Motocross champ regrets accident that hurt friend

Auto crash last month left mechanic unable to walk

July 26, 2003|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

Local motocross phenom Travis Pastrana has built a multimillion-dollar career around gravity-defying stunts and impossible speeds.

Now the 19-year-old faces thousands of dollars in reckless driving fines and, he said, deep regret for his role in a crash last month that left a friend unable to walk.

Standing in a large motorbike garage on his property in Davidsonville yesterday, Pastrana said that he is reluctant to get behind the wheel of another car -- at least outside the racetrack. This at a time when he is trying to parlay a hugely successful motocross career into a future in auto racing.

Pastrana, fresh from a 30-minute practice ride on motorbike trails built behind his new home, wouldn't say much about the accident yesterday, but he has bared his soul about it to his fan base.

"My friend is in the hospital because I drove too fast," he said in an open letter on motocross Web sites. "I never thought it would happen and still can't believe it did, but I have never been more sorry in my entire life."

Pastrana was driving his 2003 Chevrolet Corvette with friends after midnight June 10 on a narrow road in Anne Arundel County near his home.

Matthew Bigos, 20, a mechanic from Merritt Island, Fla., rode in the front passenger seat of the Corvette, and Paul Perebijnos, 19, of Lake Worth, Fla., a champion motocross racer, followed on a motorcycle, the accident report said. The Floridians were in town for a national event at Budds Creek Motorpark in St. Mary's County.

Anne Arundel County Police -- who served Pastrana this week with three citations totaling $2,000 in fines -- said they believe he reached speeds of 85 mph to 95 mph on Rossback Road, where the posted speed limit is 35 mph.

When the Corvette crested a small hill, it spun out of control, hitting an oak tree before landing on its top, police said.

Pastrana was thrown from the car. Bigos had to be extricated by county emergency workers. Both were taken to trauma centers. Perebijnos was not involved in the accident.

Six weeks later, Pastrana said he has physically recovered, but Bigos still cannot walk, although he has regained some feeling in his legs.

Bigos, whose Florida phone number is unlisted, posted a letter on several Web sites detailing the extent of his injuries: four broken ribs, broken shoulder blades, a deep wound on his left arm and a severe spinal bruise. "At this point I have no feeling below my waist, but my doctors are very hopeful that I will recover," he wrote last month.

County prosecutors said they could not charge Pastrana with the more serious criminal offense of reckless endangerment -- which carries a possible five-year prison term -- because the way the law is written excludes motor vehicles. Pastrana's Maryland driving record shows three previous police encounters.

He pleaded guilty in July last year to driving without his registration. He was cited in March for driving his Corvette 81 mph in a 65-mph zone of U.S. 50 and paid a $53 fine. And records show that three days before the accident, Pastrana was pulled over in the Corvette on Route 170 and issued a citation for driving without a license.

Pastrana's injuries in the crash included displaced nerves in a thumb and several fingers and a hemorrhaging artery in his head. His collection of motocross injuries include at least 20 broken bones, a partially torn groin muscle, a dislocated spine and wrist fractures.

Because of his myriad bang-ups from motocross -- a sport that involves stunts and free-style competitions -- Pastrana said he has become increasingly interested in car racing. "I can't do this forever," he said yesterday.

In fact, the cover story of next month's Racer X magazine is a special report titled "Is Travis Pastrana Finished?"

His daredevil attitude was perhaps best displayed in September 1999 when he drove his motorbike into San Francisco Bay after winning the freestyle gold medal at ESPN's Summer X-Games.

His Web site, travis-pastra na.com, lists dozens of accolades, from 1998 (when he was 14) to last year. He was named ESPN Action Sports and Music Awards Motocross Rider of the Year in 2001 and won a gold medal at Summer Gravity Games last year.

But even as he weighs his next career move, Pastrana has remained a motocross marketing force, complete with a bobblehead doll and action figure. He said he plans to compete in the Summer X-Games next month in California.

His parents, Robert and Debby Pastrana, live near their son and have an active role in his career. Neither could be reached for comment yesterday.

The Pastranas last encountered Anne Arundel authorities about a year ago, when Robert Pastrana was charged with violating grading laws during the construction of winding bike trails at Travis Pastrana's home.

A county spokeswoman said yesterday that the family agreed to correct the environmental damage done by the illegal clearance of trees for the trails. The family was not issued any fines.

At the young Pastrana's rolling property yesterday, teen-agers on bicycles whipped down a steep paved driveway onto homemade ramps. They flipped backward high in the air before landing safely in a vat full of foam squares.

Pastrana kept a close eye on his friends as he reflected on the accident. He said he is hopeful -- but not certain -- that his friend will recover. He also said he no longer owns a car.

For a young man whose life has revolved around crash highlight reels and stunts that left his parents certain he would not walk away, accidents and injuries have been as commonplace as his high-paying corporate sponsorships.

But what makes this latest smashup so painful, he said, is that he hurt someone other than himself.

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