Part 2 of a 4-story series
The warm air rushed past Rick Tesso as he drove his motorcycle east on Washington Center Road after a day at work in the parts department of Dimension Ford.
Strapped to his head was a black half helmet, one without face protection. He wore it to appease his girlfriend, who at the same time was starting her day half a world away in Australia.
Fort Wayne was cloudy but dry that Friday, June 17, as Rick – in the far right lane of the four-lane street – neared the McDonalds just east of Lima Road. As he approached, a 2002 Buick Century, attempting a left turn onto Washington Center from the restaurant parking lot, pulled in front of him.
Rick put down a long skid mark trying to stop, but his 2007 Honda Shadow plowed into the car. The impact crumpled the drivers door and sent Rick headfirst into the Buick.
He lay unconscious on the pavement, as paramedics were sent to the scene about 6:15 p.m. They hurried him to Lutheran Hospital in critical condition.
There was bleeding on Ricks brain, but his worst injuries were to his torso. He had a broken pelvis and a great deal of internal bleeding. He underwent emergency surgery and was given more than 40 pints of blood.
Family members were told he might not live through the night.
By the time Ricks mom, Dorothy Harris, and his sisters, Debby Adams and Teresa Tesso, left the hospital at 4 a.m., he had fallen into a coma.
Rick and his girlfriend, Albina Dragoli, had plans to talk the night of the crash.
I thought it was strange he didnt give me a call because he gives me a call every night, she said. I thought, Oh, hes probably gone out with the boys or something happened, you know, like that.
When she checked her Facebook page from her home outside Melbourne, she read a message from Teresa. It said Rick had been in a motorcycle accident and did not have long to live.
Knowing Rick to be a prankster, Albina initially thought the message was a joke. But when she called Ricks house and heard his sisters crying on the other end, she knew it was real.
She just lost it when we told her what happened, Debby said.
Rick, 54, and Albina, 46, had known each other for more than two years. They met while playing blackjack online.
They had never seen each other in person, but they had developed their relationship through phone calls, letters and video chats.
They had been discussing marriage. There were plans for her to visit the U.S. and for him to go to Australia.
Now Albinas focus turned toward being with Rick as soon as she could.
Is it OK if I come over there? If I can get the money, can I come over there? Debby recalled Albina asking.
Debby told her Rick was in a coma and that he wouldnt know shes there.
I dont care, Albina told Debby, because I want to come over there.
With Debbys consent, Albina started planning a trip to Fort Wayne.
While Rick was badly hurt, the driver of the Buick, a 59-year-old woman from Angola, and her front-seat passenger, a 13-year-old girl, were not seriously injured. Both had facial injuries with minor bleeding and were hospitalized in fair condition.
The Buick driver told police she did not see Ricks black-and-silver motorcycle approaching. A police investigation blamed the crash solely on her failure to yield.
Even though she was found to be at fault, authorities decided not to cite or charge her. In their eyes, her failure to yield did not reach the level of criminal liability.
Albina obtained a travel visa. She received time off from work and arranged for her ex-husband to take care of her 12-year-old son.
Because she was flying on short notice, her round-trip ticket cost $3,500. Determined to go despite the cost, she took out a loan to pay for the ticket and about $500 in travel insurance.
In the days before she left, she spoke to Rick a couple of times while he lay in a coma. As a phone was held to his ear, she told him that she loved him, that he had to fight.
She told him she was going to keep her promise: She was coming to see him.
About two weeks after the crash, Albina boarded a jet at Melbourne Airport, beginning her journey of more than 9,700 miles.