[Noozhawk’s note: The two Good Samaritans who rushed to help the crash victims have also talked with Noozhawk. Click here for the related story.]
Driven off Highway 101 by the late afternoon heat, two married couples and longtime friends decided to stretch their legs and take off their riding jackets after parking their motorcycles at the Olive Mill 76 gas station in Montecito.
The plan was for Ellen and Jim Atwood and Marnee and Bill Paterson to find a nearby hotel to crash in for the night after the Canadian tourists had spent the day riding down the Central Coast from Hearst Castle in San Simeon.
At the tail end of a more than two-week dream tour of the western United States, the friends from Ontario, Canada, were to return to Los Angeles the following day to drop off their bikes to be freighted home. Then they would hit the remaining stops on their travel checklist in a rental car before flying out of LAX a few days later.
Their plans and lives were drastically and forever changed about a mile down the road from the Montecito gas station, at 5:20 p.m. Wednesday, May 29.
Marnee Paterson, 57, sat tight behind her husband, who always rode lead bike because of his experience as a long-distance truck driver and good sense of direction. The Atwoods followed just at her back.
“Next thing I looked, the truck was coming right at us. In a blink of a second. It was after we swerved, we heard a crash.”
The Patersons came to a jolting stop and jumped from their bike unscathed.
“People were pulling up,” Paterson recalled. “I was yelling to call 9-1-1. Billy ran up to the accident site. He saw how bad it was and yelled to me not to come up. Probably for the first time in my life, I listened to him.”
An Army soldier recently deployed in Afghanistan was one of the first passers-by on the scene.
“He asked for Billy’s belt, and put a tourniquet on Jimmy’s leg and probably saved his life,” Paterson said.
Paramedics arrived soon after and took the severely injured Atwoods to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, where doctors had to amputate the couple’s left legs. Ellen Atwood may yet lose her left arm, as well.
The grisly crash scene is something Bill Paterson said he didn’t want to talk about.
Instead, he focused on the amazing first responders and everyone at the hospital. He said they went above and beyond to reassure the shell-shocked visitors from another country.
“Everybody helped out,” he said. “Everybody there — the doctors, the nurses. They were all fantastic. It was unbelievable.”
The Patersons flew home three days later, a day before the couples had planned to return to Canada together.
A week and a half after the collision, the Atwoods are out of the ICU but remain hospitalized in a city they had never visited until going on a trip the couples spent two years planning.
The SUV driver — Martin Maguire, 51 — was arrested at the scene of the crash on a felony DUI charge. He pleaded not guilty during a June 4 court appearance and is no longer in custody after posting $160,000 bail. He’s scheduled to be back in court Thursday, when a date will be set for a preliminary hearing.
Paterson said the Atwoods, who were closing in on retirement and their 44th wedding anniversary, have received hospital visits from caring strangers.
She said the couple was in good spirits in spite of the circumstances, and that they haven’t been told when they can return home to Orangeville, about 50 miles northwest of Toronto.
“Nobody knows what’s going to happen to them,” Bill Paterson said. “Where they’re going to live, if they can still keep their house, and obviously work. Jimmy was close to retirement.”
The Atwoods’ family back home is working to set up a fund for donations for medical expenses, and a collection is being taken at the Chrysler plant where Jim Atwood works. Ellen Atwood is employed by a local grocery chain.
Details on how locals can help are still being sorted out, although well wishes have already been extremely appreciated, Paterson said.
“One of the things that my brave friend said to me is, ‘What did I ever do to deserve this?’” she said, referring to Ellen Atwood. “I said, ‘You didn’t do anything. Nobody does anything to deserve this.’
“I don’t know why it happened to her and not to me.”
Still, Paterson repeatedly expressed gratitude for the embrace the Santa Barbara community has given them.
“Whether they just gave us a hug or whatever, but everybody was so helpful,” she continued. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to pay it forward if we’re ever in a situation like that.”
[Noozhawk’s note: If you wish to make a donation to the Atwoods to help cover their medical expenses, email@example.com for more information.]