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Spare Parts: Blindsided

By Ernie Copper

We were nose to tail in a procession that stretched through half the town. Our close proximity to one another seemed to scoff at the need for space between vehicles, the lack of which was what had brought us together. A good man, by all Midwestern standards, had been taken from us at the age of 68. Dan Gallatin was riding his motorcycle to his daughter’s house to do some work, and as he turned right into her driveway, he was run over from behind by a 42-year-old woman who police now claim was texting at the time of the accident that took Mr. Gallatin’s life.

Veterans, firefighters, EMS workers, motorcyclists and Gallatin’s friends and family formed an unusual procession that chilly, dreary day to honor the man. The trip was a few short miles across town. Emergency service equipment provided the lights and motorcycles provided the sounds. At the cemetery, most of the crowd stood quietly and respectfully outside the chapel, which was not nearly large enough to hold all of those in attendance. A volley salute was followed by Taps and plenty of silent reflection.

Getting left-turned by an oncoming car is undoubtedly the most common way to a tragic end on a motorcycle, but the odds of getting run over from behind in front of your daughter’s home must be minuscule. The incident happened on a rural two-lane, just about a quarter-mile after a controlled intersection. How could things go so horribly wrong mere seconds after Mr. Gallatin and the accused had just passed through a controlled intersection?

You guessed it—texting. According to police, the driver who killed Mr. Gallatin had a text opened on her phone at the time of the accident. Texting while driving is illegal in Pennsylvania.

Maintaining a “space cushion” is a common defensive driving technique, and extra space would have no doubt saved Mr. Gallatin’s life. But how can you insure extra space behind you? Mr. Gallatin didn’t back into the other driver. Admittedly, the options are few. Keep your eyes moving, check your mirrors often, always leave a way out and be visible. Being visible can include flashing your brake lights two or three times before actually slowing down, and wearing highly-visible colors. Beyond that, you are at the mercy of the other drivers.

I am surprised daily at the lack of space cagers leave between themselves and others; not just between themselves and motorcyclists, but between themselves and kids playing, people walking dogs, mowing lawns, getting the paper and mail or just getting out of a car. Let this be the legacy of Dan Gallatin: Leave your fellow man a little room, for cryin’ out loud, will ya? It doesn’t cost you a thing to move over a few feet and it just might pay off in huge dividends for yourself and others—you, by not being charged with vehicular homicide, and to others by ensuring that men like Dan Gallatin are around to do more good deeds.

I didn’t know Dan well. Ironically, I’d met him at a bike blessing he helped organize only a week or so before the accident. A group of bikers had been meeting in a Civil War-era church called the Family Worship Center of New Castle that had just been saved by Chris Kauffman. Kauffman, a stonemason by day, opened the doors of his church to the bikers at the request of Rich and Katherine Shira, among others, for their meetings. They used the opportunity to do good things like providing food and clothing to the area’s homeless. The town’s first bike blessing was an extension of this work and an effort to engage in some positive interaction with the town. Unfortunately the weather that day was uncooperative so the turnout was relatively light, but the group proved they had what it took to pull it off. Dan was a big part of the planning and logistics, and was much more to so many.

He was a veteran, former fire chief, EMS worker, member of the area honor guard, a Mason, Shriner and a member of Hiram’s Scottish Riders. He was also a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. People like Dan are the people who have “common sense” and they are becoming a rarity in our world.

The next time you’re tempted to crowd someone or text while driving, please stop and remember Dan Gallatin. Dan doesn’t need to look over his shoulder anymore, but you and I still do. It would be nice to know that, when I do, you’re behind me paying attention and giving me a knowing look and a little room.


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