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Friends, family come to aid of Libby man

| April 20, 2007 12:00 AM

By KYLE MCCLELLAN Western News Reporter

Twenty to 30 friends and co-workers raised more than $505 at a lunch fundraiser Tuesday in support of a Libby man who is lucky to be alive.

Ric Spencer, a truck driver whose work involves hauling and disposing contaminated soil for Environmental Restoration, was the guest of honor.

He was wearing a cumbersome white neck brace and sporting some cuts and scrapes over his left eye, but was as energetic and jovial as everyone else — a telling scene given the danger in which Spencer found himself on April 7.

He was riding his new Harley Davidson motorcycle that day when he pulled "one of the stupidest moves in my life," as he calls it.

It involved a miscalculated apex, excessive speed and loose gravel.

He was heading into town on Highway 56 near Bull Lake Road.

He was doing about 50 mph.

He remembers taking a left turn a little too late.

"The bike got into the sandy part of the road, I started to drift and then I tried to lift the bike up, but I couldn't," Spencer said.

The next thing he knew, he was at Northwest Regional Medical Center in Kalispell under the care of Dr. Robert Hollis.

He was unconcious during the helicopter ride there.

Spencer had broken five vertebrae in his upper back and lower neck.

He was transferred from intensive care on April 11, just in time to get a call from his son in Africa, a Marine who had heard about his 54-year-old-dad's accident.

"He was concerned about his dad. I don't remember talking to him but apparently I did," Spencer said.

He wasn't wearing a helmet at the time of the accident.

If he had been, his doctor said things would have been much different.

"If I would have been heavier, or if I would have been wearing a helmet, it would have killed me," he said.

More weight around the head area would have caused more bodily torque during impact, and thus more severe injury.

Doctors peeled bone from his hip to fuse into his cracked spine and neck. He said the worst part was not his physical injury, but "letting everybody down at work, everyone at my job, my family, my friends."

"I was never down. I had the best neurosurgeon in the Northwest. He (Hollis) saw it as a challenge. I just walked out of the hospital," Spencer said.

He was vivacious and spirited in the break room of Environmental Restoration as he feasted with supporters on spaghetti, meatballs, breadsticks and salad donated from Benke's Italian Garden south of Libby.

"When I get my training wheels on we'll hook up," Spencer said to a friend who asked about riding with him when he's better.

He returns to the hospital on April 26 for more X-rays. He said he should be cleared to work again in about a month.

For the next 2 1/2 months, he must wear the tight-fitting neck brace. It restricts his neck movement and forces him to twist and turn his entire body to view his periphery.

"I was gonna have this thing done up with black and a little white collar," he said.

"You ought to have your Harley bell put on it," said a friend sitting next to him during lunch.

"Oh my God, I never even thought of that," Spencer said. "I got my Harley bell right here."

As for his new Harley, "it's gonna be rebuilt — bigger and badder than ever," he said. "Eighteen-inch spinners — and training wheels."

Another friend at the table cut in: "As long as you pull the plug on one cylinder."

Spencer himself is almost rebuilt.

"I'm gonna be 100 percent. I'll be back and as good as I was before."