Cyclist shares story of accident, support of proposed trail
July 22, 2021
Mike Ellsworth is a strong supporter of the Touchet Valley Trail, and with good reason.
The long-time Dayton resident had just gotten back into cycling when he hit the road for an early morning ride on June 25, 2015, headed towards Waitsburg with a goal of 25 miles. Ellsworth was roughly three miles outside of Dayton, just in front of Joann Pullman’s house on Highway 12 when a vehicle struck him from behind.
“What we think happened- the gentleman who hit me had worked all night at Smith Frozen Foods. He had worked all night, was on his way home, and it looked like he had extended mirrors on his big pickup,” Ellsworth explained. “It hit me on the left shoulder. We are thinking, this is just a conjecture, that he may have fallen asleep.”
Six years later, the details surrounding the accident are still foggy, with Ellsworth sharing many third-person thoughts about his accident. After being struck by the vehicle, Ellsworth suffered numerous injuries, including broken vertebrae, a fractured scapula, multiple broken ribs, and two fractures in his pelvis. The impact was significant enough that his helmet was broken, and he suffered a small brain bleed. Internal organs, including his heart and lungs, were bruised.
His wife Kathy had just finished her home workout when she heard the call come over the scanner for a car versus bicycle accident along the highway.
The injuries went much further than just broken bones. A former math teacher, Ellsworth said that when asked a simple math question, he would work out a complex answer but not the correct answer.
“It took me a couple of weeks to come back to ‘two plus two equals four,’” he said. “The therapist would ask me a simple question, I would rattle off a number, and my wife would look at me and ask how I got that answer.”
Six years later, Ellsworth has regained his mathematical reasoning skills. Still, he has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a long-term degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that mainly affects motor skills. He believes that the disease is the result of the accident, with data suggesting that the condition can be caused by traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
A 2018 study published by Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. on behalf of the American Academy of Neurology found that a mild TBI increased the chance of Parkinson’s disease in military veterans by 56%, showing a significant link between brain injuries and the diagnosis.
Ellsworth spent three weeks at Sacred Heart and St. Luke’s in Spokane before coming home and going through physical therapy through the Columbia County Health System.
Proponents for the Touchet Valley Trail say it would provide a safe place to exercise and safely explore the Touchet Valley by bike or on foot.
“People don’t understand that Highway 12 is a busy highway,” Ellsworth said. “It would be wonderful to walk a trail.”
Even though traffic decreased in 2020 due to the pandemic, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) projected that more than 38,000 people would be the victim of fatal motor vehicle accidents on American highways. Bicyclist deaths rose 5% in 2020, up to 846 victims. The data showed a 13.2% decrease in road traffic, but the projected number of deaths was the highest since 2007. Impaired driving, speeding, and failure to use seatbelts were the leading causes of the increase.
The Port of Columbia has posted public comments and the Port’s responses online at https://tinyurl.com/e53r8tu5. The comments and responses address community concerns, including agriculture spraying, private property concerns, and show comments from community members for and against the proposed trail.