Motorcyclists recount crash
Head-on collision kills 2 of 6 riding buddies from Ohio
By PETER PORCO
Anchorage Daily News
(Published: July 11, 2003)
Riding second in a line of six middle-aged Ohio motorcyclists cruising down the Parks Highway near Trapper Creek on Wednesday morning July 9, 2003, Halsey stared and his eyes widened as the car coming toward him and his buddies at freeway speed continued drifting over the center line.
When it shot by Dwayne Haavisto, first of the six bikers, the car still was largely in its own lane. But now it was headed for Halsey.
"At the last second, I swerved to my right," Halsey recalled in an interview Thursday. The third rider also got out of the way, with only inches to spare. The three others did not.
In their mirrors, Haavisto and Halsey both caught the scene behind them.
"I saw the explosion," Haavisto said. "It was just an explosion of dust, people, pieces of motorcycle."
The car smashed the other bikers, killing two of them and injuring the third.
Tim Boyce of Ashtabula died instantly, said Halsey, who is a paramedic back in Ohio and who examined his friend at the scene. Greg Keyes of Mentor was taken to Providence Alaska Medical Center and died there.
Boyce and Keyes were both 56 and retired firefighters.
The rider who survived the collision, Biagio "Ben" Tomaro, a 61-year-old retired heavy-equipment operator from Highland Heights, was treated at Valley Hospital in Palmer and released. Tomaro suffered cuts and road burns and walked with a limp Thursday but was well enough to talk about the crash.
The occupants of the car, a rented Kia Optima, were driver Ben Shimbo, 73, and passenger Etsu Shimbo, 64, of Kirkland, Wash. They were treated at Valley Hospital for minor injuries and released, according to Alaska State Troopers.
The Shimbos could not be reached.
The driver of a van following the motorcycles veered off the road to avoid the crash but was not injured.
Troopers Sgt. Rodney Johnson said Thursday that a preliminary investigation indicates that Ben Shimbo "may have fallen asleep at the wheel."
The surviving bikers, interviewed at a friend's house in Anchorage, agreed.
"The car didn't waver," Halsey said. "There was no change of direction until the first impact of a motorcycle."
The six riders had left Ohio on June 25 and already had traveled 5,000 miles through the Midwest, three Canadian provinces, into Alaska, up to the Arctic Circle along the haul road, down to Fairbanks and Denali National Park. Their plan called for them to be back home on July 25.
Each day, they rode about 13 hours, covering 500 to 600 miles, and camped at night. They rode through seven days of rain after leaving Ohio.
"The hardest part of the trip was over," Haavisto said. "All that was left was the city riding."
Their adventure was organized by Keyes, described by his friends as a man with a penchant for excitement, discipline and safety.
"He wanted everyone to come home safely," said Halsey, who at 40 was the youngest of the group.
Keyes, who had retired as a battalion chief and was an active part-time motorcycle cop, already had biked in 48 states. Alaska was his 49th. Hawaii, on the schedule for next year, was to be his 50th.
"He gave us the idea of going to the Arctic Circle," Halsey said.
The Alaska trip was two years in the planning. Of the six riders, only Haavisto had previously visited the state.
Boyce was a member of the International Red Cross and participated in disaster recovery work in other countries, his friends said. He too was an experienced biker, Tomaro said.
Haavisto, 49 and from Chardon, is a retired police detective who now works as an investigator for a county prosecutor, he said.
The sixth member of the group, Tom Lucas, is a 51-year-old computer programmer from Willoughby.
As they rode south from Denali on Wednesday morning, Haavisto was leading, followed in order by Halsey, Lucas, Keyes, Boyce and Tomaro. They traveled about 50 feet apart.
Troopers said the bikers encountered the Kia about 11:20 a.m. at Mile 116.5 near the middle of a long, easy curve in the two-lane road.
Keyes took the first impact. The northbound Kia had fully crossed into the southbound lane when Keyes, like Haavisto and Lucas ahead of him, tried to swerve right.
But he didn't get away. His left front and side crashed into the left front corner of the Kia, Halsey said. The impact threw Keyes forward about 75 feet into the brush alongside the road.
Boyce and Tomaro now faced the oncoming vehicle. The Kia and Boyce were headed straight for each other, Tomaro said. The Kia's driver apparently tried to avoid the imminent collision by swerving right. But Boyce swerved left, in the same direction.
"Tim hit him center to center," Halsey said. The impact stove in the middle of the Kia's front end, he said, and sent Boyce flying over the car and onto the pavement.
Boyce effectively stopped the forward motion of the car, which lay across the southbound lane.
Tomaro leaned back and to the side while braking, and his bike fell to the ground and slid into the rear of the Kia. He never intended to put the bike down, he said. There was no time to make a plan.
Tomaro was unconscious for a spell. When he awoke, he could not get up. The road was crowded with people trying to put out the fire in the Kia and paramedics and passers-by helping.
"We have to thank the people of Trapper Creek," Halsey said.
And Anchorage too, he added.
Chaplains and an honor guard from the Anchorage fire and police departments visited the men Thursday evening. The bodies of Boyce and Keyes are expected to be flown home early Saturday, and the honor guard as well as an escort from the fire and police agencies will accompany them to the airport, Halsey said.
For the four riders, the road trip is finished. They too will fly home.