Keith and Lisa Van Lear were severely and permanently injured at the intersection of State Route 2 and Flint Road near the Spokane Airport, the site of several crashes over the years.
The State’s overarching duty is to provide the travelling public with a reasonably safe road. The State of Washington also has a duty to exercise care to correct a dangerous intersection. After years of complaints from nearby businesses, including Boeing, WSDOT chose to do nothing.
Over the course of the past 20 years traffic volumes have risen and collisions have continued; but nothing has changed. Boeing had been so concerned about its employees’ safety here that it offered to pay for a traffic signal itself.
Ms. L had seen no other eastbound traffic on her left. Intending to begin her left turn onto SR 2, she looked left, then right, then left again. A large truck in the outside lane with its right-turn signal activated began to slow down to turn onto Flint Road. She saw no other traffic approaching from her left, and began entering the intersection, looking now to her right at the westbound traffic that she was going to merge into.
Keith Van Lear hit his motorcycle’s brakes hard upon first seeing Ms. L’s Jeep Cherokee. He left a skid mark, re-righted his bike and then braked hard again. Despite his efforts, the front wheel of the motorcycle struck the left front wheel of the Jeep Cherokee.
Keith hit the windshield A-pillar on the driver’s side with tremendous force. He was thrown to the pavement like a rag doll. Lisa was catapulted through the air and onto the asphalt road surface, where the Jeep Cherokee then ran over her. Eyewitnesses stared in horror as Lisa, trapped underneath the Jeep, was dragged across the highway.
Although a traffic signal would have provided protected movement for the Jeep, enabling Ms. L to turn left on a green light without fear of being struck by through traffic on SR 2, an inexpensive alternative to a traffic signal here was a right-turn deceleration lane, funneling eastbound traffic off to the right as a prelude to the right turn onto Flint Road, and opening up Ms. L’s view of traffic approaching on her left in the two through lanes.
The right-turn deceleration lane – a matter of compacted soil and asphalt – not only met WSDOT Design Manual standards, but WSDOT itself had mandated the installation of the right-turn deceleration lane here as part of the Intersection Plan it formally approved for this very location in 2002.
With the right-turn deceleration lane in place, Ms. L would have seen the approaching Van Lear motorcycle and waits as it passes until it clears the intersection. See below illustration of the deceleration lane that could have prevented the horrific collision and the Van Lears’ profound injuries.
Keith’s and Lisa’s Injuries
Keith and Lisa sustained horrific, life-threatening injuries in the July 23, 2008 crash. Keith sustained multiple severe orthopedic and internal injuries and complications from those injuries, including a closed head injury, a severe fracture of the right arm and wrist requiring open reduction and internal fixation, a severe liver laceration, a hemothorax, a damaged spleen necessitating a splenectomy, several fractured ribs, a left middle finger dislocation, and acute kidney failure requiring dialysis to remove massive fluid buildup. As a result of the damage to his lungs, Keith developed traumatically-induced asthma. He now becomes easily fatigued just walking up a short flight of stairs.
Keith remained in ICU for over four weeks after which he transferred to a full-time rehabilitation hospital in Idaho. While in ICU, he nearly died on a couple of occasions, and his doctors summoned his family and friends to say their goodbyes. Keith remained on a full-time ventilator for two months. He spent weeks in intensive rehabilitation in Idaho and then later at St. Luke’s in Spokane. He remained wholly disabled and unable to work for more than six months.
Lisa Van Lear sustained a traumatic brain injury and multiple broken bones in the crash. Diagnostic imaging ordered at Sacred Heart Medical Center revealed blood in Lisa’s urine, a hemothorax, a fractured right clavicle, a fractured sternum, 10 separate rib fractures, multiple pelvic fractures, a fractured right sacrum, a fractured right acetabulum, fractures to the right L4 and L5 transverse processes, a left leg (fibular) fracture, a comminuted left foot fracture (i.e., medial navicula), an avulsion fracture of the cuboid (i.e., another foot bone) and a left wrist fracture. Lisa underwent multiple surgeries to stabilize her broken bones.