Thursday, November 11, 2010

Back in the saddle again after wreck

AUSTIN (KXAN) - Just past a year after Angi Hughes almost died in a car-bicycle wreck, she and her husband want to make one thing very clear: They did not deserve what happened to them.


What happened to them was this: Sam Hughes got hooked on bicycling.

"You get some exercise in the morning and then you're rejuvenated and ready for work," he said. "You know, you've worked out your stress; it just helps you have a better day."

Hughes wife, Angi, took some convincing.

"I was afraid of the traffic; I'm paranoid," she said.

But eventually, Angi warmed to the idea and the couple invested in a top-of-the-line tandem bike, the so-called "bicycle built for two." Finally, husband and wife began commuting along Parmer Lane to their jobs in North Austin.

"Once you get going, you really like it," Angi recalled. "I felt better; I had more energy. We spent more time together because we rode in the afternoons. We had to ride home, of course."

"If you had stress during the day," her husband agreed, "then we had a 12-mile ride home; work that stress out going home. Plus then you've ridden quite a bit and you can eat whatever you want when you get home; it's really nice," he laughed.

Still Angi worried a bit.

"I'm on the back and I would fuss at him if he got more than, like, 10 inches from the edge of the shoulder," she said. She drew comfort though, from her husband's experience.

"I've ridden on Parmer since 1998 and it is a busy road," he said, "but you know, there's two or three lanes and the nice super-wide shoulder, and I have never, you know, had any problems before."

Early in the pre-dawn darkness of November 3, 2009, all that changed.

"We had all our safety equipment on," Sam remembered. "We had our lights on, headlight, tail light, helmets, gloves. We had two different red strobes on the back of our bike flashing at different intervals, very bright, so in the dark, they really stand out. We were on the shoulder, way out of the way."

And yet, as they commuted to work in light traffic just before 6 a.m., the driver of a car veered off the road and crashed into the Hughes at 60 mph. Sam recalled that the driver was issued a citation for illegally driving on the shoulder of the road.

The collision took a severe toll. Sam suffered three broken ribs, severe bruises and a gash in his scalp that required staples to close. Angi fared worse, with five broken ribs, a broken neck and a broken back.

"She also had a very deep laceration on the inside of her left knee that we were later told she almost bled to death from," Sam said, his voice breaking and tears appearing on his cheek. "I wouldn't have had her out there if I had ever dreamed anything like this would happen.

"The reason her injuries were so extensive was she came straight off the back of the bike into the windshield of the car," he explained. "The car was totaled mostly from a body hitting the windshield and the roof."

For her part, Angi Hughes said her husband downplayed his own suffering. It took a couple of weeks for her head to clear after the collision. By that time, Sam had already begun to heal.

"I did not realize how bad he was hurt until my son showed me a picture on his cell phone," her voice, too, breaking at the thought.

Eventually, though, husband and wife got a new tandem bike and went for a ride.

"We rode one mile around our neighborhood," said Sam.

"I was freaking out pretty good; I think I hyperventilated a couple of times," Angi recalled. "I rode with my eyes closed and if I heard a car, he had to turn immediately because I couldn't stand anything coming up behind me. But I did it. I cried the whole way, but I did it."

In October, the couple journeyed to San Francisco, rented a tandem bike and rode from Fisherman's Wharf, across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito.

"We were back!" said Sam.

He decided to say so, out loud. In an e-mail to KXAN Austin News, Hughes suggested a follow-up.

"We watch the news all the time," he said, "and we see news stories of people getting injured or stuff happening to people. We see it for one day and then we never know what happened to those people. So one of the reasons was I wanted people out there who; I mean because it was a big traffic jam that morning, you know. Traffic was backed up for a long time. So I want all those people who saw us and prayed for us, saw our mangled bike, to know we're OK."

There was something else, though. Incredibly, when the original story about the incident appeared on the KXAN Austin News website, lots of anonymous commenters blamed the Hughes for what happened.

"The people who wrote that stuff need to stop and think because that's just mean," said Angi. "There are people out there in cars who are rude; there are people out there on bikes who are rude. Everyone just needs to be considerate of each other. There's bicyclists who ride in the way on purpose to prove a point. So there's rudeness on both sides. But I just want everybody to just be aware that it's legal for bikes to be on

the street."

"There are many people out there in this supposed bike-friendly town that feel we got what we deserve," said Sam. "We were run over and they say we deserved it even though we were on the shoulder, out of the way, minding our own business, helping Austin stay green, right? And they feel we got what we deserved. So I want it to be known, we didn't get what we deserved. The bikes and the cars should be able to get along, and I just hope that this story can help bikes and cars get along.

"A month after the collision, the Hughes' first grandchild turned three years old. A month after that, they celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. Three months later, a son was married and in another three months, another grandbaby was born. Sam Hughes shudders at the thought of watching all that happen without his wife.

"I can't imagine what it would be if I'd lost her that day," he cried.

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