If I can help at least one person by telling this story, then I can gain a little peace. My point is that my dad was an experienced rider and in the blink of an eye was gone. I love to ride but also know that events like Daytona can be dangerous, drivers who don't see you, shitty intersections that haven’t been updated to handle the traffic, unexperienced riders, it only takes one of these to change your life forever. Please to all ride safe.

Sincerely, Stephanie Hembach


In coming issues you will hear more from this brave lady and follow her as she finds an outlet through which she can channel her grief into something constructive. Stephanie did not mention this is her letter above but discussed with us in phone conversations that she has become an activist working for bikers rights. She pointed us to a web site that I encourage each of you to visit www.motorcyclists-against-dumb-drivers.com/index.html. “The Mission of Motorcyclists Against Dumb Drivers is to get mad, take names and kick ass on the most important issue facing all American motorcyclists, and that is the unnecessary dangers we face riding, which are overwhelmingly the result of auto driver ignorance of motorcycle safety issues and auto driver ignorance of the basic safety strategies essential for the protection of motorcyclists.”

See you all next month.

Loney