"I've been doing collision reconstruction for eight years now, and I have never seen anything like it in my life."
That's how Graves Sheriff's Deputy Jason Harpole described a wreck Friday in which a Paducah man was knocked off his motorcycle by a buzzard.
The Graves County Sheriff's Office said Max Russell, 68, was riding a 2003 Honda motorcycle north on Ky. 97, about three miles north of the Tennessee state line, when the buzzard struck Russell in the helmet, knocking him unconscious. The buzzard was killed on impact.
Harpole said emergency dispatch got the call about 9:30 a.m.
"A woman called 911 and said there's a man lying in the road, he's had a motorcycle wreck, he's unconscious and he's bleeding," he said.
When Harpole arrived, he said, Russell was conscious and lying near the edge of the road surrounded by good Samaritans who had stopped to help. The motorcycle had slid about 75 feet past where Russell was lying, he said.
"I asked him what happened â ¦ and he said 'I don't know, an animal must have run out in front of me. I'm not sure,'" Harpole said.
So Harpole did some detective work.
"I started back-tracking his trail, and as I was going back, I found some feathersâ ¦ I went down a little farther and saw the visor to his helmet in the middle of the road," he said.
Confused, Harpole said he started looking around the area and found a dead possum in a ditch on the right side of the road.
"Then I look on the other side of the road and there the buzzard is, and it's dead."
Harpole said the buzzard must have been eating the dead possum when the noise of Russell's motorcycle startled it, causing the bird to take flight. But instead of flying away from the motorcycle, Harpole said the bird "flew right into (Russell's) face."
Harpole estimated Russell was going 58 to 60 mph at the point of impact. The motorcycle slid about 200 feet from the point where it was dropped, Harpole said, and Russell slid about 125 feet.
Russell was taken to Jackson Purchase Medical Center and later transferred to a hospital in Nashville.
After talking to Russell's family, Harpole said Russell suffered a possible fractured vertebrae in his neck and a collapsed lung. The deputy said Russell's family said he is in stable condition but will need surgery.
"It's definitely not something you see every day," Harpole said. "If it hadn't been for his helmet, I think it would have been a lot worse. If (Russell) hadn't been wearing a helmet, I think he'd probably be dead."