Got Wheels?

I have a photo of the guy in the wheelchair, still stuck in the truck’s grille, from the story in this week’s issue. But first, the story:

Got Wheels?

“You are not going to believe this,” said a 911 caller to the Michigan State Police, reporting that “there is a semi pushing a guy in a wheelchair on Red Arrow Highway” in Paw Paw, Mich. Sure enough, responding troopers found that a truck driver had hit a man in a wheelchair; the handles on his chair got stuck in his front grille. The driver, completely unaware of the man stuck to the front of his truck, drove about two miles at up to 50 mph before reaching his destination. Ben Carpenter, 21, who was seat-belted to his chair, was not only not injured, he found the experience downright fun. “It was like a ride at a fair,” Carpenter said later. (South Bend Tribune) …Except he didn’t have to wait in line for half an hour.

And here’s the shot, courtesy of the Michigan State Police:

Ben Carpenter sits in his chair, waiting for it to be pried out of the truck's grille.

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10 Comments on “Got Wheels?

  1. I heard some of the 911 calls about this on the radio – they were pretty humorous. Of course, it’s only funny because the guy isn’t hurt (or dead!), but if you can track some of those down they’re good for a chuckle.

  2. Oh good lord. That reminds me of an incident that happened here in Seattle a while back. A nutjob tried to hijack a city bus, and ended up shooting the driver as he drove across a highway bridge. The bus plowed through the railing, off the bridge, and was stopped dead about 30 feet below by the roof of an apartment building. An old friend of mine was on the bus, the local media quoted him saying “It was like being on a roller coaster.”

  3. Where was his fanny flag? The flag on a pole, usually orange, that extends high enough to be seen from high sitting drivers. Just wondering!!!!

  4. Maybe it’s just because I’m a traffic accident reconstructionist, but this looks like a set-up. The wheelchair is perfectly aligned with the frontal plane of the tractor–the back of the chair is flat against the center of the grille–how could that happen accidentally? It looks like they came into contact when the tractor was stopped. I’d like to know who verified the 50 mph speed, too. I haven’t seen any testing on the subject, but I doubt a wheelchair could take that kind of loading–at that speed, over that distance–without becoming unstable. Just a thought.

    There are witnesses. I think it’s just one of the freakiest of freak accidents. -rc

  5. That is some fancy rig the fellow in the wheel chair has. I did not notice the lack of a flag, but I have noticed that not many people in motorized wheel chairs have them around here these days. I guess they don’t want to draw attention to themselves. But this is an excellent reason to have one, isn’t it?

    I don’t recall ever seeing a wheelchair with a flag sticking up from it. -rc

  6. Even if I were a witness, I would be very skeptical.

    The chair is electric with small wheels. Did the man hold the joystick to keep the brakes from engaging? How much electricity does the motor generate when pushed at 50 mph for two miles? It would get rather hot.

    I agree that there are too many problems for this not to be a set up.

    The man might have maneuvered himself into position when the truck was stopped. I have to estimate that the probability that the the truck “hit” the wheelchair is 0.

    *Shrug*. The multiple witnesses say otherwise. That includes the two cops who saw it happening and pulled the truck over. -rc

  7. This was all over the local news the night it happened. I don’t doubt it. The young man in the wheelchair was crossing the street in front of the semi. The truck driver’s light turned green and he pulled out, not realizing that the wheelchair was in front of him.

    An undercover state trooper saw it happen and spoke to the local television channel. The 911 phone lines were overwhelmed with callers.

    Nice outcome to what could have easily been a very sad story.

  8. Regarding whether the motor would have burned out, it looks like the drive wheels of the chair were lifted off the ground by an inch or two.

    Hard to see in the photo. However, his dad said the only real damage to the chair was that most of the rubber was warn off the wheels, so it was touching down at least some of the time. -rc

  9. If you will notice, this is not the usual standard wheelchair, like the ones at hospitals, and it is constructed for long time heavy use. This type chair is a big buck item, intended to last for years with very little maintenance. While I am sure the young man would not knowingly put himself in this situation, stranger things have happened. If the driver of the big rig was looking the other way when the young man entered the crosswalk, it is very likely the driver could not see him as the hood of the truck appears to be a foot and a half higher then the top of the young man’s head. Seems very feasible to me.

  10. I have a friend who I sometimes pick up and haul around along with her electric wheelchair (much like the one in the photo only right hand drive). And normally the back is tilted a bit back, so it is very possible that when the truck hit him the back wheels (which are the drive wheels) were lifted off the surface of the road. Else there is no way it could do 50 MPH or even 20 for that matter. Power off it won’t even slide in the back of my mini-van if I stand on the brakes unless I release the clutches.

    I don’t think the best wheelchair brakes in the world would do much to slow down a truck that big. -rc


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