'Wanted to be home': A record high, SC motorcyclist deaths devastate families

·4 min read

Christopher Matthews had been trying to make it home for supper.

The 45-year-old was riding his Harley Davidson home from Clemson on Nov. 2, 2021 when he lost control of his motorcycle, crashed into the back of a pick-up truck and was hurled into the air, his fiancé, Olivia Tollison, said.

The two were planning to get married this year, but like any fatal motorcycle wreck, Matthews’ death changed everything.

Fatal motorcycle crashes across South Carolina rose sharply in 2021 compared to prior years — being higher than they have been in decades — and law enforcement leaders say distracted driving and people spending more time traveling in a post-pandemic year were to blame.

The 154 motorcyclists who died last year was a higher total than any other year since 1980, when the South Carolina Department of Public Safety began collecting data in the state’s Traffic Collision Fact Book.

Previously, the high death toll was in 2016 with 139 motorcyclist deaths across South Carolina. In 2020, there were 116, which was a 9% decrease from the 118 deaths in 2019.

The Greenville News reported back in March 2021 that motorcycle collisions were on the rise. State Highway Patrol Trooper Joel Hovis said then that he was concerned the trend in the first three months of 2021 would continue, and it did.

The most populated of the state's 46 counties, Greenville accounts for 10.2% of the state's population, according to Census Bureau estimates, and it accounted for 10.3% (16) of the motorcycle fatalities of 2021.

In 2021, Anderson County accounted for nine of the fatal motorcycle collisions while Spartanburg County accounted for 12 and Pickens County accounted for 10, according to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety's traffic fatalities dashboard.

Most likely an increase of collisions has to do with people wanting to spend more time outside after a year of many people staying in their homes because of the COVID-19 pandemic, state Highway Patrol Trooper Mitchell Ridgeway said.

Christopher Matthews, 45, and his daughter Caylon
Christopher Matthews, 45, and his daughter Caylon

Matthews had been traveling east on US 76 near Tri-County Technical College in Pendleton when he lost control of his vehicle and crashed, according to the Anderson County Coroner's Office.

Speed appeared to be a factor, according to the coroner. He was also not wearing a helmet and died of blunt force trauma, the coroner’s office said.

Tollison said he was heading home from Clemson because he wanted to be home for supper with his family. He had been a motorcycle rider for years.

“We have a lot of friends that ride motorcycles and I can't stress this enough that if there was a possibility that Chris could still be here, he should've worn a helmet," she said.

In South Carolina, only motorcycle riders under the age of 21 are required by law to wear helmets — though helmets reduce the risk of death by 37% and reduce the risk of head injury by 69%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

After Matthews’ crash, a passerby came to his aid and told him things would be OK and reassured him, Tollison said.

"It takes a lot for a random person who saw the collision to be with him during his last moments," she said.

Christopher Matthews with his daughter Caylon, son Bradley and Olivia Tollison
Christopher Matthews with his daughter Caylon, son Bradley and Olivia Tollison

The Highway Patrol recommends that motorcycle riders enroll in safety training to learn how to better control their motorcycles, wear a helmet and become a defensive driver.

Motorcyclists are considered vulnerable roadway users, Ridgeway said.

"You must be on the defense at all times and expect the unexpected. You have to expect that someone is going to come in front of you, someone is not looking for a motorcyclist. I think if people do that your chance in being involved in something (a wreck) goes down," Ridgeway said.

In 2020, South Carolina had 146,213 on-road registered motorcycles. That increased to 148,851 in 2021, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an independent nonprofit organization.

Tollison said Matthews was generous to everyone and leaves behind a legacy of having a positive personality.

"He made everybody laugh, that was his main goal,” Tollison said. “Didn't matter where he went, if he saw someone that was upset, he would make sure they had a smile on their face before he left.”

Tamia Boyd is a Michigan native who covers breaking news in Greenville. Email her at tboyd@gannett.com, and follow her on Twitter @tamiamb.

This article originally appeared on Greenville News: Motorcyclist deaths have reached record high in South Carolina

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