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'I got the second chance': Deadly Flagstaff bike crash survivor speaks out after losing his leg

As Dapper Dre balances his new reality, the City of Flagstaff is trying to better balance bikes and cars.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — A lot can change in a year. But the reminder of what was lost remains constant at the corner of Beaver Street and Butler Avenue in Flagstaff.

"When you wake up in a hospital bed not knowing what happened to you and then get explained you were run over by a tow truck," said Dre Adauto. "It’s a pretty extreme thing to hear and, you know, that’s day one."

RELATED: Flagstaff community rallying to support cyclists after deadly crash with truck

On May 28, 2021, leading into Memorial Day weekend, Flagstaff police said a tow truck ran a red light and plowed into a group of cyclists who were out on a ride to promote bike visibility and safety.

The crash killed 29-year-old cyclist Joanna Wheaton and sent at least 3 others to the hospital, including Adauto, who is best known in Flagstaff as Dapper Dre.

"That night I was super mobile," he shared. "Athletic. Capable. And then next moment I’m dealing with the idea that I’m going to have one leg for the rest of my life. Anybody can have that."

Dapper Dre lost his right leg in the crash. And despite his injuries, he still finds reason to smile.

"If I let sadness take over it’s just not worth it," he said. "I got a second chance. And you have to laugh about some of this stuff."

He said the first six months were tough and filled with challenges.

"And these last six months have been hope," he shared.

He now has a prosthetic leg and has been relearning how to walk.  His goal is to one day get back on a bike. 

"If I learn to walk, that means I’m going to dance," he said. "If I learn to ride bikes, that means I’ll continue to live. If you get a second chance at life, you've got to live it all the way, all the way up. Because other people didn’t get that chance."

The tow truck driver from the crash, Norman Cloutier, was arrested for death by moving violation. Some police and court records also list his name as Normand.

The police report claimed Cloutier was using his phone when he ran the red light. Cloutier claimed the sun was a factor. 

The Coconino County Attorney’s office wouldn’t provide an update on his criminal case.

"A little mistake means people lose their lives," Dapper Dre said. "[It] means people lose their limbs. And that’s from not paying attention."

As Dre balances his new reality, the city is trying better to balance bikes and cars. In the wake of the crash, Flagstaff City Council approved and implemented a pilot program for barrier bike lanes with more visibility.

"I think we’re taking some significant steps forward with the city," said Flagstaff City Council member Adam Shimoni. "But it’s tough to prioritize cyclists and pedestrians and our most vulnerable over the needs of our vehicles."

Shimoni is a fellow cyclist and wants to see the pilot program expand to include more barriered biked lanes on more streets.  He said the challenge is retro-fitting roads that already exist.

"No one little segment is going to solve the problem," Shimoni said.

Plus, the city had to navigate the new bike lanes during snow removal this past winter.

"We're learning from year one," Shimoni added.

A sergeant with Flagstaff police told 12 News there had been 16 crashes between cars and bikes so far in 2022, compared to the 13 crashes in June of last year. The difference is that none of the crashes in 2022 so far have been fatal.

Dapper Dre is eager to get back on a hopefully safer road.  His steps act as a constant reminder of what's happened, but also what's possible in a year's time.

"What’s to stop for?" he said. "I got the second chance."

Dapper Dre and some of the other victims have filed lawsuits against the tow truck driver and towing company in the wake of the crash.  Attorneys for those defendants didn’t respond to 12 News' requests for comment.

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