A Venice Crash Survivor's Inspiring Story of Recovery

Video Transcription:

Jim Dodson: So today, we have the story of the Venice crash and a survivor's inspiring story of recovery. My guest is Jay Ustruck who was one of the victims in that crash in Venice. Really, I wanna touch on four things in our conversation with Jay. The first is his perspective on how this crash occurred. Then we wanna talk about what it was like to go through his really consequential injuries. They were devastating, the recovery period. I wanna have him touch on a conversation he had with a claims adjuster that might give some insights into the claims process. We're gonna talk about his support he received and how critical that was from the cycling community and where he is today in his recovery. So Jay, welcome to the program.

Jay Ustruck: Thanks, Jim.

Jim Dodson: Jay and I had the opportunity to meet after the crash. I actually saw him in the hospital, and we talked on several occasions, during your hospitalization down there.

Jay Ustruck: Right.

Jim Dodson: So Jay, there's been a lot of. A lot of people know about the Venice crash. This happened last fall. It involved four riders, sadly, one of which died, Jack Harrison. I just wondered if you would maybe talk to our viewers about how this happened because this happened at a time when you were making a move from the right side of the road across two lanes to make a left turn at an intersection.

Jay Ustruck: That's right.

Jim Dodson: So walk us through what happened that day.

Jay Ustruck: Sure. There were just four of us in the ride. It was not an official group ride, even though we were all members of Coastal Cruisers Bike Club. It was an unofficial ride, just four of us. It was gonna be a 40 mile ride. We were only about four miles into it at the time. We were headed east on Center Road which is a four lane road in Venice with a boulevard in the middle. We were approaching Jackson Road where our route had us making a left turn. There was actually. It's a lighted intersection. There's also a separate left turn lane there too. So I'm first. Sarah was behind me, then Joel and then, Jack was fourth. We're in the bike lane. We're going about 19 miles an hour. We slow down a little bit because we know we have this turn coming up. I looked. We're all wearing mirrors and flashing taillights. I look back, and I see only one car back, in the outside lane, maybe about eight car lanes behind Jack, and the inside lane is clear. So I yelled back, "Are we taking a lane?" I get a confirmation, "Taking a lane." I look in my mirror. I see Jack's wheels are already just outside the bike lane into the outside lane. I put my arm out. We all four put our arms out, left arms out, signaling that we're taking a lane. We're in the outside lane, still signaling, still pedaling because we still have a ways to go to get to the left turn lane. I look back into the inside lane. It's clear. Arms still signaling left, we pedal our way into the inside lane. We still needed about two or three seconds to make it to the left turn lane when I hear a yell behind me. I look in my mirror, and there is a small black car right on Jack's wheel. Frankly, that's where my memory stops. My next memory after that was a first responder standing over me while I was on the pavement as he's repeating, "Sir, can you tell me your name? "Sir, can you tell me your name?"

Jim Dodson: So just so we-- A little feedback. So this is a route that you were familiar with. You'd made this route, had ridden this route regularly. Is that correct?

Jay Ustruck: Absolutely.

Jim Dodson: Looking back on the situation, is there anything that you would do differently, or would you make the same call again, today?

Jay Ustruck: That's a question I've gone over many times in my mind. And it pretty much, pretty much came down to, we did what was the prudent. We did it prudently. We did our lane change prudently. The thing that helps me, you know, justify it in my mind is, four very experienced cyclists all made the same decision simultaneously that this was a prudent lane change to make and a prudent time to do it.

Jim Dodson: Jay I understand one person making an error, potentially. I know, I think that's possible. But it's hard to believe that four people would make the same mistake at the same time.

Jay Ustruck: Right. Yeah so, I'd say, riding now, I'm much more cautious. Even though we have the right of way and it might be the prudent thing to do, I'm still a bit more cautious, and I might take a different approach. But yeah, at that time, the other option is to. The other option is to slow down, and actually, probably we would have had to come to a complete stop in the bike lane to wait for the car that was in the outside lane to pass us and then, cross over slowly, 'cause we're coming from a stop, while taking it over to the left turn lane. That would have been an alternative that. But anyway, what we chose to do was, there was nothing wrong with how we chose to do it.

Jim Dodson: I think that We may have talked about this before. I think that we. We make decisions on the road all the time. Those decisions are based on vehicles doing what you believe that the law requires and that safety requires and that reasonably prudent drivers do. Someone pulls into the same lane, they're not just going to continue through you, correct?

Jay Ustruck: Yeah, I think it's real important for cyclists to be predictable for motorists. Be predictable. That's the big thing there. We expect the same thing from motorists, to be predictable. It didn't happen this time.

Jim Dodson: Yeah.

Jay Ustruck: Nothing happens 100%.

Jim Dodson: All right so, let's talk about what happened to you in this crash. I mean, you got hit with pretty serious injuries.

Jay Ustruck: I did. I didn't find out 'til just recently. I was given a. After they ran their assessments, I was given a 24% probability of leaving ICU alive. Anyway. They didn't know I was cyclist though. So--

Jim Dodson: Big

Jay Ustruck: What's that?

Jim Dodson: Big factor.

Jay Ustruck: Yeah, I guess so. I had, from the top down, I had a fractured skull with bleeding on the brain and a broken C2 vertebrae. Had a number, five other vertebrae that were compression fractures, broken ribs, lacerated spleen, contusions on my lung and a collapsed lung, actually. Broke my humerus, right below the shoulder on the right side. Multiple fractures to my hip, all on the right side. Shoulder and hip ended up taking, requiring a plate and screws in surgery. And then, my lower right leg got compartment syndrome which is from. Basically, it swelled up where it would have strangled off the blood flow to my foot if the fasciotomy was not done. So that was the first operation that was done.

Jim Dodson: I know that you had talked to me about the incredible pain that you went through and that you wouldn't wish that on anyone.

Jay Ustruck: Right.

Jim Dodson: Could you briefly touch on that?

Jay Ustruck: Yeah, I was. I was in and out of consciousness for the first couple of days. When I was conscious, the pain was incredible. I was so glad when I drifted back off into unconsciousness. You know, I can't remember the. I can't remember, right now, the intensity of the pain. But I remember saying to my wife that I would not wish this pain on the most vile person on earth. It was terrible.

Jim Dodson: So how long did you stay in the hospital?

Jay Ustruck: I ended up being about four days in ICU, then a progressive ICU for a couple of days, and then, three more weeks in the hospital's IRF, inpatient rehab facility.

Jim Dodson: Okay and walk us through how long it took you to get back so that you were weight-bearing. And then, talk about your first bike ride after the experience that you'd gone through.

Jay Ustruck: I was restricted for the first three months. So up until, this happened on October 30th last year. So November, December, end of January, I was restricted, no weight bearing on my whole right side, right leg or right arm. So that was at 90 days that I was released from that. By day 120, I think it was, I was riding a bike again. It felt so great.

Jim Dodson: You are an incredible person. I talk to people about it occasionally, about if the cyclist had two questions: "Doc, how's my bike?" and "When can I ride again?"

Jay Ustruck: Yeah.

Jim Dodson: You actually asked the doctor when I was down there one time that question. I thought, this is really amazing to see you lying in the bed with all of the issues going on, that desire and expectation to get back out there.

Jay Ustruck: I've had. You know, even though I was riding in 120 days, there was still a lot of rehab to go.

Jim Dodson: Right.

Jay Ustruck: That continued up through, up 'til about May, through April. It wasn't easy as anybody who's gone through rehab knows. But the thing that I kept reminding myself is, this is not where I wanna stay.

Jim Dodson: Right, yeah, I'm not going to stay. I wrote that down as one of the key statements that I heard you make, during this recovery period. When you were having, when you were in the hospital, at some point, you had a contact with an insurance adjuster. Just tell us about the question and the demeanor of how that was presented to you.

Jay Ustruck: I think that was actually after I got. Well, I might have had first contact with him in the hospital. But it was mostly after I got back home. You know, I'm still going through a lot of, at this point, just a month after the accident, I'm still going through issues of, I guess, survivor's guilt, it's referred to. And as you brought up before, what could we have done differently? What could I have done differently? I spoke to a psychologist while I was in the hospital, and she helped me understand that it was not my fault. And then, you deal with the insurance adjuster, mine own company that I pay premiums to. He's hemming and hawing, multiple times, "Well, before we pay a claim, "we need to make sure what percentage of blame lies on you." I mean, that messes with your head on any day of the week. But when you're going through emotionally as well as a physical recovery, it's just not what you wanna hear.

Jim Dodson: So Jay, when you had this conversation with the claims adjuster, it strikes me as sort of the, kind of revealing the business of claims adjusting versus the person that they're adjusting the claim for.

Jay Ustruck: Right, that was, yeah. I've not met this guy in person, but he's not my favorite person for sure. Here I am, about a month after the accident, and he's. I do a recorded--

Jim Dodson: Statement.

Jay Ustruck: a recorded statement for him. He's hemming and hawing over multiple days and phone calls about, "Well, we need to determine what level of blame "lies with you." You know, at any time, to hear something like that, after an accident, is kind of jolting and not pleasant to hear. But when you're going through not only the physical healing, but also the emotional healing of, with those doubts of, what could I have done differently and the survivor's guilt and that kind of thing. And then, to have, you know, to have this guy saying, "We need to decide "what part of the blame is yours," that was kind of unnerving, not a pleasant experience.

Jim Dodson: So let's talk a little bit about your recovery because your recovery's been amazing. I think you have a journey and an inspiring take on what you went through, I think, that would help people. I know one point you can talk a minute about. You were actually tracking your recovery on Strava?

Jay Ustruck: Yep.

Jim Dodson: And kind of a funny thing about tracking your wheelchair adventures and when you were walking with a cane on Strava too and the reaction to that.

Jay Ustruck: So I was following friends on Strava. I'd give them kudos or comments or whatever. One of them commented back, "Jay, let us know how you're doing, "even if you're not riding a bike. "Just let us know how you're doing.” So when I finally got. You can't put on Strava that you did some leg lifts or something like that. So when I finally got mobile again, it was, yeah. I put on Strava, I'm doing. I went a quarter mile in my wheelchair. Or when I finally got out of the wheelchair, I went so far in my walker and then, finally on a bike. But it was very much. Strava, my relationships on Strava was very symbiotic. I would get inspired by the achievements my friends were doing on Strava. And in turn, anything I did, they were. They were getting inspired as well. So great that it worked out that way.

Jim Dodson: Yeah, that's very interesting. Talk to us a little bit about what it meant to you to have the friendship and support and prayers and encouragement of those who are staying in touch with you and coming to see you.

Jay Ustruck: It was colossal, Jim. It was colossal. You know, you had asked me, before too, about did the accident change my life in any way? The accident did not, but the support, during the recovery period, did. It had a profound effect on me, family, friends, neighbors and cyclists. The cycling community just overwhelmed me with support, not only with friends that I cycled with, but including some people that I saw, saw 'em with a helmet and sunglasses on and might barely not even recognize them on a sidewalk. And then, there's other cyclists that I'd never ridden with before that are coming out and showing all kinds of support, hospital visits, text messages and get well cards. Meals after I was discharged and back home, meals are coming by. It was just amazing. The cycling community is, and I'm sure this is everywhere, is just. It's something else. The good that are in people is just. It's to the nth degree with cyclists, with people.

Jim Dodson: Yeah and in your situation, how important to you and to your wife were the, all of the support you got and the encouragement and the people showing up? 'Cause you know, I think, Jay, so many of us, we get in situations a lot of times where you'd like to step out and say something. You're not sure you know the person well enough. What will I say? Will I say the wrong thing? Maybe you have a comment about that.

Jay Ustruck: The support meant everything to me. Hearing that. You know, I'm just trying to get back to where I was. Just hearing that it inspired people, you know what? We all get inspired by different people in different ways. I get inspired by people. But I never thought I inspired anybody. Just hearing that I did, it meant a lot. It meant a whole lot. It gave me, probably, increased motivation to, to work harder at getting stronger again.

Jim Dodson: Yeah.

Jay Ustruck: Still not 100% back. It's been a lot of months, and they said it would take a lot of months. But making great strides.

Jim Dodson: I know that Trek found out about your situation and did a special presentation for you, back in June or July.

Jay Ustruck: They sure did. It was a Trek Madone I was riding that got smashed. I reached out to Trek. They really stepped up to the plate, Trek and Bicycles International, our local Trek dealer. Both stepped up to the plate, hugely, not just for me, but for Joel and Sarah as well. I think the whole cycling community kind of saw that and appreciated that too.

Jim Dodson: I think that's--

Jay Ustruck: It's more than just cyclists. It's the people that are building 'em and selling 'em too.

Jim Dodson: Yeah, I think that it was real nice. I saw it on Facebook. Darlene and Wes did a real nice presentation down there. You had a lot people in the store. They did a really beautiful job with it.

Jay Ustruck: Yes, yeah, that was incredible.

Jim Dodson: So talk to me, just finish up for a minute here about how your friendships have been deepened through this experience. You know, we hear about the negatives of people being injured. I wanna end on the positive of inspiration and the value of friendships and where you take that.

Jay Ustruck: I don't have any animosity toward the motorist. It's just no good to dwell on that. Obviously, very saddened by Jack's loss and the injuries that Sarah and Joel and I are still coming back from. It's just kind of. It's just kinda something how something bad like that accident has increased bonds and friendships with, especially with cyclists that I, like I said, barely knew on a first-name basis, and now, we're over to each other's homes for dinner and stuff like that. It's very great. It's very great. I'm always looking, always looking forward to these friendships lasting and in some way, being able to, I don't know, repay. I feel indebted to so many people.

Jim Dodson: I'm sure that you will give back, and I know. Jay, it's been a real pleasure, having you come share your experience with us. It's truly an inspiring story. If this program is something that has brought value to you, if you've enjoyed it, then I'd encourage you to like it, like our program and share it with a friend to show your appreciation for what we're doing. I know that you're back riding and that you rode today.

Jay Ustruck: Yes.

Jim Dodson: You're not totally recovered, but you're very fortunate. When I first met you, I wasn't sure whether that was gonna be possible or not. You're just another wonderful success story.

Jay Ustruck: I'm so grateful for everything. I mean, the biking community, so grateful, but also all the medical professionals, starting with the first responders, everybody involved at the hospital and PT care and everything. I feel very blessed, very fortunate to be as whole as I am, right now.

Jim Dodson: Well Jay, we continue to wish you the very best. I look forward to seeing you down there at the club. Thank you for joining us today and sharing your story. Thank you, everyone. That's it, from Jim Dodson, the Florida Bike Guy, and Jay Ustruck. I look forward to seeing you again. Take care.

Jay Ustruck: Thanks, Jim, always good chatting with you.

Jim Dodson: Bye.

Jim Dodson
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A Florida injury lawyer, family man and avid cyclist who clients have trusted for over 25 years.