Donna Deegan Taren Reed Created: 11/17/2009 10:57:04 PM Updated: 11/18/2009 11:54:22 AM
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Rod Schloth used to be a pretty big guy. He was fit and pushing 200 pounds, but after three weeks in the hospital he said it’s a struggle to stand.
After Schloth’s three-week stay in the hospital, he has lost more than 40 pounds. “My joints still burn when I walk,” said Schloth.
He was part of a group training for the MS 150, an annual charity ride to Daytona. This year would have been his fifth, but on Oct. 1, just two days before the event, he took his bike out for a short ride down McCormick Road.
Schloth said he was planning on taking a short ride, just to make sure everything was ready. McCormick Road had just gotten its own bike lane, intended to make the ride safer for the biker, but not Schloth .
“I don’t have any recollection of actually being hit,” he said.
A truck swerved off the road, pinning Rod’s bike against the railing and throwing him into the air. The driver left the scene and Rod’s broken body behind.
“Five broken ribs. Broken shoulder blade. Collapsed lung,” Schloth remembered.
And that was just the beginning. Blood pooled in Rod’s lung, and there was an infection. Doctors had to place him into a drug- induced coma; he almost died.
“I guess they intubated me and put me on a respirator for about a week. That part I’m happy to say I don’t have too much memory…,” Schloth said.
His daughter and wife, Denise, wish they could forget. “His vital signs were in flux, out of control,” Denise Schloth said.
“I cried because I had never seen him that hurt before and I was scared,” said Rod’s daughter, Sarah
Now, while it still hurts Rod to breathe, they are at least relieved to see him doing it on his own. Denise still wrestles with the knowledge that someone left her husband on the road to die.
“I was floored by the disregard that someone had for him. As he said, there was ample bicycle lanes, no reason for this to have happened,” she said.
But the truth is, even with the added bike lanes, it happens often. Florida leads the nation in bicycle deaths with 118 in 2008 and a whopping 4,380 injuries.
California, a state with a population twice our size is second, despite laws that say drivers must give bikes a 3-foot cushion, close calls and crashes are common.
“It’s a chronic problem. We have an incidence about once every couple of weeks,” said cyclist Katie Degoursey.
Degoursey rides every weekend with a group out of Mandarin. She sees cell phones and texting as major hazards.
“We had a street sweeper on this cell phone go over us, pummeled six people, put them in the hospital. It took one guy a couple years to come back,” Degoursey said.
Distractions aside, when a group that big rolls down the road, drivers have to practice patience.
But Jim Wright has seen frustrations boil over.
“I have a very good friend that it pretty much ended his riding career. A guy left-hand turned right in front of him and he went through the passenger window,” Wright recalled.
Drew Miller has been there, but he said even more disturbing are the intentional clashes.
“I was riding through South Point Business Center and had a car buzz me, turn around a come back with a passenger leaning out the window and hit me in the shoulder blades. It was completely uncalled for. They were laughing and having a good time, but I was lucky I didn’t crash,” said Miller.
Rod Schloth wasn’t so lucky. The man who was ready to ride 150 miles is now happy to complete a lap around his living room.
Schloth hopes his story will help raise awareness among drivers and cyclists. Both share equal rights to the roads, he says, and equal responsibility.
“It’s not hard to get frustrated with people doing something stupid on a bike, but I’ve always followed the rules. I’ve never gone out of my way to get somebody mad at me. I still always remember that cars are bigger and they will crunch me if I’m in their way.”
There are a number of devices that can make bikers more visible to drivers, from reflectors to colored wrist bands.