cycling utah June 1999
By Dave Iltis
On Sunday May 16 at 2:00 in the afternoon, Brian Carlson, Brookanne Mickelson and Maikel Wise were on a training ride with three friends. They had ridden to Bountiful on roads west of I-15 and were making their way back to Brian's house in Layton to watch the Jazz game later that day.
While on Highway 89 near Fruit Heights riding northbound, they were struck from behind by a pickup truck. Police say the man was driving drunk.
Two weeks after being hit, Brian is still in very critical condition in the surgical intensive care unit at the University of Utah Hospital. Brian was hit hardest and thrown about 70 feet. Brook and Maikel were thrown into the ditch.
The driver, Steven Ray Hudgens, 48, of Salt Lake City, crashed his pickup truck off the road a few hundred feet later.
Cathy Vojta, Brian's fiancee who had dropped off the back on the hill with Joe Thompson, remembers little about the accident except a bike wheel bounding across the highway and screaming, "Oh my god, oh my god."
Joe recalls that, "Cathy and I were about a hundred meters back, he swerved around us in the emergency lane,(after that) he never swerved, he just mowed them down. Dave Titmus (who was ahead of the group of three) heard the crash and just as he looked over his shoulder, the truck passed him on the left."
Maikel remembers everything except flying through the air. "I remembered that it was a white vehicle that hit us."
According to Dr. Ted Kimball, the surgeon who worked on Brian for the first week, "Cathy (and Joe) saved his life at the scene by applying compression to the wound and by maintaining her composure when someone she loved deeply was hurt."
Maikel said, "I heard Cathy screaming, 'I love you Brian. I love you Brian.' several times and I knew that Brian was hurt worse than me."
There was a significant pool of blood around Brian. A man and his son stopped on the way back from church. An ambulance was driving on a road nearby. Trooper Jason Ricks had just come on duty and according to Maikel was there within a minute after the crash. All of these occurrences helped save his life. Brian was life-flighted to the University of Utah hospital and Brook and Maikel were taken by ambulance to McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden.
Brian took 120 units of blood in the first 48 hours and has received well over 200 to date. He initially underwent a damage control surgery to assess his condition and stabilize him. He almost died three times in the first day, his heart stopped once and his blood pressure had dropped to levels that usually would be physiologically unstable.
"I thought I would have to come out and tell his mother and Cathy that he wouldn't make it," Dr. Kimball said of that first day, "but his high level of conditioning allowed his body to tolerate sub-critical levels."
Brian was in the OR everyday for the first six days in efforts to repair and resuscitate him. He has undergone four surgeries on his left leg which has now been completely amputated along with part of his pelvis. He has sustained kidney failure, a fractured vertebrae, possible spinal cord damage, a fractured right femur, abdominal wounds, a fractured elbow and more that may come to light as his condition stabilizes.
Dr. Kimball said that, "it was touch and go the first five days, but it's starting to clear up a little, he is more stable now, and his condition is serious but there is still potential for life threatening complications. Two days ago (May 27) was the first day he didn't need blood."
Brook Mickelson is now at LDS Hospital. She was hit just after Brian and suffered a fractured pelvis, 3 fractured vertebrae, a broken foot, 4 broken ribs, a small hematoma and chipped teeth.
"I am so damn happy to be alive," she said. "I am grateful for all the love; people's cards and letters have meant a lot. I feel like I am part of a very big family." She had surgery Tuesday, June 1 to repair her pelvis. She faces a long recovery ahead. Her husband Scott was at her side when I talked with her and expressed that "we need to keep awareness up on this, the system failed to get the driver off the road." Brook said that, "I hope that everyone prays hard for Brian."
Maikel Wise was the third rider to be hit. He suffered a collapsed lung, road rash, back pain and bruises and spent two days in the hospital. He has been recovering at home and is looking forward to getting permission from the doctors to work out again, hopefully within six weeks.
Stephen Ray Hudgens was driving the pickup. According to Trooper Jason Ricks' report, he walked up to the trooper and said that he was the one that hit the bicyclists, "I just swerved over and hit them."
From the case file, "When officers made contact with the defendant, they detected a strong odor of alcohol coming from his person." Based on field sobriety tests, "it was determined that the defendant was under the influence of alcohol to an extent that he could not safely operate a motor vehicle. A portable breath test was given to the defendant and it showed a blood alcohol level of .097." He was arrested and booked into the Davis county jail on one count of "Driving Under the Influence, a third degree felony, driving on a denied license, and unsafe lane travel ". At the time of the accident Hudgens was driving with a license that had expired in 1994.
The field breath is good, but not relied upon in court according to Atty. Carvel Harward, Chief Deputy of the Davis County Attorney's Office, so a warrant was obtained and a blood sample was taken. His blood alcohol level was analyzed at .20, two and a half times the Utah limit of .08. Later that evening, he was free on $5100 bail.
This was the tenth time that Hudgens has been arrested for DUI. He has been convicted five times of DUI and three times of lesser offenses. In 1989, he was arrested twice in two days, given $1000 in fines, 160 hours in community service and 10 days in jail (with 80 days suspended) and 1 year probation. The subsequent arrests had similar penalties: fines, community service, rehabilitation programs, suspended sentences, counseling, jail diversion program, more probations, more fines, but no jail time.
On May 18, he was charged with three counts of DUI with infliction of bodily injury on another, a third degree felony, in addition to the two other misdemeanor accounts.
On May 20, the state asked for an increase of bail to $500,000. Atty. Harward who wrote the motion, said of the high bail, "we were persuaded that he is a danger to the community." He added that it was "our duty to take that position." Atty. Heidi Nestel of the same office said "we didn't feel it was safe for him to be on the street."
Hudgens is being represented by well-known defense attorney Ron Yengich. At the bail hearing, Yengich stated that his client lived blocks from his place of employment and was going to drug rehabilitation and should remain out on the original bail of $5100. Yengich stated that his client was not a high risk and has made both hearings on this case. His preliminary hearing to determine if the case will be bound over to trial will be on July 9.
Nestel said that, "if we get a conviction, significant prison time is possible," but reminded that he is innocent until proven guilty. Because of the nature of the charges, if the defendant is convicted, he will face the harder sentence of time in prison rather than jail. At the hearing, bail was set at $250,000. As of May 28, Hudgens remained in jail.
"How does the law allow someone to do this nine times, to not feel consequence?" asked Dr. Kimball, "it's really no different than a premeditated way to risk people's lives. As a biker I feel strongly. Brian's close to my age, he just finished training and was starting a career. He was going to propose to Cathy. This is a dark and tragic invasion into someone's life. He was doing what he loved."
Mary Phillips, vice president of the Salt Lake County of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) said "prosecuting DUI's is so difficult. The blood test needs to be done in a certain time limit. It's all about numbers. It should be about impairment."
In Utah she noted a study that MADD did recently there are several thousand drivers in the state that have four or more convictions and still have their licenses. And, despite a state law that passed about three years ago that made the third DUI conviction a felony, only 17 people in the state had been prosecuted under this, and none in Salt Lake County.
"People need to take a serious look at the recidivism," Phillips said. "If this crash had happened two years ago (before the law was passed), this would have been a misdemeanor. Hopefully this crash will help give us a governor's task force on drunk driving."
She also pointed to statistics that one in five people will be seriously affected by DUI in their lifetime and that 20,000 people die each year from drunk driving, far more than deaths from guns.
Joe Thompson adds that, "as he passed me and he hit them, it was absolutely every cyclist's worst nightmare in one horrible moment. He changed my life, certainly Brian's life, and probably everyone's on the ride. Cathy's whole future is rearranged."
All three are longtime bikers. Maikel had been a Category 3 rider a few years ago and had just returned to taste racing again at the East Canyon Road Race. Brook, who rides for the Rhodes team, had raced the day before at the Downtown Criterium. Brian was also a Category 3 rider. He and Cathy were going to race Logan to Jackson again this year on their tandem.
"He loved to ride. His passions are fly fishing and biking. He'd just been out fly fishing with a newly restored (by his father) bamboo rod. He ties his own flies," Cathy said.
Brian was going to ask her to marry him. She said, "I proposed to Brian last week, I said yes for him. Brian is such a safety advocate. He told me recently on a ride, 'if you don't get over, I'm taking your bike away, I'd rather have you in one piece.'"
Cathy echoes what Brook said earlier, "thanks for the support and prayers and emails and blood. It's astounding how people are coming forward."
Editor's note: Cindy Yorgason contributed to this story. She works with Brian at Kimberly-Clark. She is maintaining a website for updates on the cyclists at www.ut-id-cycling.com/health.html.
Brian's family asks that you donate blood to the Red Cross under Brian's name. You can do this anywhere in the country. Trust funds have been set up for Brian and Brook: Brian W. Carlson Donative Account, First Security Bank, 4301 Harrison Blvd., Ogden, UT 84403. Brook Mickelson Trust Fund, America First Credit Union, 4769 Harrison Blvd., Ogden, UT 84403.
You can send them email that will be forwarded to them at [email protected]