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Protective gear safeguards Yuma Marine from harm in motorcycle crash

By Gunnery Sgt. Bill Lisbon | | February 11, 2009

A Yuma Marine walked away from a potentially deadly motorcycle accident with only minor injuries Feb. 3, 2009, thanks to training and wearing protective gear.

Lance Cpl. Charles M. Gardner, 21, was travelling east on 32nd Street in Yuma when a car swerved into his lane forcing him to lay down his Yamaha FZ6 sport bike to avoid a collision.

"It was really the only thing to do," Gardner said.

Gardner, an air traffic control equipment maintainer with Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron here, was wearing a full face helmet, padded motorcycle riding jacket, gloves, hiking boots and cargo pants at the time of the accident.

Gardner's right shoulder took the brunt of the impact with the pavement, but with the thick shoulder pad of the riding jacket, it wasn’t even bruised.

The palm of one of his gloves was shredded and left a hole, but Gardner's skin wasn’t affected.

Gardner's primary injuries were abrasions and bruising on his legs after his cargo pants tore.

Immediately after the accident, he was transported to Yuma Regional Medical Center where he was examined and later released.

"Gardner was doing everything right. He couldn't have done anything better," said Staff Sgt. Lee Kasem, ATC maintenance shop chief and fellow motorcycle rider.

A virtually inexperienced rider, Gardner bought the 600 cc motorcycle—his first—in April 2008. In May 2008, he attended the basic rider’s course on station, and he took the sport bike riders course here in November 2008.

That training helped save his life and was "worth several months of riding experience," Gardner said.

Gardner and Kasem are among several other Marines and civilians at ATC who own or ride motorcycles or ATVs. Having riders throughout the ranks allows them to share personal riding experiences, lessons learned and maintenance tips with each other, increasing their knowledge and ability, said Kasem.

Despite the accident, Gardner plans to keep riding after his bike is repaired.

His advice to other riders: invest in a riding jacket and don't skimp on protective gear just to meet the minimum requirements, like wearing a thin long-sleeved shirt.

"Wear your gear," he said.

Additionally, bike riders should be aware of other drivers on the road, some of whom aren't as aware of motorcycles as they are of larger vehicles, he said.

Motorcycle-related deaths are on the decline Corpswide, after a record year in motorcycle-related deaths in 2008 when 25 Marines died in wrecks, according to the Naval Safety Center.

Four Marines died in motorcycle accidents since Oct. 1, 2008, including one assigned to Yuma's Marine Wing Support Squadron 371. In approximately the same time frame, seven Marines died on motorcycles from Oct. 1, 2007, through Feb. 15, 2008.

In late April 2008, the spike prompted the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James T. Conway, to order his commanders to find and report all the motorcycle riders in their ranks and verify the license, registration and training of each. By May 1, 2008, 10 Marines had already died in motorcycle accidents.

On Sept. 15, 2008, the results of a Corpswide motorcycle census found that approximately 13 percent of Marines owned motorcycles or similar vehicles.

Of the 26,052 Marine bike riders—14,471 of which own sports bikes—353 were stationed in Yuma. Slightly less than half, 166 Marines here own sports bikes.

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