s
s
Sections
Sections
Search
Subscribe

69 days after crash, injured Bennett Valley motorcyclist home from hospital


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.

The police report indicates the woman initially told police the crash occurred while she was making her turn. But the next day, she called the officer to say upon reflection she'd realized she'd remained in the turn lane. The crash calculations from the police investigation did not support her version of events.

The report also indicated the woman was concerned about a crash she had been in on nearby Yulupa Avenue in 2012. She had been found at fault in the right-of-way crash and twice asked the officer to remove the crash from her record, saying the investigating officer had lied about the crash circumstances.

The officer said he told her both times to contact an attorney if she didn't agree with the police findings.

According to the state Department of Motor Vehicles, Dembowsky has been involved in three crashes in recent years: March 4, 2011, February 1, 2012 and the crash on her birthday, July 3. Her license was suspended in May, 2011 following the first crash and it was reinstated in September 2012.

She surrendered her license, which had included a restriction that she drive only from sunrise to sunset, two weeks after hitting Richardson.

Dembowsky declined to discuss the status of her license but said she believed she was in good health with good eyesight and capable of driving safely.

Numainville, the police sergeant, said Dembowsky's actions that July 3 amount to a routine traffic violation that results in nothing more severe than driving penalties.

"It's horrific the injuries he sustained," he said. "But unfortunately, these types of collisions" are not considered criminal, the sergeant said.

"I think of that boy every day. I pray for him every day," said Dembowsky, who described herself as a former nun and retired school teacher. "I know he's living with it every day, and I'm living with it in another way."

Richardson declined to talk about Dembowsky, except to say: "She shouldn't be driving."

That July 3 morning, Richardson rode to the AAA office on Farmer's Lane to get road maps. He was planning to ride to Hollister later in the day to join his parents for a holiday camping weekend.

Maps in his bag, he headed home along Bennett Valley Road. "I always took Bennett Valley due to traffic (on other eastside roads.) It's one of my favorite roads," he said.

The police report said Richardson swerved in an attempt to avoid Dembowsky's sedan. Other drivers and neighbors who heard the crash came to his aid. Richardson remains stunned at his luck that they included two nurses and a retired Santa Clara city firefighter

The strangers held the gravely injured man still, trying to reduce the loss of blood. They also feared he would go further into shock if he knew his leg was gone, they told officers.

The family learned later that a woman used her shirt as a tourniquet. A firefighter found the detached lower leg at the base of a tree. A neighbor brought out her child's crib sheet and they wrapped up the leg to send with him to the hospital.

It could not be reattached because of extensive damage to the upper half of the leg, which later was amputated.

Dennis and Becky Richardson, who had spoken to their son less than two hours before the crash, got a phone call at the Hollister campsite informing them that their son had broken both legs. They were told to hurry, his mother said.

It took five hours in holiday traffic to get to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. "It was so much worse than we'd even imagined," said Becky Richardson.

Tears come as the parents recall how close they came to losing their son. They take pride in his recovery.

"You've had a very good attitude with this. It has helped us," Dennis Richardson said to his son.

"Neighbors, friends, friends of friends, a lot of people have really been eager to help," Richardson said. "Before all this happened, I didn't realize how much a part of a community I was."

There's talk of a fundraiser at a local pizza restaurant, and his parents have set up a trust account for him, hoping people will help with mounting costs of his new life. Donations may be made to the Alan Richardson Trust Fund through the Redwood Credit Union.

In the aftermath, his roommates have moved out and his parents have moved back to help with his extensive day-to-day needs. Remodeling is underway of the single-story home to accommodate life in a wheelchair, including wider doorways and ramps. No longer able to work as a welder, Richardson talks of college and new career skills.

His boss, Micro Vu president Ed Amormino, has been checking in with his employee and offering support. "It's a horrible tragedy," Amormino said. "We're not a big company. I like to think of everybody as family."

Richardson is grateful to be able to play his guitar, though hanging out with friends on the weekends now more likely involves watching sports on television.

He hopes over time that he'll regain feeling in his leg.

"I'm always trying to wiggle my toes, thinking about it and visualizing it," he said. "If you give up, it's not going to come back."

There are paraplegic hockey players, he points out. "I'm not setting any limitations."

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com.