Holton Fire Chief Bryan Hawk, Latest Victim of Driver, Police, Media Neglect

This last weekend should be a wake up call for those living in West Michigan, particularly in the Muskegon County area, for motorcycle safety.  On Friday evening, former State Representative Doug Bennett was killed near the Muskegon lakefront when a truck pulled out in front of the motorcycle he was riding.  On Sunday, Holton Fire Chief Bryan Hawk (below) was driving north up Holton Road (aka M 120), and even though he should have been highly visible to the motorist coming up to the stop sign on Riley-Thompson Road going west.  That vehicle started its left turn by driving out in front of Chief Hawk.

His identity was immediately known and broadcast by at least four major news agencies in the area.  For days he was in critical condition until he finally succumbed to his injuries.  Many people had sent prayers, many others had gathered together to remember how he and his family had impacted the Holton area through their community service, as was noted in WOOD TV's coverage on July 22nd:

Three media covered the original incident and most were clear on the mechanics of what happened to a fire chief who should be well versed in safety.  The facts suggested he was not at all at fault in the incident as reported in Mlive:  "The crash was reported at 12:38 p.m. Hawk was riding north on Holton Road when a vehicle pulled into his path from westbound Riley-Thompson Road to make a left turn."

Anybody reading that account and anybody familiar with the generous line of sight that the driver had at that intersection should come to the quick conclusion that the driver was guilty of violating Chief Hawk's right-of-way and that traffic violation led to his death ultimately.  

But as we see in almost all accidents involving a motorcyclist being killed by poor choices made by a motorist, even when the victim is a former state representative or a beloved fire chief, the police and media do their best to protect the criminal act and lay blame on the victim and/or his motorcycle.  This can be seen by looking at the language used in the reporting of this incident, where it's called a 'motorcycle crash' and instead of focusing on the driver's fatal infraction, they focus on Chief Hawk not wearing a helmet-- which is not required in Michigan.

When we look at the headlines and language of the three media on July 19 we see that:

Fire chief in Muskegon County seriously injured in motorcycle crash Mlive July 19:

"in a motorcycle crash" "He was not wearing a helmet."

Holton Township fire chief seriously injured in motorcycle crash FOX 17 July 19:

"after a motorcycle crash" "was not wearing a helmet at the time of the crash."

Holton Fire Chief dies following motorcycle crash WZZM July 19, 22:

"a serious motorcycle crash" "not wearing a helmet"

Headlines and initial paragraphs feature it as a motorcycle crash without any indication that a vehicle driver acting unlawfully was the one that caused the crash.  When they do mention a vehicle being involved, they never mention that there was a driver of the vehicle-- it's as if the vehicle had a mind of its own.

Likewise, all three sources mention Chief Hawk wasn't wearing a helmet as if that meant something, but none mention that the negligent driver failed to properly yield at the stop sign which is against the law.  Chief Hawk wasn't wearing a helmet and was part of a motorcycle crash, what a way to remember a noble victim of a careless driver.

The three media that covered his death three days later were still not sympathetic to Chief Hawk's situation, still using their loaded language in headlines and articles to paint the heroic victim as some person responsible for his own death because he rode a motorcycle and crashed, without a mention of the person who turned out in front of him with their tons of metal.  At best, they mentioned a vehicle doing that; vehicles cannot be charged for moving violations, only drivers:

‘A guy who loved his community,’ friend says after West Michigan fire chief dies days after motorcycle crash  Mlive July 22:

"he was involved in a serious motorcycle crash." 

"a vehicle making a left turn onto Holton Road pulled into his path."

Holton Township fire chief dies after motorcycle crash FOX 17 July 22:

"in a motorcycle crash"

Holton Twp. Fire Department chief dies days after crash WOOD TV July 22:

"involved in a crash" "SUV collided with Hawk’s motorcycle"

Fire Chief Bryan Hawk dies three days later from a driver's mistake, and all the analysis he gets from the media is that he was involved in a motorcycle crash with conflicting stories about a driver-less vehicle colliding with him.  This is a sad tragedy for a person that spent his life helping accident victims.

Let's drop the media mindset which goes out of its way to protect the causative element in these accidents and focus more on the victim the media would shame by saying it was their crash and point out they weren't wearing a helmet.  Chief Hawk was riding lawfully up M-120 on his motorcycle when his life was cut short by someone who didn't stop and yield in accordance with the stop sign on Riley-Thompson Road.  They collided where that grey car is situated in the intersection pictured above simply because of that negligent action by the driver, which led to Chief Hawk dying.

People see this happening locally twice in one weekend to two prominent people, they see the police and media doing nothing by their actions to help prevent this from recurring by motorists not paying due attention to the roadway.  They see these important people treated more like the cause of their own deaths rather than the victims of unsafe driving by others.  People see it as a license to drive unsafely around motorcycles and other vulnerable users of the road.  Let's see it instead as a wake-up call to change our perspective.

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Replies to This Discussion

Another sad death and bad reporting as to cause of accident. But ... required by law or not, helmets save lives in head injuries just like seatbelts do in cars. Surprising that a fire chief would not wear a helmet, imo. Anyone who rides a bike, motorcycle, or any moving vehicle smaller than a car without a helmet is taking a huge risk with their life, imo. Very sad.


Interesting link above showing that the repeal of helmets in Michigan had a lot to do with "tourism" .... to be in line with other states who don't require helmets and maybe get a few more tourists.  Now that's just greedy for tourist dollars and not safety, imo.

Mandatory motorcycle helmets may seem like a no-brainer, particularly when you see massive head trauma occurring at many accidents, but I believe the ultimate choice should be made by the rider.  Michigan stats seem to bear out that allowing choice is a smart idea.  For the following stats I use MSP data to compare the two years before MI invoked the current no-helmet law 2012 and the last two years on record:

Year   MI Motorcycle Accidents       

2010          2625                             

2011          2512

2017          2225

2018          2120

The accidents went down significantly, while national stats reflect that motorcycle accidents went up nationwide about 4% from 2010-2011 to 2017-2018.  I looked at this issue back around 2013 also and it should be in the archives, and I recall that when states repeal helmet laws accident rates tend to go down more than fatality rates go up.  The usual idea is that the helmetless rider is more road-aware and less likely to do unsafe maneuvers (other than riding without a helmet).

The freedom, hair blowing in the wind, but no matter how observant and free a motorcycle driver is without a helmet (or with a helmet) he cannot stop a non-observant driver of a vehicle ten times or more the weight of his cycle turning in front of him.

Let's look at this from another view point. Those people riding motorcycles, a dangerous activity, are the ones who caused the grief their families and friends are going through. Why? Because they chose to put themselves at risk, hoping they would be safe because, after all, we all must watch out for them when they are engaged in this risky behavior.  No matter what happened, the final responsibility for the safety of a cyclists belongs to the cyclists themselves. From what I have observed in my many years of driving is that motorcycles are not seen by the car/ truck driver. This has happened to me, both as a cyclist and a car driver. I have been involved in a motor cycle accident as a cyclist, my brother was almost killed while riding his cycle, my niece is still in rehabilitation after being hit while riding a motor cycle. She was hit almost a year ago. No-one is intentionally trying to kill cyclists. Common sense says that these two types of transportation cannot mix without ending in tragedy for the cyclists. People simply do not see them. Period. As far as helmets are concerned, my brother would have died without one. His helmet was split in two and it saved his life. Even so I do not want Government telling people what to do, just like I do not want to be forced to wear a seat belt. This should be up to the individual but if someone is dumb enough not to wear them, then again, they must accept the responsibility for the outcome.

I feel very badly for the families who have lost loved ones who were engaged in this risky, dangerous and unnecessary behavior because they are the ones who are left with the heartache. This is not a conspiracy  by automobile drivers who are out to eliminate cyclists.

The staggering odds of dying in a motorcycle accident 

Any motor vehicle accident can turn fatal. Even vehicles with the absolute best crash test ratings have been involved in deadly crashes. This is a risk that people take on with even the simplest drive to the store or their morning commute.

That being said, it is fairly stunning to find out how much more likely you are to pass away in a motorcycle wreck compared to other kinds of motor vehicle accidents. Though motorcyclists are involved in far fewer deadly crashes every year than those in other vehicles, the main reason for this is that motorcyclists cover far fewer miles each year and therefore have less exposure to this risk. When you break things down and compare the amount of travel and the number of fatalities among motorcyclists, that’s when the risk becomes clear. 

It’s far more than just double the risk

Imagine that you had double the risk of being involved in a deadly accident. Would you feel comfortable taking that on? Many people would say no, that they think driving is already too dangerous and they definitely wouldn’t double that risk. 

But the truth is that it’s far higher than that. When running the numbers out based on fatalities per mile, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) claims that “motorcyclists are about 32 times more likely than passenger car occupants” to pass away after being involved in a traffic accident. 

What if someone else causes the accident?

This by no means indicates that the majority of accidents are the motorcyclists’ fault, of course. If you’ve lost a loved one or suffered serious injuries in a motor vehicle accident of any kind, you may be able to seek compensation for your losses. An experienced advocate can help you learn more. 

Nobody's claiming that motorcycle riding isn't dangerous, but since motorcycle riding will continue as a popular way to get around, the objective is to make sure there are less accidents and deaths.  Every riding season I see several motorcycles as I do my limited amount of traveling, this year I've probably seen more than usual either due to the generally increased traffic or due to my extensive writing of articles on motorcycle accidents jinxing me into practicing what I preach or become one of those dipsticks that cause a motorcycle accident by dint of my inattentive driving. 

But I have had no problems.  I look for motorcycles; when one is behind me or in front of me, I take that into consideration.  In the last dozen years, I can only remember one motorcyclist riding dangerously, but I have seen about a dozen of suspect vehicle-driving moves when motorbikes are present.  

The good reasons why some motorbikers may not wear helmets should not alleviate them from considering other protections that are less onerous (such as eye protection and skullcaps). 

You won't generally catch me on my bicycle with a helmet this time of year because of the very good reason that I've yet to find a helmet that doesn't drive all my sweat into my eyes, then disallows me from wiping my eyes with my sleeve.  When the salt river hits my eyes, I just can't see and that makes it very dangerous.  Catch me in March or October on my bicycle and you just might catch me with a helmet on as it not only serves as protection for my melon, but also retains my body heat (without the salt river).

Updated statistics on motorcycle accidents


For a change, I don't necessarily agree with your viewpoint here Willy. There are many dangerous and risky actions by humans other than motorcycle riding. Playing any sport, football, basketball, baseball, riding bicycles, fishing, hunting, flying, parachuting, swimming, golfing, riding a lawnmower, walking, jogging, driving cars, can all cause unnecessary injuries too. I agree it's become a lot more dangerous in recent years, but most of this is because of careless drivers going too fast in a hurry, and simply not paying attention to traffic. There are a great percentage of motorcyclists that are very careful and respectful of speed limits and driving laws. It is the minority of motorcyclists that are careless and don't pay attention. The one hit by this perhaps pick-up truck does not appear to be at fault, at least imho. Ppl. need to get off their damn phones with texting and talking while driving, period! That alone imho contributes very heavily to many accidents now. Be safe everyone, and WATCH FOR MOTORCYCLES!


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