The day started like most others, except on this particular June morning, 14-year-old Hayden Stinchfield was running a little late to his first class at Washougal High.
Normally, Hayden would have worn his bicycle helmet. And he wouldn’t have been going as fast as he was, biking down the hill on “M” Street between his house and his school.
“I was in a rush that day,” Hayden says, remembering the morning of June 16. “When I hit the pothole, my wheel detached from my bike.”
Not realizing what had happened to his wheel, Hayden hit his brakes. Hard. But only the front brake engaged. The rear brake had disconnected.
“I tipped off and went into the curb,” Hayden says. “I landed on my face and slid about 10 feet.”
Adrenaline kept Hayden from realizing the extent of his injuries, but when the teenager stood up, he automatically knew that the situation was worse than he had originally thought.
“I spit and saw blood,” Hayden says. “I knew that wasn’t good … so I called my dad and he came right away.”
Hayden is the eldest child of Tracey and Tom Stinchfield, of Washougal. When Tom arrived at the scene of his son’s accident, he saw that Hayden’s top, front teeth had been severely damaged — pushed back into his mouth, but saved from coming out completely by Hayden’s braces. After making sure that Hayden didn’t have other, more pressing injuries, Tom, a dentist, rushed his son to his Washougal Discovery Dental clinic and worked to save his front teeth.
Hayden’s mother, Tracey, says she found out about the accident moments later, from her two daughters, 11-year-old Danica and 9-year-old Alyssa. The girls told her that Hayden had been in a bike accident and that Tom had rushed him to his dental office.
When Tracey showed up, she saw her first-born’s face covered in blood.
“I really just started counting my blessings,” Tracey says. “I thought about how easily it could have been much worse.”
Hayden says he also realized, despite the bumps and scrapes covering his face and his teeth being nearly pushed out of his mouth, that he came away from the accident a lucky boy.
“It could have been a lot worse,” Hayden says. “If I’d twisted or hit my head … I was lucky that I didn’t have a concussion … but I will definitely wear a helmet now!”
Camas Police Chief Mitch Lackey says stories like Hayden’s aren’t that uncommon — but they often have much different, more heartbreaking outcomes.
Bad things happen when you least expect it,” Lackey says. “You’re running late, going a little bit fast, doing something you’ve done 1,000 times before … that’s when it happens.”
Even small, low-speed accidents can be devastating when people aren’t wearing helmets, Lackey adds.
“It doesn’t have to be a full face slam,” the police chief says. “We’ve seen accidents where people didn’t even hit their heads with a lot of force (and had severe injuries).”
That’s why the chief and his officers promote helmets for all bicyclists and skateboarders.
Thanks to an anonymous donor, the Camas Police Department was able to purchase $2,000 worth of helmets.
Tami Strunk, the city’s code enforcement officer, helped pick out a variety of styles, colors and sizes at the Walmart off 192nd Avenue, last week.
“We have helmets for all ages, but more for ages 7 or 8 up to teens Hayden’s age,” Lackey says. “We used to get the government-issued white helmets, but kids didn’t want to wear them. They weren’t cool.”
Walmart gives the police department a discount on the helmets, Lackey says, which helped stretch the anonymous $2,000 donation this year.
“Instead of getting 80 or 90 helmets, we were able to buy about 120,” Lackey says.
Now, officers will try to distribute the helmets to youth who need them.
“We give them away for free,” Lackey says. “My officers will carry them in their vehicles and give them to kids when they see them out riding around without a helmet on.”
Strunk, who most Camas-area residents recognize from her tiny parking enforcement car, keeps a few helmets in her code-enforcement car and also has room for a couple helmets inside her parking-enforcement “meter maid” vehicle.
“We see a of kids at the skatepark who aren’t wearing helmets, so sometimes we’ll hand them out there,” Strunk says.
Helmet recipients don’t have to live in Camas-Washougal, Lackey says. He just wants to see heads covered by helmets. His officers can drop the helmets off a house, if requested to do so, or parents or teens can swing by the Camas Police Department and pick up a free helmet, no questions asked.
“We just want to get them out there and see (youth) wearing them,” Lackey says.
For more information about the free helmets, stop by the Camas Police Department at 2100 N.E. Third Ave., Camas, or call 360-834-4151.