The riding jersey freshman Eric Brodell wore that rainy October day lay ripped beneath him in his hospital bed, but the helmet he wore remained undamaged.
On Oct. 13, Brodell and three of his Cutters teammates were hit by a blue Honda Civic on IN 446. Thrown in the air, Brodell landed on the pavement with only his bicycle helmet protecting him. He was taken by ambulance to Bloomington Hospital where, within hours, he was in surgery.
Two months later, Brodell declined comment, saying his lawyer had advised him not to speak, but teammate and senior Eric Young said the rookie Cutters rider is attending physical therapy and should be ready to ride in January or February.
The three other Cutters riders — junior Thomas Walsh, junior Michael Schroeder and Young — are all back to riding.
Young, who had shards of glass in his arm when he hit the windshield and a swollen ankle from hitting the car, has already ridden the route the Cutters took the day of the accident.
“The first time I rode past the spot was a little weird,” Young said. “You could see the glass from the windshield on the ground, so that was a little strange. But I don’t know. You just kind of keep going.”
But to Bloomington Hospital registered nurse Terri Morris, it’s a miracle those boys survived.
Driving on her way home with her son and daughter, Morris was a car’s length behind the pack of riders when the crash happened.
Morris initially passed the pack of riders on IN 446 before pulling into the Fishin’Shedd, a gas station down the road from the scene of the accident.
With rain pouring outside, Morris decided getting gas wasn’t worth the outside ailments.
“We went to pull back out on 446 and the bicyclers had caught up with us at that point,” Morris said. “I remember my daughter saying, ‘Get in front of the bicyclers Mom, so you don’t have to pass them again’ and I said, ‘We’ll just let them go ahead, and we’ll go around them on the causeway if it’s clear.’”
After pulling out behind the pack of Little 500 riders, Morris said she saw a car, coming in the opposite direction, cross the midline before striking the boys.
Both Brodell and Young flipped over the car while Schroeder hit the side. Walsh was the only one who avoided the car.
“Eric Brodell was parallel with me,” Walsh said. “I heard a huge crash and the next thing I knew he was gone. I looked behind me as they were both kind of in the air. My first thought was that the worst had happened, and it was possible that we could have lost somebody. I hit the brakes, threw my bike on the ground and ran over to see how everybody was doing. Everybody was moving a little bit.”
By this point, Morris had rushed from her truck to the riders. She saw Brodell was hurt the worst.
“He was trying to get up, and I was shouting at him to lie down and that he didn’t need to be moving because I didn’t know what kind of traumatic injury he had,” Morris said. “I was on my cell phone with the emergency operator and holding pressure on his left leg at the same time.
“We’d gone through a shirt while waiting for the ambulance,” Morris said. “He kept asking me if his leg was broken, and I kept telling him it didn’t matter because it was bleeding.”
Hours later, when the bleeding had gone down and Brodell was in surgery, the Cutters riders evaluated their equipment. While the bikes were bent and broken, senior teammate Zach Lusk realized the condition of Brodell and Young’s helmets. Young’s helmet only had a single crack.
“None of them were concussed or anything like that,” Lusk said. “No major head injuries. Just looking at the damage done to the car, it’s like, ‘How in the world is this the only thing that happened?’”
Walsh wondered the same thing.
“I think the fact that the car was a Honda Civic, and I think the fact that they were able to flip over the car instead of hit a grill really played a big part,” Walsh said about the minor injuries his teammates walked away with. “They took a pretty big hit. Helmets probably saved a couple lives.”
Morris, who is a relative of Dennis Shoup — the Bloomington High School South teacher who was killed on IN 446 in May 2010, also spoke of how lucky the Cutters were to walk away from the crash.
“In my family’s loss, a vehicle had crossed the center line and hit Dennis’ car head on,” Morris recounted. “The vehicle wrapped around him and killed him instantly. That these four kids had nothing but a bicycle underneath them and Eric flew 20 feet in the air and landed slam on the pavement — I mean when I got out of the car I thought that one or all of them had been killed.”
Chris Wojtowich, a former Cutters’ rider from 1997-2000 who rode the IN 446 route many times, said there were many incidents of drivers trying to run Little 500 riders off the road during his riding days but never an accident like the ones the Cutters recently suffered and never on IN 446.
“I would say they were very, very lucky, and they were wearing helmets,” Wojtowich said. “Eric Young probably would have died if he wasn’t wearing his helmet. The car had more damage than Eric did.”
About four months remain until the 33 Little 500 teams take the track. Regardless of injuries, the Cutters want to be one of those 33. After all, they have a four-year title to defend.
“I’ve tried to find something we could have done differently to stop it from happening, but I don’t think there was really anything I could have changed,” Young said. “It was just horribly, unlucky and bad timing that he slid right into us.”
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