With tourniquets wrapped around both of his severed femoral arteries, Parker Milford laid back in a north Spokane intersection earlier this month, waiting to die.
“I was just kind of staring at the sky,” Milford, 34, said from his bed at St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute this week. “Then the ambulance showed up. I guess they were only a block away, at the Safeway gas station, waiting for a call.”
Milford’s right leg had been sheared at the kneecap after a car attempting to pass a garbage truck struck his motorcycle the afternoon of Oct. 9.
The driver of that garbage truck, Craig Gilbert, blocked traffic, while Daniel Herbers tied off the tourniquets that Milford credits with saving his life that day. The two men, along with partner Mike Morgan who was the third sanitation worker to assist, will all receive recognition from Spokane Mayor David Condon on Friday at the city’s Central Service Center on Nelson Street.
Herbers said the weather was clear and traffic was light on that Wednesday, the afternoon after several inches of surprise snow blanketed Spokane.
“I was about two-thirds through my route,” said Herbers, who’s been working as a trash collector for the city for more than 30 years. “I wouldn’t have been in that area, but my regular truck broke down on me.”
Before the collision, Herbers noticed a rider on a sleek black motorcycle drive by as he was dumping cans into the back of his truck.Riding the 1981 Kawasaki motorcycle was Milford, heading back to his job at Clark’s Tire and Automotive on Francis Avenue from a doctor’s appointment.
Headed north on Wall Street, Milford spotted a carthat was trying to cross Central Avenue and had entered the intersection in one of the northbound lanes, about three blocks from his workplace. It was waiting to go around a parked garbage truck, being driven by Gilbert, on the west side of the street, he said.
“Everybody else was getting in the left-hand lane to go around him, so I just did the same thing,” said Milford, who said he hadn’t crashed a bike in his 16 years owning motorcycles. “As soon as I got in front of him, he gassed it and T-boned me.”
The impact sent Milford flying across the windshield, and he landed on Wall Street on his right shoulder. His lower right leg was gone, and his left had been shattered by the force of the bike that landed on him.
“I’m holding my leg, and I’m just bleeding out,” Milford said.
Gilbert was driving the truck that the motorist had attempted to pass. He didn’t see the impact, but knew immediately to call for help.
“I figured I was the first person to see it, so I called it in to our dispatch,” Gilbert said.
Herbers, in his truck a few blocks from the collision, heard Gilbert’s call over his radio for help. The ambulance was also called by dispatch. But Herbers knew, hustling to the scene, that Milford needed a tourniquet right away.
“When I came up, I had my jacket at work, and I used that at first,” Herbers said.
The pair, thrown together by the crash, then continued to improvise to stanch the bleeding from Milford’s other leg.
“I started to help him taking off my belt,” Milford said. “I said, ‘I got a belt.’ ” Milford, in shock, was unaware Herbers had tied off his other leg with the belt.
“If anything, the guy there, he had some real moments of clarity,” Herbers said. “In a situation like that, people are just dumbfounded.
“I’m usually not dumbfounded, I’m just dumb,” Herbers said, with a chuckle.
Authorities arrived quickly on the scene. That included police chaplains, who met with the driver and passenger of the vehicle that struck Milford. That driver received a citation for failing to yield to oncoming traffic.
Herbers said his work was just a small part of the aid that kept Milford alive.
“It should be for everybody there, then,” Herbers said of the acknowledgment of his medical assistance. “Just because I happened to be the one that got over there in the first place. It’s everybody that was there.”
Gilbert also deflected credit.
“I don’t even really feel like I did anything to be deserving,” said Gilbert, who has worked as a trash collector for the city for seven-plus years. “Because Dan kind of got to the guy first and helped him out more.”
But the city workers should be given credit for their aid that afternoon, said Jessica Messenger, Milford’s girlfriend. She was at work and didn’t receive word of the crash until several hours later. By then, Milford had been taken into an eight-hour surgery that implanted two titanium rods and dozens of staples into his shattered legs.
“The doctor even made a comment, had the tourniquets not been applied so quickly, he would have died, right there on the pavement,” Messenger said, in a phone interview this week.
She then addressed her words directly to the workers, including Morgan, who was the third trash collector to arrive on-scene.
“You may want to downplay it, that’s what people do,” she continued by phone. “What you did saved his life.”
“Nobody else was running to help,” Milford said.
The Cheney High School graduate has made a living working at mechanic shops and just recently moved back to Spokane from Tacoma. Milford said some days are worse than others now.
“A lot of hard mornings,” Milford said. “Waking up to this reality makes me wish I would have died, sometimes, because my whole life just changed real quick. It’s getting better.”
He meets routinely with a therapist as part of his recovery and knows that he’ll have to attend rehabilitation again after only recently kicking a drug habit and now taking a steady regimen of painkillers. One of the biggest challenges is getting over the loss of a limb and the accompanying pain, which Milford likened to feeling as if a blowtorch was being slowly and constantly panned over the lower part of his right leg.
“Those are the really severe ones,” he said. “Most of the time, when I’m exercising, it feels like the whole thing’s there.”
Milford keeps a floor-length mirror next to his bed. It helps his brain visualize the limb that isn’t there and helps relieve some of the pain in a practice known as “mirror therapy.”
The rest of his days are spent with several hours of physical therapy and relearning tasks such as taking a shower or getting into a car. After another two months, he plans to leave the facility and live with relatives in a cabin near Davenport, eventually acquiring a prosthetic and getting back to work in the shop and repair the Kawasaki bike involved in the crash. He’s not going to quit riding.
In the meantime, he’s doing telephonic work for Clark’s, helping to diagnose problems with cars.
“He’s so independent. Even before this, whenever I’d try to do anything to help him out, he’d say, ‘I’ll do it,’ ” Messenger said.
Milford has asked for transport to the ceremony Friday morning to reconnect with the men who helped save his life a couple of weeks ago. Moving back to Spokane, starting a new relationship and job only to be involved in the crash has been difficult, he said. But he also can’t deny the long-shot odds that saved his life that Wednesday afternoon.
“I think it was intelligent design, definitely,” he said. “It was a God-shot moment, for sure. All the stars were lined up just right.”
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