It was a warm, sunny day. Norm Turner met up with about two dozen other motorcyclists at the Moose Lodge on Route 31 in Batavia, ready to take a 300-mile drive into Wisconsin and back. After breakfast, the group headed west on Main Street, then turned north onto Route 47.
The next thing he remembers is lying strapped to a backboard, a cervical collar immobilizing his neck, someone waving smelling salts under his nose, and a woman holding his hand.
Turner, 50, of North Aurora, has no memory of the May 23, 2009, crash that killed two of his friends, Wade and Denise Thomas of St. Charles, who were memorialized by family and friends Sunday at the scene of the crash.
Turner has spent much of the past year recovering from a broken leg, a shattered arm, three broken fingers, a broken nose, three broken ribs, and stitched cuts to his face and ears. He underwent two surgeries and developed a blood clot that now requires him to take a blood thinner. He has endured six months of physical therapy, has a metal plate with 13 screws in that broken arm, and still doesn't have the full use of his left hand.
It may be a blessing that Turner doesn't remember the impact.
"It is traumatic enough to think about Wade and Denise," he said. "I have a hard enough time sleeping as it is."
He estimated the group, which had ridden together about 30 times, would have been just getting up to speed, about 50 or 55 mph, when the crash happened at Smith Road. It was the group's third annual ride to Wisconsin.
"It was a well-experienced group of riders," Turner said. "... No young kids on crotch rockets."
On southbound Route 47 a Cadillac was stopped, the driver waiting for the group to pass so she could make a left turn onto Smith. A Honda Civic was stopped behind the Cadillac. A third car, driven by 25-year-old Alia Bernard of Aurora, hit the Civic, pushing it into the oncoming crowd of motorcyclists, according to a Kane County Sheriff's report. The Thomases drove right into that car. They were pronounced dead at the scene.
It was the first crash for Turner, who has ridden motorcycles for 39 years.
At first, Bernard was given a ticket citing her with failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident. But the Kane County State's Attorney asked the court to dismiss that charge last summer, to avoid double-jeopardy if the investigation turned up information that more serious charges were warranted.
Last Tuesday, Bernard was indicted on two counts of reckless homicide and one count of driving under the influence of cannabis. If convicted, she could be sentenced to probation or as many as five years in prison.
"It's about time," Turner said. "She is getting off light. She changed a lot of people's lives ... I think she should suffer a lot more."
Still not home
It easily could have been three dead.
As bad as Turner's injuries were, his friend Jerome Bozonelos of Aurora had it worse. He may have been the first to hit the car, Turner said. The impact tore the wheel off his motorcycle.
Bozonelos was flown from the scene to Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove. He has not been home since.
He, too, has no memory of the collision - or anything else until being brought out of a medically-induced coma three months later.
The crash compressed his spinal cord. It crushed his left leg. He suffered massive abdominal injuries, and a wound on his backside has still not healed, requiring more surgery.
The 52-year-old now is in a rehabilitation center in Naperville where he is allowed to do one hour of physical therapy a day, and spend only two hours upright. With great effort, he can move one of his feet about 3 inches. He has little to no feeling below the waist, and can't get out of bed without a nurse's help. Doctors don't expect him to walk again.
"It's been life-changing, that's all I can say," said Bozonelos, a computer specialist for Fermilab who is on long-term disability.
He estimates he has accumulated $2 million in medical bills. He has talked to an attorney about filing a civil suit against the driver, but was advised it would be a waste of time and money, as the attorney felt Bernard had minimal insurance and doesn't have many assets.
As for the charges against Bernard, "I'm glad they (prosecutors) found something," Bozonelos said. "I'm all for it. I think it was wrong what she did. This girl should not get off scot-free for what she did."
The crash naturally shook the local motorcycling community. Some of the riders belonged to motorcycle advocacy groups such as Rescue Riders (trained to provide first aid at the scene of crashes), the Blue Knights (law enforcement workers) and Women on Wheels. On newspaper comment boards, Facebook pages and other Websites, they expressed outrage about distracted and impaired automobile drivers endangering riders, which is what they believe happened in Elburn. The crash happened three weeks after a Lake Zurich rider was hit and killed by a car driven by a woman who was applying nail polish while driving.
Members of all three groups attended an observance Sunday at the crash scene to memorialize the Thomases. (The event has a Facebook page, "2010 Memorial Ride in Memory of Wade and Denise Thomas," facebook.com/#!/event.php? eid=104068702967304&ref=ts.)
A new cross marker with the Thomases' names was erected, with room on the back for people to sign. The Rev. Dean Akey, founder of Rescue Riders, led prayers at the memorial event, followed by a moment of silence at 8:23 a.m., the time of the crash.
Bozonelos couldn't make it, but Turner did.