One moment, Alan Richardson, 27, was riding his motorcycle on Bennett Valley Road in Santa Rosa, making plans for a camping trip with his parents that July Fourth weekend.
The next moment, a car driven by a 93-year-old woman turned into his path. It was Elsie Dembowsky's third crash in 2? years. She had gotten her suspended driver's license back nine months earlier.
The impact knocked Richardson from his motorcycle into a pole and through a barricade, severing his left leg below the knee and crushing the remainder of the leg and his hips.
The injuries were so severe it seemed the Santa Rosa man would die. After 18 surgeries and procedures and 69 days in hospitals and rehab centers, he is back home in east Santa Rosa.
For now, and perhaps for life, he needs a wheelchair for mobility. He is stunned at how quickly the patterns of his existence have changed: "My life has gotten very regulated."
He is Santa Rosa grown, raised in the family home off Summerfield Road with his older sister, Amy, by their parents, Dennis and Becky Richardson. He played championship hockey at Snoopy's Ice Arena and graduated from Montgomery High School.
For the past seven years, he has worked full time as a welder for Micro Vu, a Windsor manufacturer of precision measuring equipment. Weekends were busy with playing baseball or hockey with friends and riding his BMX bicycle and motorcycle.
He and his roommates had been renting the family home from his parents, who had moved out of the area. "I was living by the seat of my pants," Richardson said.
Now a large brace holds him upright in his new wheelchair. As he sat near a "Welcome Home Alan" sign on a sliding glass door, Richardson listed the positives of his new life.
"I'm really blessed to have what I still do," he said.
He's missing all of his left leg and is paralyzed from the waist down, but he has full use of his arms and hands. And he's especially grateful he didn't suffer brain damage in the July 3 crash; he believes a new full-face helmet prevented any head injuries worse than bruises.
He has no memories of the crash. Much of what he knows comes from the police report. He was headed east on Bennett Valley Road approaching the intersection of Holland Drive while Dembowsky was in the left-turn lane, waiting to turn onto Holland and head up the hill to her home.
Richardson, traveling at the speed limit, had a green light. As he entered the intersection, Dembowsky started her turn on the green light but not with a green arrow.
According to police, it was a simple right-of-way violation with horrendous repercussions. "She was at fault," traffic Sgt. Mike Numainville said.
Dembowsky is a tiny woman who lives with her little dog in the hills above the crash scene. She said she remains shaken by the crash and thinks of the young man every day. But she doesn't agree with the police findings.
"I wasn't at fault. I looked left, right, left," she said recently in an interview at her home. "I'm a safe driver."
"The green arrow wasn't working. If I got that green arrow, this wouldn't have happened," Dembowsky said.
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