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Family of motorcyclists killed in crash wants to raise awareness

CORTLAND — A family who lost both parents in a motorcycle crash Saturday wants to raise more awareness for riders this month, which is Motorcycle Awareness Month.

“People are on bikes and the weather is getting very nice and everything, and people need to be more aware and focus on what’s happening on the road,” Jamie Choudhry of Austintown said.

She said her parents, James “Squirrel” and Shanna Thomas were “just going for a ride with a friend” in Kinsman when a woman stopped and then unexpectedly turned in front of them.

James, 53, and Shanna, 48, of Cortland, died after their 2002 Harley-Davidson motorcycle was struck by a 2005 Chevrolet Cavalier driven by Dolores Kalas, 87, of North Bloomfield.

Kalas was attempting to make a left turn into a private driveway. The Thomases were ejected from the motorcycle as it went off the right side of the road, according to an Ohio State Highway Patrol report.

“She didn’t look, and that’s the biggest problem,” Choudhry said.

Shanna was on life support for several days at St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital and underwent brain surgery before her death, according to Choudhry.

Choudhry said her parents were active in the motorcycle community for approximately 20 years. Thomas was the driver and Shanna always the passenger — but they went almost everywhere together.

“I really didn’t know how well-known my parents were in the community,” Choudhry said. “Anytime there was a memorial run out of anywhere, my dad was supporting it. He’s gotten to know a lot of people.”

Thomas also was a fixer, working on engines. The whole family spent a lot of time outside, grilling, boating and camping.

“That was our biggest thing — us and our family being outdoors,” Choudhry said.

She said losing both her parents at once has been hard on her and her three siblings, Heather Humphrey of Austintown, Jimmy Thomas of Cortland and Rebecca Garrett of Girard.

“It’s hard — not just losing one parent, but I lost both,” Choudhry said. “You never think it’s going to happen to you and your family until it really does.”

The extended family, some of whom are also motorcyclists, wants to bring awareness to motorcyclists and remind other motorists to be especially cognizant of them on the roads.

“I know they see the stickers, they see the signs, ‘look twice, save a life,’ but I can’t express how important that is because it’s not only you that you could hurt, and the other person, but you have to think about the survivors of their families,” Choudhry said.

In 2018, 4,985 motorcyclists were killed in crashes nationwide, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Statistics from 2015 show motorcyclists accounted for nearly 14 percent of all traffic fatalities that year, while they made up 3 percent of all registered vehicles in the United States.

That means motorcyclists are about 27 times more likely than passenger vehicle occupants to die in a motor vehicle crash, and five times more likely to be injured, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The NHTSA recommends motorists know their blind spots — which can be around 40 percent of the car. Adjusting mirrors properly also is important for seeing oncoming motorcycles.

Other motorists should keep a safe distance from motorcycles and be aware that riders sometimes have to adjust their position in a lane to accommodate for debris and wind or in order to be seen better.

Choudhry also said motorcycle riders should wear helmets — even if they don’t look “cool.” Shanna, who was not wearing a helmet, suffered traumatic brain injuries and underwent brain surgery before she died.

According to the Ohio State HIghway Patrol report, James was not wearing a helmet either.

The NHTSA estimates that helmets saved the lives of 1,872 motorcyclists in 2017. Helmets are about 37 percent effective in preventing fatal accidents for motorcycle riders and about 41 percent effective preventing fatalities for passengers.

“Definitely I would say a helmet could save your life, literally,” Choudhry said. “Go get one that’s cool. It’s your life.”

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help with medical and funeral costs for the Thomases. A link can be found on James Thomas’ Facebook page.

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