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Motorcycle wrecks still plague Amador County

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Posted: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 7:03 am, Wed May 23, 2012.

Lodi Fire Capt. Joe Hansen spent more than 25 years in the service of saving lives. However, in the cold, dark hours of May 3, there was no one present to try to save his life as he lay on a mountainous shoulder of Highway 88 — the latest victim on a stretch of highway that has killed numerous motorcyclists and harmed many more.

It was 1:30 a.m. when California Highway Patrol officers and Amador County Sheriff’s deputies were notified that a citizen had discovered a catastrophic motorcycle accident in the darkness of Highway 88, just east of Peddler’s Hill, near Bear River Reservoir. Law enforcement and firefighters raced to the scene, discovering that Hansen had already passed away from injuries to his head, chest and neck. It is unknown exactly what time Hansen crashed. The incident may have taken place sometime between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.

It’s believed that Hansen, 51, was heading home from the Lake Tahoe area when his BMW motorcycle hit a snow marker along the side of the road. CHP investigators believe Hansen was thrown from the BMW. Amador County authorities had Lodi police officers notify Hansen’s wife and son.

CHP investigators said there was no new evidence to indicate what exactly caused Hansen’s accident. Officers noted conditions that night, at that elevation, made black ice a possible factor. They also said they could not rule out the possibility that Hansen had encountered a deer in the roadway.

“I think, right now, everybody is still in shock,” said Lodi Fire Department Administrative Chief Amy New. “We’re trying to get through the grieving process and comfort Capt. Hansen’s family the best we can.”

The same day Hansen passed away on Highway 88, another motorcycle rider experienced a crash on the highway that left most of his body paralyzed. According to CHP officials, 38-year-old Daniel Guse, of Monterey, was driving westbound on Highway 88, just east of Cat Creek Road, when he entered “a slight curve in the roadway to the left.” Officers said that Guse allowed his motorcycle to drift onto a dirt shoulder of the road, where it smashed into two metal posts and a rock outcropping. The officer on-scene noted that Guse “could not feel anything below the waist after the collision.” CHP officers said they believe Guse is now paralyzed from the chest down.

Amador County — and Highway 88 in particular — has been the scene of a rash of motorcycle fatalities and near-fatalities in recent years. In 2009, Amador was statistically high for motorcycle wrecks, officially logging 44 motorcycle-involved injuries and two fatalities.

The following year, more than 33 motorcycle collisions occurred in Amador County, with 24 of those incidents resulting in injury. There were no motorcycle fatalities in 2010. However, in 2011, Amador County emergency personnel responded to 19 motorcycle-involved injuries and nine fatalities — with four of those deaths coming in just a single week in September, tied to Reno’s Street Vibrations.

The riders who were killed that weekend, Michelle Depage of Fremont, Jack Owner of Lodi, and Jimmie and Alice Lucas of Stockton, all died in the Upcountry area of Highway 88. A fifth Street Vibrations-related motorcycle accident occurred on Highway 88 that week, in Pine Grove, though that rider survived life-threatening injuries. Of the nine motorcycle-related deaths in 2011, only one did not take place on Highway 88. That fatality, involving a Roseville man, happened on Latrobe Road.

Hansen’s death marked the first motorcycle fatality of 2012, though Amador firefighters and paramedics have already dealt with seven other motorcycle-involved injuries. According to CHP Officer Craig Harmon, the coming summer months are historically when the trouble begins.

“That’s the time of the year when the weather is great for riding, and motorcycle enthusiasts are looking for nice areas to ride in,” Harmon observed. “Amador County has the reputation because it’s a beautiful place to ride through. But I think what happens, in some cases, is riders get their experience driving in the Sacramento region or some other part of the Valley and they are not prepared for how unforgiving the roads are here. A good deal of the motorcycle collisions we’ve seen have been single-vehicle wrecks, where for some reason the driver lost control.”

Harmon noted that, while motorcycle fatalities are generally down across the state of California, Amador and Calaveras counties have been running an opposite trend. “The department has been noting that motorcycle fatalities in California are the lowest they’ve been in years,” he added. “But that’s not the case in Amador County. We’re absolutely up.”

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