Surviving the crash

India Allen

It is Nov. 17. Today is his 22nd birthday. Among the gifts he’s received, a hand-made card with blue and red music notes and students’ comments stands out. Taped to the wall with an aced midterm test stapled to it, get-well wishes can be read from his bed.

His mother, Rosie Zelman, remembers when she received the call confirming her worst fear.

“That voice, that voice my daughter had,” she says.

Her instincts were right. Her son Sean Stanley, then 21, had just been hospitalized after his motorcycle collided with a car at the East Campus entrance at approximately 4:15 p.m., Oct. 31. Stanley was driving a 2003 Yamaha R1 motorcycle when he crashed into the rear passenger side of a 1993 Toyota Corolla, owned by UCSB graduate, Leonisia Caporal. Stanley suffered a fractured pelvis, femur and facial injuries.

He never thought he would be celebrating his 22nd birthday in the hospital, lying stationary, confined to a bed.

On one side of the window, he lies his bed. On the other, it is an unusually clear, 80-degree November day.

The normal activities he once took for granted are more significant to him than ever. He now finds joy and encouragement in the triumph over the physical pain and psychological trauma he experiences every minute of the day.

He remembers all the details of what caused him to be rushed to Cottage Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, moved to General Care and later transferred to The Santa Barbara Rehabilitation Center where he recuperates.

Before the accident, there was nothing that could keep Stanley off motorcycles. He loved them, Zelman said, recalling the beginnings of her son’s infatuation with motorcycles.

“He’s just like his father. His father rode motorcycles,” she said. “Ever since he was little he would look out the window at the loud noises made by motorcycles.

“I knew when he got his first moped, this was my curse.”

Stanley’s first bike was a 50cc moped, which he got when he was 15.

“I loved that bike, but after that it was about getting bigger and better ones,” he said.

Rubbing his chin before responding, he reflects on that frightful day when his life was turned upside down.

He had just finished taking his music midterm and was heading to his job at the Harbor Restaurant on Shoreline Drive.

“I wasn’t in a rush. I was relaxed,” he said

After crossing Shoreline Drive on Cliff, Stanley said he saw Caporal’s car heading into the intersection.

“She looked to her right to see if there were any cars coming. Then to her left and right again,” he recalled. “I saw her so I went to the far end of my lane to get ready to swerve just in case she came out.

“Then without looking to her left again, she drove into the intersection, saw me coming and just stopped,” he added. “When I realized I was going to crash into her, all I was thinking was ‘how could this lady stop in the middle of the street?’

“And then all of a sudden debris was turning all around me and I was falling to the ground,” he continued. “When I hit the ground, I was breathing fast. I then realized I had no teeth and looked at my leg. It was twisted like a piece of paper.

“I could see the sole of my shoe,” Stanley said. “When I looked at my leg, I thought I was going to be a vegetable for many months.

“I looked up and saw a lot of faces surrounding me. Then the paramedics came and started cutting my clothes.”

Though Stanley’s body was some 90 feet away from his bike, he remained conscious and remembers being coherent enough to communicate with paramedics.

“I keep thinking what I could have done to prevent the accident,” he said.

“I should have used the rear brake more, it works better. Yes, I should have used that brake more or swerved farther out of the way.”

Stanley has a long road of recovery ahead of him. Doctors predict he will be able to begin walking again after three months and will heal well, but may not be able to endure activities that put strenuous pressure on his leg and hip.

Although the accident fractured many of Stanley’s bones and crushed his desire to ever ride a motorcycle again, he remains focused on recover.

“He’s stubborn and he’s determined [to get better],” said Katie DeWitt, Stanley’s physical therapist.

Stanley was born in Brazil and was studying music at City College before the accident. Stanley was forced to withdraw from all of his courses due to his injuries.

“This kind of accident puts a stop to someone’s life,” his mother says. Stanley is unsure of when he’ll be able to return to school.

“Sean has always been an excellent student,” said music professor John Clark, this year’s Faculty Lecturer of the Year. Clark visited Stanley two days after the accident. “I was shocked he had been in an accident. Just the day before he was leading the singing exercise.”

Though Stanley is moving back to Marina Del Ray, he plans to return to City College when he is more independent and says he’s a “priest against motorcycle riding,” and guarantees that anyone who rides a motorcycle will eventually crash. “It’s just a matter of time. Just wait, it will happen.”

He also recommends the school advocate for a stoplight to be placed at City College’s East Campus entrance in addition outlawing left-hand turns from the entrance onto Cliff Drive as well.

“Every thing has a different value and weight now,” he said. “Materialistic things don’t matter as much. I have more appreciation for life and nature. I’ll never take anything for granted again.”