Roethlisberger exits surgery after serious motorcycle crash

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Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh Police stand near Ben Roethlisberger's motorcycle, which was heavily damaged when he collided with a car today at the intersection of Second Avenue near the 10th Street Bridge.
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Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger exited surgery tonight for treatment of facial injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident along Second Avenue near the 10th Street Bridge this morning.

A medical team completed work on what was described as multiple facial fractures at 9 p.m. and Roethlisberger's condition was reported to be serious, but stable, and not expected to change overnight.

Speaking for the medical team Dr. Daniel Pituch, chief of Mercy's division of oral and maxillofacial surgery, said that Roethlisberger's brain, spine, chest and abdomen appeared to be without serious injury and, at this time, there were no other confirmed injuries from the accident. The procedure took about seven hours and all the facial fractures were successfully repaired, he said.

Earlier, Dr. Larry Jones of Mercy Hospital addressed the media at 1:25 p.m. and said that Roethlisberger was in serious but stable condition and was headed to surgery. The doctor did not detail the injuries, but a source said they included a broken jaw, chipped tooth, broken nose and head lacerations.

Jones said that Roethlisberger was talking, was coherent and was cognizant of the situation.

Police confirmed Roethlisberger, 24, was not wearing a helmet as he operated his 2005 Suzuki Hayabusa cycle.

Roethlisberger was injured shortly after 11:15 a.m. at the Second Avenue side of the bridge near the Armstrong Tunnel.

One Steelers source said Roethlisberger was in surgery for a broken jaw, an injury that can take approximately seven weeks to heal. The Steelers season starts in 12 weeks.

Steelers president Art Rooney II released a statement this afternoon.

"On behalf of everyone within the Steelers organization, I want to express my concern for Ben Roethlisberger. I am sure Ben knows that we are praying for his complete recovery. So far, we have been encouraged by the early reports from the medical team at Mercy Hospital."

Rooney's statement indicated that the Steelers public relations staff would pass along further updates as they became available.

Retired halfback Jerome Bettis, in California today, was keeping in touch with some people in the organization and said the reports he's received are that Roethlisberger will be fine.

"First, it's good to see he's not in bad shape, as a friend, and to make sure he's OK," said Bettis. "Another good thing is it is minor enough that it shouldn't affect him on the field this fall."

Sandra Ford, a Homewood writer and artist, was waiting for a bus near the bridge about 11 a.m. She saw a rugged-looking white man with curly hair on his motorcycle driving along the avenue heading toward the bridge.

In the opposite direction, a Chrysler was approaching and preparing to make the turn.

"I kept waiting for the motorcyclist to slow down," she said. "He never stopped and just plowed into the car."

The car, a New Yorker with Maine plates, was driven by Martha Fleishman, 62, of Squirrel Hill, who made a left turn toward the bridge in front of the cyclist. The motorcycle hit the car and Roethlisberger flew into the windshield and then hit the ground head first.

Roethlisberger was bleeding heavily from a head injury, and blood pooled on the pavement. The witness said he was not wearing a helmet.

The entire front end of the motorcycle, was destroyed. The car sustained damage on the passenger side door. Fleishman's husband, Martin, confirmed in a telephone interview that his wife was the driver but said the couple didn't want to discuss what happened.

"We really have no statement," Martin Fleishman said. "We certainly hope everything goes well for Mr. Roethlisberger, but we have no other statement. Certainly this is terrible and unfortunate. We hope he has a speedy recovery."

He wouldn't comment on his wife's physical or emotional condition in the wake of the accident other than to say, "She's doing as best as she can."

Ford said she believes Roethlisberger, who wasn't speeding, but going at a pretty good clip, never saw the car. "He had to be looking somewhere else, he just sailed across the intersection."

It was a crazy scene, said Ford, still shaken from the accident two hours after it happened. At the time of the accident, she did not know it was the Steelers' quarterback. She found out when she got home and saw the TV news.

Ford said that she heard a crunching sound and saw Roethlisberger fly from his motorcycle and into the car.

Afterward, Roethlisberger tumbled off the car and lay still in the street. "He lay so still, I thought he had died."

About 11:23, Ford began taking notes and talking to the driver of the car.

By this time, the driver had gotten from the car and asked Roethliesberger to remain still when he began trying to move.

"His face was all bloody. I saw blood pooling under his head," Ford said.

Police Cmdr. Thomas Stangrecki said that an accident reconstruction team would investigate the cause of the accident. A statement released late this afternoon said the probe was continuing and that no decision had been made about whether charges would be filed.

Police spokeswoman Tammy Ewin also stressed that accident investigations can take "weeks, not hours" to complete.

Roethlisberger has been known to refuse to wear a helmet when operating his cycle.

Steelers coach Bill Cowher addressed the issue with Roethlisberger in May 2005 after Cleveland Browns tight end Kellen Winslow's accident riding a Suzuki GSX-R750 in suburban Cleveland. Winslow hit a curb in a parking lot and was ejected from his bike, injuring his knee.

"It's one of those things, where he talked about being a risk-taker and I'm not really a risk-taker, I'm pretty conservative and laid back," Roethlisberger told the Post-Gazette. "So the big thing is just be careful and that's what we do. I think every person that rides is careful. That's the biggest thing, I'll just continue to be careful. I told him we never ride alone, we always ride in a group of people, and I think that makes it more safe."

While Winslow's contract forbade him from riding a motorcycle, Roethlisberger's contract does not prohibit him from riding motorcycles, even helmetless. The standard NFL contract prohibits risky behavior, but that is noat precisely defined. Pennsylvania repealed its mandatory helmet law in 2003.

"I think that's my own discretion," Roethlisberger said about not wearing a helmet when he rides. "Obviously, Pennsylvania doesn't think people need to."

During an interview last year, Steelers Hall-of-Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw offered one piece of advice for Roethlisberger about his motorcycle.

"Ride it when you retire. That's the way I feel. Those things are dangerous."

More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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Correction/Clarification: An earlier version of this story included one or more photos by Allan Detrich. The photos have been removed from view. This action is explained in a note to our readers .


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