With his wife, parents and closest friends by his side, professional motocross biker Kenny Steinke opened his eyes Monday at the Georgia Regents Medical Center and began to move his limbs.
Although brief, the signs of life were a major win for Steinke, who quickly faded back into a coma and has not awoken since.
A day earlier, the 27-year-old was on life support and without movement, after breaking two ribs and suffering a severe blow to the head while performing a trick during a monster truck competition Saturday in Augusta.
Having already successfully completed multiple stunts at James Brown Arena – a venue where Steinke has competed in years past – the Florida freestyler pulled his right leg over his handlebars and leaned back. But suddenly, Steinke lost his footing and his bike went sprawling onto the concrete, amateur video of the fall shows.
“The doctors say he is getting better and we keep praying he will wake up,” Ashley Steinke, Kenny Steinke’s wife, said Tuesday at the hospital. “But at this point, it’s up to him.”
The accident has sent shockwaves throughout the local BMX community, prompting hundreds of fans to pray for the young man, amid questions of whether state law requires show organizers to have an emergency plan in place or paramedics on site when hosting extreme sporting events.
“The short answer is no,” said Nancy Nydam, media relations manager with the Georgia Department of Public Health. “All emergency preparation and procedure plans are done by the event organizer and in some cases, with the venue. Many times they will hire off-duty paramedics to be on site and of course, 911 would respond if they were called.”
It is unclear if James Brown Arena or Monster Truck Entertainment, the motorsports company that hosted the weekend tour through Augusta, had a procedure in place. Neither returned multiple phone calls or e-mails seeking comment.
However, a special-duty deputy with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office was assigned to the event, according to an incident report released Tuesday. The officer reported the fall as accidental.
Motocross accidents are a common occurrence and a growing concern around the nation, as off-road vehicles generate far more serious injuries than mainstream sports and activities.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported in 2011 – the latest year for available data – that more than 60,000 people were injured in wrecks involving dirt bikes. Of that total, 5,376 people were treated for head trauma, 3,958 needed hospital care and one person died, statistics show.
When all-terrain vehicles are added to the mix, hospital admissions jump to 26,523 people, which is more than injuries related to exercise equipment (23,815), football (9,822) or horseback riding (9,506).
There is good news though. Overall, motocross injuries have steadily declined, decreasing by 24 percent in the past five years, after peaking at 79,000 injuries – 6,359 for head trauma – in 2007. Some attribute the reduction to the Monster Truck Racing Association, which added freestyle to its competitions in the past decade.
The move means all competing motocross drivers must abide by the association’s 50-page rulebook, which requires performers to be licensed and have their vehicles inspected and certified by the association annually and following a crash.
Marty Garza, communications director for the Monster Truck Racing Association said the organization is aware of the incident. However, since it “in no way pertained to monster trucks,” it is not within the group’s charter to investigate. Monster Truck Entertainment is a member of the association.
Steinke’s mother, Linda Steinke, said her son has been a motocross competitor since 2005, performing in shows in Costa Rica, Ecuador and Guatemala. She said he has injured himself, but never during an event, getting two plates and 18 screws in his arm for a fall during a test-run of a ramp.
“You try to prevent an injury from happening as much as possible, but that is the risk you take with the job,” she said. “It’s the ‘nature of the beast’ as they say.”