Friend finds, rescues motorcyclist
GEORGETOWN, N.D. - John Heinz woke up on his back in a rural Clay County ditch where he lay for at least 11 hours, unable to move. He was on U.S. Highway 75 half a mile north of Georgetown when the motorcycle left the road and crashed into the di...
GEORGETOWN, N.D. - John Heinz woke up on his back in a rural Clay County ditch where he lay for at least 11 hours, unable to move.
He was on U.S. Highway 75 half a mile north of Georgetown when the motorcycle left the road and crashed into the ditch about 4 p.m.
Heinz drifted in and out of consciousness surrounded by tall grass and cattails as the day passed. He didn't have his cell phone because it was with his motorcycle in his friend's possession and he couldn't get to his "only warning device."
"I couldn't get to my lighter. I tried like hell to reach it," he said Tuesday at Fargo's MeritCare Hospital where he is recovering and listed in guarded condition.
"The sun started to go down - that's when I got worried because there's critters out there."
Heinz's friends also were concerned when he failed to return by 5:30 p.m. He's a member of Fargo's Prometheus Motorcycle Club, which had several members participating in the diabetes fundraiser ride that day.
Founding club member Eric Marts notified other members of Heinz's disappearance. At least 23 members as far away as Bismarck and Alexandria, Minn., arrived to search because no one knew which roads Heinz used.
At about 3 a.m., Marts and his wife were driving along Highway 75 at a slow pace when he saw the motorcycle's taillight.
"I said 'there he is' then put it in park and started calling his name," Marts said. He called 911 at the same time on his cell to report the sighting.
"It was perfect timing," Heinz said recalling that he was starting to lose strength. Heinz said he stuck his hands up in the air as he heard Marts' voice, though his hands were barely visible over the ditch's tall grass.
Heinz was airlifted to MeritCare with a spinal cord injury, bruises and road rash. He was sedated for about eight days after doctors put pins in his neck to fuse his vertebrae together, Heinz's mother, Stella Heinz, said Tuesday while visiting her son. She is from Mount Airy, N.C.
Heinz's road to recovery will require rehabilitation, which could start at the end of the week. "It's going to test him but he's strong-willed," Stella Heinz said.
"The hardest thing for me was that he wasn't able to talk to me," she said of his sedation and his breathing apparatus.
"He's a talker - this is a man who could talk to a tree," quipped Heinz's girlfriend Carol Eckelberg.
Hospital workers removed the breathing tube from Heinz Tuesday while he visited with Marts, his mother, grandmother Edna Kornbrust and sister Jennifer Hall who also came from North Carolina.
Heinz said he plans on riding motorcycles again and looks forward to throwing a party after several days in intensive care.
"If I could, I'd give the whole town an A&W root beer float, I would for a party."
Marts said the Prometheus Motorcycle Club is planning a benefit next month to help cover Heinz's medical bills because he does not have health insurance. A bank account at Gate City bank has also been set up for Heinz, who worked as an independent truck driver.