On March 28, 2005, toothpaste was Eli Harris Ashby's top priority as he cruised toward home on his crotch rocket to pick up his girlfriend, Carly Drienka. The two were planning to go to Target so they could use a gift card to pick up some items -- toothpaste, first and foremost -- for his apartment.
Life had been good to Ashby in his twentieth year. He was working as a sprinkler fitter and was planning to propose to Drienka. He'd recently bought a new red Yamaha 1000 -- and a helmet to go with it. He was always careful to wear the helmet, because he wanted to be around for the family he hoped to have with Drienka.
Unfortunately, Ashby's helmet didn't save his life when 82-year-old William Groseclose collided with him that spring day.
Ashby made a right-hand turn onto Wadsworth Boulevard from West 80th Avenue in Arvada. He merged into the right lane, heading north. Groseclose, who was driving a Buick, was southbound on Wadsworth and making a left turn into the Safeway parking lot, just in front of Ashby.
The two collided before Groseclose made it into the lot.
"I could see down the street for a hundred yards, and there wasn't anyone coming," Groseclose says.
Ashby's bike crashed into the passenger side of Groseclose's car, shattering both windows; his helmet landed on the front passenger floorboard. Police noted a gouge in the concrete where the motorcycle landed. Ashby was pronounced dead on the scene.
Jake Coyle was driving on Wadsworth at the time and saw the accident. He recognized the bike and pulled over, hoping that it wasn't his friend Eli's red Yamaha. His worst fears were confirmed. Coyle took the coroner over to the Ashby family home, where he told his friend's father, Greg, the tragic news. Then he called Drienka -- on Ashby's broken cell phone -- and told her what happened.
"He was a great guy. He planned on having six kids," says Eli's mother, MervEllen Ashby. "I was really looking forward to having those grandkids and him for the rest of my life, not having him run over in the street like a dog. He was a great guy. There's this incredible hole in our life.
"We always told Eli all these horror stories about motorcycles," she continues, "but we couldn't talk him out of it, not for a lack of trying. People drive like frickin' idiots here. I've never seen a city where people drive like this, and it's because there's no penalty."
In fact, Groseclose was able to renew his license at a Division of Motor Vehicles office one week after hitting Ashby, even though he'd been driving with an expired license.
"The fact that he can't lose his driver's license for killing our son is horrifying," says MervEllen. "Right-of-way laws have no teeth."
Part of the problem was that when Groseclose went to renew his license, his ticket had not yet appeared in the department's records. "If the ticket had hit our system, given it was a fatality in this accident, Mr. Groseclose or anyone else who had been involved in a fatality would not have received a license, pending re-examination," says DMV spokeswoman Diane Reimer.
But Groseclose did get his license back, and he now faces the charge of careless driving resulting in death, which carries a possible one-year jail sentence and a fine of up to $1,000 in Jefferson County. The Ashbys asked the district attorney to offer Groseclose a plea in which he'd give up his license in exchange for the jail time; Groseclose says the deal was never presented to him. For the charges of driving with an expired license and failure to yield, he faces an additional $200 in fines.
The case is set for a jury trial on January 25, but Groseclose says he plans to plead guilty. Witness statements about the crash are inconsistent: Half of the people the police interviewed said Ashby was riding responsibly and obeying the speed limit; the other half said he was being reckless, and two said he was doing a wheelie. Additionally, Ashby wasn't licensed to drive a motorcycle at the time of the crash. He had completed the seventeen-hour motorcycle training class sponsored by A Brotherhood Active Towards Education (ABATE), which qualified him for a state license; he just hadn't gone to the DMV to pick it up. Regardless, Groseclose believes a jury would find him guilty because he turned left into Ashby.
"I'm sick about it," Groseclose says. "And I'm also sick for Eli's family and his friends."
Drienka and her mother, Lori, are working to keep Ashby's memory alive. They recently opened the Eli Ashby Healing Arts Center of Arvada in honor of the son-in-law and husband they had hoped to have. Lori had been looking at potential property for a healing-arts center just two weeks before the accident, and she almost bailed on the project after it happened, but she says a voice told her to "just do it."
Now she offers healing classes for people and animals, as well as massage and sessions with a clairvoyant. Lori also had ABATE come to the center and put on a program called Operation Save a Life, in which volunteers give motorists a 45-minute presentation to raise awareness about motorcycles and why they ride the way they do, taking up whole lanes and frequently maneuvering around cars.
"It's not that we don't know what we're doing; there's a purpose to it," says Terry Howard, Colorado's state coordinator for ABATE.
The organization counts Ashby as one of 81 motorcyclists killed in 2005 on Colorado roads; that's up from 80 in 2004 and 67 in 2003. And 2006 hasn't gotten off to a much better start. On January 10, two Harley-Davidson riders were hit by a Lexus on Speer Boulevard, causing them to crash into the two other bikes traveling with them. Though there were no fatalities, there were severe injuries, and the driver, Anna Abbott, has been charged with careless driving resulting in bodily injury.
Mike and Chris LaFore are all too familiar with this these types of tragedies -- and the light penalties served on those causing the accident ("Ride of Their Life," January 13, 2005). The LaFores own a custom-motorcycle shop in Lakewood, where their son Christian worked until he was killed in July 1999 -- while riding the bike he'd built. The woman who ran into him was never charged in his death. In October 2004, the LaFores lost their second son, Jace, to a motorcycle accident. He was hit by Gregory Nester, who was sentenced to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine, the maximum penalty.
This legislative session, state senator Lois Tochtrop intends to introduce a bill, which ABATE helped author, that would stiffen the penalties for careless or reckless driving resulting in death or serious bodily injury. Under the proposed law, a driver charged with careless driving resulting in serious bodily injury would face a six-month revocation of his license and a $500 mandatory fine. For death, the maximum penalty of $1,000 would be mandatory, and drivers would lose their license for one year, with the possibility of a year in jail.
Four years ago, when she was a state representative, Tochtrop introduced a similar bill that failed. She believes she'll have more success this time because the legislation would apply to more than just bikers; it would also include bicyclists, skateboarders, pedestrians and anyone else who is the victim of a careless or reckless driver.
"It's gotten crazy out there," says Tochtrop, who rides her own Harley-Davidson less frequently these days.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Denver, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.