published Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

Recent crashes add to motorcyclist death toll in Chattanooga

Alec Newby was supposed to meet his parents for breakfast Saturday morning. They waited. He never showed.

Dr. James Newby sent his 22-year-old son a text message asking if he was awake. Alec Newby replied that he was.

They waited some more.

"His mom and I figured that he fell back asleep," Newby said.

Eventually, the pair left the Waffle House and began to drive to their son's house. They stopped on Shallowford Road -- the way he would have traveled -- when they were met with orange cones and flashing police lights.

James Newby saw the motorcycle. The tarp.

"It was crippling," Newby said Monday, reflecting on the crash site. "Alec was a good kid with a big heart."

Alec Newby was killed when he lost control of his Suzuki GSX 650-R and struck a tree near Shallowford Road and Standifer Gap Road at about 10 a.m. Saturday. A witness told police that the accident occurred when Newby looked back for some reason.

One other rider also died in a motorcycle crash over the weekend.

Larry Clyde Lowe Jr., 46, drifted to the side of Access Road where he was killed when his Harley-Davidson Street Glide struck a guardrail in the 4600 block just after midnight Monday, Chattanooga police said.

Those two deaths brought the number of motorcycle fatalities on Chattanooga's roads to five so far this year, compared to four in all of 2012.

In a third crash, Rachel Hensen, 22, suffered critical injuries Monday after she was ejected from a Harley-Davidson Street Glide when the operator of the motorcycle struck a vehicle in another lane on Interstate 24. That accident occurred around 3 a.m. Monday.

Hensen's helmet, which was not secured, was knocked off and she was thrown into another lane of traffic, where a motorist ran over her leg, police said.

A friend of Newby's was shocked to learn of his death.

  • photo
    Alec Newby, left, who was killed in a motorcycle crash Saturday, is pictured with his father, Dr. James Newby.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

"I live on Standifer Gap Road and heard the sirens Saturday morning," said the friend, who asked he not be named out of respect for the family. "I didn't think much of it, but when I found out it was him I was a little numb."

Childhood memories flooded back. The pair met in elementary school.

"I remember mostly me and him playing Legos every recess inside we could," he said.

But those days had long since passed.

"It's just sad seeing a part of your childhood go away so quick and sudden," he said. "We think we are untouchable this young, we think we can't die and we'll never be a statistic in the news."

The deaths bring the total number of traffic fatalities in Chattanooga to 19 -- two more than the city's homicide total -- so far this year. In all of 2012, police investigated four motorcycle fatalities out of 22 traffic fatalities.

"It's frustrating," said Chattanooga Police Traffic Sgt. David Gibb. "The numbers keep going up."

Police said the causes of the accidents are under investigation.

More saturation patrols are planned in hope of limiting traffic fatalities, Gibb said. And two more investigators have been added to the traffic unit in Chattanooga, bringing the total to 10.

Motorcycle fatalities increased statewide last year after dipping to 114 in 2011. In 2012, as many as 139 people were killed in motorcycle crashes in Tennessee, according to preliminary figures.

In Georgia, 149 motorcyclists were killed in 2011. That's down from 178 deaths in 2008, according to the Georgia Governor's Office of Highway Safety.

Meanwhile, more motorcycle riders are taking to the road in Tennessee, records from the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security show. In 2012, there were nearly 345,000 licensed motorcycle riders in the Volunteer State. That's well above the nearly 235,000 licensed operators statewide in 2003.

Hamilton County has reflected the trend. From 2003 to 2012, the number of motorcycle licenses increased by nearly 44 percent, to 17,397.

James Newby used to own a motorcycle, but he had given up riding. He thought it was dangerous, but it's what Alec Newby wanted.

James Newby helped get his son a motorcycle.

"I made Alec take the safety course," Newby said.

It gnaws at him now.

"I didn't like the idea of him being on a bike. I struggle with that," Newby said. "I'm just glad he didn't die showing off or speeding, but I think the argument is it can happen anyway."

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at bburger@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6406. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/abburger.

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