Miracle motorcycle crash survivor on I-80 in Auburn credits gear, training

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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John Barnes was beginning to think that he would never have an accident on his motorcycle. That was until he traveled through Auburn last week. After close to 300,000 miles on two wheels since 1980, Barnes found himself on a stretch of westbound Interstate 80 trying to rein in an 850-pound Harley-Davidson to keep it from flipping as it fishtailed out of control at 65 mph. Barnes ended up with non-life-threatening injuries after being thrown from the motorcycle. So did his passenger and wife of 42 years, Joyce. Barnes credited a combination of good safety equipment, accident training, thousands of hours of experience and blind luck with keeping the two from ending up in a trauma unit or side-by-side in the county morgue. The crash happened during the busy 5 o’clock hour at the Russell Road overpass. Barnes was able to cross to the side of the road from the middle lane and ride the 850-pound Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic down into the dirt shoulder. Eyewitness Dave Weaver of Foresthill said he watched as Joyce Barnes “barrel-rolled” at least twice in the crash. She ended up with a compound fracture of the elbow and a dislocated shoulder. John Barnes said their lightweight Kevlar-armored jackets and full-visor helmets were scraped but did their job to prevent serious injuries from the tumble both took. Barnes said he sustained a couple of cracked ribs and a cracked shoulder blade. “We’re both a little sore and doing pretty good,” Barnes said. Over the years, Barnes said he’s attended every seminar he could on motorcycle safety, always suspecting that the day would come when he would need to be prepared. ”But I don’t remember anyone saying what to do when your rear tire goes,” he said. “I steered into the turn but I had no power and couldn’t recover the way you can with four wheels on a car.” The Aug. 4 accident took place during one of the busiest times of day but Barnes said he was thankful that cars around him weren’t in his way as the bike traveled toward the side of the road. “And I’m thankful for everyone who slowed down,” he said. “I would compare this to Capt. Scully putting his airplane on the Hudson. You only get one shot and hope for the best outcome.” Barnes, 63, said he was also fortunate to have people stop and help immediately after the crash, including an emergency-room nurse he didn’t catch the name of. “She was right in my face and poking me to see if there were any internal injuries,” he said. “The EMTs were also great.” The couple had been returning to their home in Vacaville from Boise, Idaho. Good helmets with face shields also were crucial in preventing further injuries, Barnes said. “So many riders wear the hat helmet but it can’t give you protection to the face,” he said. “A helmet and face shield make all the difference in the world. It’s whatever you think your head’s worth.” Barnes said he still doesn't know why the crash occurred but a California Highway Patrol officer told him that his tire had blown out. With the motorcycle totaled, Barnes said he’s still weighing whether to ride again. “If we do, we might not do any long distances,” he said. “But we haven’t made a decision.” The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at