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The Lethal Triad

The Lethal Triad

Academic Training and Education Division
School of Army Aviation Medicine
Fort Rucker, Alabama

Editor’s note: The name of the Soldier involved in this mishap was changed to protect his privacy.

The year 2020 was difficult for many of us as we adjusted to living a new normal while a deadly pandemic spread across the globe. At the School of Army Aviation Medicine on Fort Rucker, June 2020 was particularly challenging because we lost one of our own just a month before his retirement. However, his death was not due to COVID-19. In fact, it was totally preventable. This Soldier fell victim to what we’ll call “The Lethal Triad” — alcohol consumption, operating a private motor vehicle and excessive speed.

It was 0600 when I received a phone call from a co-worker saying, "Capt. Smith was in a motorcycle wreck." I’d be in charge of investigating the mishap and knew there was a lot of work to do. At the time, the only information I had was a blotter report stating Smith died in an apparent motorcycle accident of unknown cause. To find the cause, I’d have to work backward to determine all of the factors involved.

The first step was to talk to the Alabama state trooper assigned to the case, as well as the emergency personnel who responded to the 911 call, to establish a timeline and build a foundation for my investigation. I learned a passing motorist noticed a motorcycle laying on its side along a county road about 0300 and immediately called authorities. First responders found Smith dead at the scene.

I had a lot of questions. What time did the accident occur? Did anyone see it? Where was Smith coming from? What was his state of mind before the accident? As our command handled casualty notification procedures, I started brainstorming. Was Smith current on his required motorcycle training? Could this accident be due to rider inexperience? Were there other factors involved?

As I gathered more data, I learned Smith was his unit’s motorcycle mentor, records custodian and, at the time, sole rider. A review of the records revealed previous Soldiers' motorcycle inspections and credentials, but Smith failed to maintain his personal documentation. He did, however, have a copy of his driver's license with a motorcycle endorsement and his mandated Motorcycle Safety Foundation rider training certification, which were both valid. I also found evidence suggesting Smith had more than 10 years of riding experience. While his recordkeeping was incomplete, insufficient rider experience and training were unlikely the cause of the accident.

I continued my investigation by visiting the mishap scene to take photographs and observe any remaining evidence firsthand. There, I found a tire track leaving the roadway and continuing through the grass into a patch of loose gravel. At that point, one track became two, signifying Smith’s attempt to correct the motorcycle’s direction. He traveled 479 feet after leaving the road to a mound I suspect the bike’s undercarriage struck, ejecting him. His body came to rest 180 feet from the ejection point.

A lack of evidence suggested Smith struck the ground at his final resting point, which was less than a half-mile from his home. His direction of travel indicated that was where he was headed at the time of the mishap. He was wearing the required personal protective equipment.

At this point, I knew what happened. Likely contributing factors were a distraction, which caused the Smith to veer off the road; gravel on the roadside; overcorrection; and the mound, or ejection point. This evidence did not account for Smith’s inability to correct his path of travel nor the distance from the ejection point and resting place. With those questions unanswered, I called the state trooper. As an accident investigator, he calculated Smith’s approximate speed of travel at 75 mph in a 45-mph zone, adding yet another contributing factor.

About two months after Smith’s death, the coroner's office released its toxicology report. The results stated the Soldier had a blood alcohol level of 0.196g/100ml, more than two times the legal limit. It was at this time that I found the root cause of the mishap. I now understood why a rider with 10 years of experience would veer off the road and fail to recover the motorcycle.

I updated the incident report to the fatality review board to conclude my investigation. The report stated the root cause for Smith’s death was overconsumption of alcohol followed by the decision to ride his motorcycle home. Contributing factors to the mishap were excess speed and overconfidence in riding abilities. Factors present but noncontributing were the lack of a T-CLOCS (tires, controls, lights, oil, chassis and stands) inspection record. Following Smith’s death, the unit commander implemented a safety stand-down day to discuss the incident and re-emphasize Army regulations and requirements for motorcycle riders. He also ordered a complete review of the Motorcycle Mentorship Program, and provided counseling and support assets to all who requested it.

Sadly, The Lethal Triad was present in this mishap and resulted in Smith’s death. However, mishaps like this are preventable. For more information on motorcycle safety and a variety of tools to help prevent this type of catastrophe in your ranks, visit the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center’s website at https://safety.army.mil/OFF-DUTY/PMV-2-Motorcycles.

  • 26 June 2022
  • Author: USACRC Editor
  • Number of views: 415
  • Comments: 0
Categories: Off-DutyPMV-2