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Truax recovers, reflects at home

Forest Grove mayor says he won't ride scooter again after accident


by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax talks about his May 7 motor-scooter accident and its aftermath from a couch in his Forest Gale Heights living room. A Pacific University alum but a fan of the University of Washington, Truax wears the signature Husky colors of purple and gold as he rests up.His leather riding jacket is shredded.

His helmet is wrecked.

His blue Honda Elite 80 is totaled.

His face bears contusions and scrapes, and his midsection displays surgical scars.

But two weeks after crashing his motor-scooter, followed by six days in the hospital, Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax’s spirit and resolve remain intact.

Reclining on his family room couch last Friday, propped up by pillows cushioning five broken ribs on his left side, Truax said he’s already made one important decision: “I’m not riding scooters anymore. I’m not sure I want to put my wife through that kind of hell again.”

Although Truax, 67, will recover from the May 7 accident — in which he lost control of his vehicle while negotiating a turn from Northwest Thatcher Road onto Watercrest Drive and wound up in a ditch — he said he’s keenly aware he came very close to losing his life.

“I was going a little bit too fast around the corner, and the bike started drifting,” said Truax. “I went over into some gravel, and the last thing I remember thinking is, ‘This isn’t gonna be good.’”

Truax figures he blacked out for a short period of time because he can’t remember encountering Jeanne Pfluke, a neighbor who came running to the intersection after hearing the crash and lent aid until emergency personnel arrived. Pfluke's husband, Bill Ballard, called 911.

The next thing Truax recalls is Forest Grove Police Capt. Mike Herb — who was a student of Truax’s years ago when he was a teacher at Neil Armstrong Middle School — standing over him, telling him not to move and that everything was going to be OK.

“It went from ‘Uh-oh’ to ‘Hi there, officer,’” Truax said.

The pull-down visor on his black wrap-around helmet had shattered and snapped off in the impact, but the helmet was still on his head.

“The helmet saved my life,” Truax said somberly. “There’s no doubt about that.”

Surgery same night

Transported via Life-Flight helicopter to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland, Truax had surgery that night after X-rays showed his diaphragm was "pushed up and tilted," he said. Doctors repaired several minor lacerations to the mayor’s spleen and adrenal gland. They put him on painkillers to assuage severe discomfort from the rib fractures.

He was in the intensive-care unit for three days.

“You don’t realize how much your ribs are involved in everything you do,” from standing up to rolling over to reaching for a glass of iced tea, said Truax. The ride home from Emanuel last Tuesday in the family car was “brutal,” he added. “I felt every little bump — rumble strips, potholes, you name it.”

While the mayor rests up, his wife, Pat, is doing the lion’s share of caretaking — fixing his meals, monitoring his meds, screening phone calls and mitigating a near-constant stream of visitors.

“She’s been a rock,” said Pete. “Her equilibrium is such that I can’t tell if she’s upset or scared or what. But she’s been super … just super.”

Pat Truax first learned about the accident when Forest Grove Fire Marshal Dave Nemeyer — a friend for many years — knocked on her door.

"He said, 'You'd better get your purse and coat, because Pete's been in an accident,'" recalled Pat, a retired teacher. "I started panicking, but he calmed me down.

"Before we even got in his car, I knew Pete was OK."

At the accident scene, Pat was able to see, touch and talk to Pete. "That helped a lot," she said. "I said a few words to him as they were loading him onto the gurney, and then he was off in the helicopter."

Nemeyer drove Pat to the hospital and "just kept talking" to keep her calm, she said. In the emergency room, she recognized one of the nurses as a former student of hers at Cornelius Elementary.

"It takes a village," said Pat of the coincidence.

Family members, including Pete Truax’s two sisters and the sons, John and James, came to the hospital and have been in close touch since his homecoming. Cornelius Mayor Jef Dalin paid him a visit at Emanuel and Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle sent him a humorous text message.

Tigard Mayor Lou Ogden lifted his spirits — and gave him something to think about — with an emailed get-well note.

“He said there are two kinds of motorcycle riders — those that have taken a dive and those that will,” said Truax. “That’s so true.”

Between hours napping on the couch and hours watching sports on TV, Truax has had plenty of time to reflect on life after the accident, which was his first. He knows he's lucky to be alive.

"You think about all kinds of things," he said. "Like how close you came to disaster, and how many people were affected."

His face grows serious when he talks about the “boatload of care” he received post-wreck, during his hospital stay and even now, as the cards and bouquets of flowers keep coming.

“I’m well aware of the fact that I pulled a lot of people away from their other responsibilities that evening,” said Truax. “I pulled the fire department away and I pulled the police away. My situation activated LifeFlight. I put a lot of people out" when there were — or could have been — other calls for help coming in at the same time.

“I spent a lot of an insurance company’s money,” he added, indicating he was not at all happy to be the center of that kind of attention, even though emergency responders were "superb — absolutely professional and wonderful.”

Still, “I would rather be a public servant than be served by the public,” he said.

'Special kind of community'

A Forest Grove resident since 1964, when he arrived as a Pacific University freshman, Truax has spent most of those 50 years in the public-servant role, from his days as a teacher and administrator in the Forest Grove school system to his time as a city councilor and now as mayor.

Beyond those official positions, Truax has involved himself in numerous extracurricular activities — calling games for the high school football team, raising money for the Salvation Army through a celebrity ring-off, emceeing the Stars in the Grove citywide talent show — connecting with thousands of residents along the way.

Yet he seems surprised by all the affection shown him since his accident, marveling at the flood of Facebook messages, phone calls, visits and gifts.

“This is a unique, special kind of community,” he said. “This kind of outpouring happens after all sorts of incidents, whether it’s an unexpected death or my thing. Forest Grove is not small anymore, but that great small-town character is still there.”

It’s been “gratifying and heartwarming,” he said, “to find out that people really do care a lot about you.”

Pat, too, has felt the community's embrace as she continues to care for her husband, who she said has "gone from purple and black to a kind of sickly green and yellow" over the last two weeks as his wounds and bruises heal.

"People have brought meals, sent wonderful cards and called," she noted. "I have just felt uplifted with support. I know that if I need anything, all I have to do is pick up the phone."

Truax hopes to be back in the mayoral saddle again soon. He’s got Tuesday, May 27 circled on his calendar — the next Forest Grove City Council meeting.

“I’ll put a phone call in to [City Manager] Mike Sykes at the very least, and go to the meeting if I can.” After spending another week “on the down-low,” he said, “I’ll be in the loop.”

He’s grateful to Council President Tom Johnston for serving in his stead while he’s been laid up, and to other city leaders and staff who’ve carried on the city’s business without a hiccup.

“They may have been worried about me, but they didn’t miss a lick,” said Truax.

A month from now, Truax hopes to travel to Las Vegas for his granddaughter’s third birthday party — but not before he presides over the adoption of Forest Grove’s 2014-15 operating budget. “My vacation begins after that,” he said.

In the meantime, the mayor plans to sleep a lot, read the newspaper, do his crossword puzzles and take it easy, all the while maintaining his wry sense of humor.

“I’ve told more than one person that of all the highway construction materials, gravel's the best-tasting,” Truax joked. "Seriously though, we're getting there. I'm better than I was when they put me in the helicopter."

Five years ago, after buying his blue 2008 Honda Elite 80 motor-scooter, Pete Truax made a decision to strap on a helmet every time he went for a ride.

It was the law in Oregon, after all, and he "just felt better" riding that way — even though he typically reached maxiumum speeds of only 25 to 30 mph on jaunts from Forest Grove City Hall to his home in Forest Gale Heights.

"You can have issues even then," said Truax, who liked to ride during nice weather in the spring and summer and enjoyed the fuel efficiency the bike afforded him.

"I'd get up to 100 miles per gallon" of gasoline, he noted.

But since crashing his scooter into a ditch near his home May 7, the Forest Grove mayor feels even more strongly that Oregon's helmet statute — one of the most stringent in the nation — just makes good sense.

"I respect the idea of personal freedom," he said. "But I think the greater good of society trumps individual freedom in this case."

He's aware he's taken some flak from the public for pushing other policies in Forest Grove that might be viewed as straddling the line between personal choice and the public good.

"I'm working on creating designated smoking areas for public events, and litter-free zones in the downtown," he said. "Some folks don't like that.

"People are saying I'm leading the charge for taking away personal freedoms, but I don't see it that way."

Support for the entire "culture of the community" includes sensible, life-saving helmet laws, Truax said. "You can have problems riding along at just 25 mph."

According to consumer reports.org, Oregon is among only 20 states that require people to wear a helmet while operating a motorcycle. That includes passengers riding behind the driver. Nineteen states require a helmet only for riders age 17 and under. And three states — Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire — have no helmet law at all.

For Truax, legally mandated helmet rules promote safety, and for that reason, they make sense.

"If I hadn't been wearing a helmet, the chances of me getting through this [accident] would have taken a definite dive," he said. "I'm alive because I had it on."




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