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Family’s drive to funeral takes nightmarish, tragic turn

Fri., Aug. 31, 2012

Man on his motorcycle hit by truck making a U-turn

Liz Sanderson dreamed of a motorcycle on its side and a body under a truck.

The dream spooked her enough not to join her husband, 59-year-old John C. Sanderson, on a motorcycle last Friday. The Sandersons were heading to Newport to attend the funeral of John’s 81-year-old mother, Delores J. Sanderson.

“I didn’t tell him that, because he loves riding his motorcycle,” Liz Sanderson said this week. “He loves riding his bike.”

She and several family members were about eight cars behind John as he rode his 1994 Honda Gold Wing. Then, brake lights.

“They were slowing down and I knew something was up,” she said. “I said, ‘Oh God, don’t let it be John,’ and it was. I saw the end of his motorcycle. They were just pulling him out from underneath the truck.”

Garry D. Baumgartner, 37, of Valleyford, had pulled his 1993 F-350 utility truck to the northbound shoulder of U.S. Highway 2. He attempted to make a U-turn, steering directly in the path of Sanderson, Washington State Patrol Trooper Troy Briggs said.

“I was at the scene. The family arrived soon after the collision,” Briggs said.

Baumgartner has been cited for second-degree negligent driving. He was not wearing a seat belt and was transported to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center with nonlife-threatening injuries.

Liz Sanderson, 56, said emergency personnel immediately began efforts to save her husband of nearly five years.

“When they pulled him out, he was still breathing. But then he quit breathing and they were doing CPR. At the 15-minute mark, I asked them to stop and they wouldn’t. I said, ‘Let him go.’ I didn’t want him to suffer.”

The truck’s turn occurred so quickly, Sanderson apparently didn’t have time to hit his brakes. No skid marks could be found, except for those from the motorcycle as it slid sideways under the truck.

“He didn’t have a prayer,” Sanderson said. “He didn’t suffer. But the guy who hit him will suffer for the rest of his life. U-turns on highways should not be allowed, period.”

Liz Sanderson did not continue to her mother-in-law’s funeral, but the services for Delores Sanderson went on following the crash.

Keith Campbell, owner of Sherman-Knapp Funeral Home, was meeting with John Sanderson’s father and sister prior to the service. They were talking about headstone arrangements when Campbell got a frantic call.

“I had to pull the sister aside and tell her that there had been a bad accident,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 23 years. It was one of the most gut-wrenching situations and days I’ve been through.”

As family members arrived, they were informed of the collision. Moments before the service was to start, they learned that John Sanderson had died.

“It was a very emotional time above and beyond trying to lay their mother to rest. Then finding out he passed away about five minutes before the service was to start, it was just absolutely horrible – just very emotional,” Campbell said.

Sanderson’s memorial service will be today at 9 a.m. in the chapel of the Spokane Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where Sanderson worked for about 28 years as the prosthetics purchasing agent.

At his request, Sanderson’s organs were donated and all his clothes will be given to homeless veterans.

“Even in death, he gave of himself,” Liz Sanderson said of her husband, who spent 18 years in the U.S. Army.

The couple was due to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary in December. Sanderson had two daughters from a previous relationship and four grandchildren.

Sanderson was cremated and his wife said she plans to take a motorcycle ride to Paradise, Mont., where she will spread his ashes.

Just last month, John Sanderson picked out a new motorcycle for Liz: a candy-apple red Honda Shadow. She plans to purchase the bike soon.

“He would kill me if I quit riding,” she said.

She hopes the story of her husband’s death will remind drivers to take extra care to watch for motorcyclists.

Looking back, she doesn’t wish she’d told her husband about the dream of the motorcycle crash prior to his ride, something he enjoyed since he was 13.

“I was just hoping it would not come true,” she said. “But it did.”

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