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Posted on Sat, Aug 4, 2012 : 9:35 a.m.

Motorcycle rider dies when car hits rear of broken-down bike

By Cindy Heflin

A man whose motorcycle had broken down was killed Friday evening on Pontiac Trail in Washtenaw County's Salem Township when a Ford Taurus slammed into the back of it, throwing him onto the car’s windshield, Michigan State Police said.

Willard Combs, 40, of Northville, was pronounced dead at the scene, police said in a news release.

Witnesses told police Combs was riding his 1998 Harley Davidson south on Pontiac Trail just north of Five Mile Road when it broke down. As Combs sat on his bike in the roadway, a 2005 Ford Taurus, driven south by Sarah Patton, 22, of South Lyon, struck the rear of the motorcycle.

The impact threw Combs, who police said was not wearing a helmet, onto the car’s windshield.

The crash, which occurred shortly after 6:30 p.m., caused the car’s airbag to deploy. Patton, who was wearing a seatbelt, suffered minor injuries and sought her own treatment, police said.

Police continue to investigate the crash. Alcohol is not believed to be a factor.

View Fatal motorcycle crash in a larger map

Cindy Heflin is associate news director at Contact her at or 734-623-2572 or follow her on Twitter.



Sun, Aug 5, 2012 : 11:09 p.m.

Dennis, Rose and Bud, I am sorry for the loss of your friend. From a fellow motorcycle rider.


Sun, Aug 5, 2012 : 8:28 p.m.

Oh geez... I drive/ride this route very frequently to visit my parents in South Lyon. Actually, just came back to A2 from there. There is pretty much no shoulder to pull off to on Pontiac Trail between Dixboro and 8 mile road. I really wish the SL girl was paying more attention. Condolences go out to the rider's family.


Sun, Aug 5, 2012 : 2:29 p.m.

I agree with A A Residewnt - cell phones are akin to guns at a crime scene. After any accident police should confiscate all cell phone(s) or least get their numbers for any evident record of misuse. Do helmetless pedestrians now also have to add extra insurance to compensate society?


Sun, Aug 5, 2012 : 8:16 p.m.

a helmet is required if the ped is exceeding 50 mph

5c0++ H4d13y

Sun, Aug 5, 2012 : 3:55 p.m.

I think that idea would run afoul of the bill of rights.

A A Resident

Sun, Aug 5, 2012 : 11:15 a.m.

I hope the police checked the woman's phone for any kind of activity (including texting or internet) just prior to the crash. As a motorcycle rider, I believe this has been a contributor to making riding much more dangerous. It's not just about motorcycles though. A bicyclist or pedestrian could have suffered the same fate.

Bud Woodard

Sun, Aug 5, 2012 : 6:55 a.m.

either way the driver wasn't looking at the surroundings around her and her field of view and know a family is missing a loved one and a lot of us are missing a loved brother R.I.P. WILLY YOU WILL BE MISSED LOVE YA BRO Gone now but not forgotten Forever in our dreams Everyday the Sun shines for you Everyday the roads are dry The straights go on forever The bends are as you dream There are no more pains There are no more worries You will be there at every party You will take part in every race You will stand there on the podium You will race with the stars you will ride upon Gods pillion And if Angels ride on Harleys Then you will surely travel far On Earth You were My Brother And now you are a Star so glide on heavens highway And lead the train up front One day you will be waiting And together we will ride Once more again as Brothers The white line side by side


Sun, Aug 5, 2012 : 2:45 a.m.

Thanks Dennis for keeping the record straight. Willie was a great person and will be missed by many. I know I appreciate all your input. (Wife of an Avenger)

Bud Woodard

Sun, Aug 5, 2012 : 6:59 a.m.

Rose your words are true and to the point willie will be missed by all his brothers ride hard free and keep the wind in your hair brother sincere know No

Fat Bill

Sat, Aug 4, 2012 : 11:43 p.m.

Mine was deleted as well...i simply made reference to the fact that a motorcycle is usually pretty easy to push to the shoulder.

Fat Bill

Sun, Aug 5, 2012 : 6:29 p.m.

Yes, I have pushed Harley's, Gold Wings, and others. Can be done even with a flat, only time you can't is when the the rear wheel completely locks up. If that is what happened, it would make sense, much the same as when a front suspension/steering component lets go on a car and a driver can't make it out of the road.


Sun, Aug 5, 2012 : 11:22 a.m.

Have you ever tried to push a Harley quickly? All though it seems he could have coasted to the shoulder of the road unless it was a flat tire.Which would make it even harder to push.


Sat, Aug 4, 2012 : 7:42 p.m.

Not sure why my comment was deleted. I said that if a motorcycle is stopped in the roadway, as the article states, then an approaching car may not know if the cycle was stopped or moving until too late to avoid hitting the cycle. Sympathy to all involved.


Sat, Aug 4, 2012 : 11:28 p.m.

As drivers we have the responsibility to know that anything can happen n front of us. We must drive in such a way that we can be prepared to stop if something is in the roadway. If a person was standing in the roadway the driver would need to avoid hitting that person just as they would need to avoid hitting a motorcycle.


Sat, Aug 4, 2012 : 6:27 p.m.

sure hope a phone wasn't involved in this.

Monica R-W

Sat, Aug 4, 2012 : 5:25 p.m.

So sad to read this. Don't know if a helmet would have helped in this case but, the repeal of Michigan Helmet Law was indeed questionable when reading stories like this.

Matt Cooper

Sun, Aug 5, 2012 : 2:19 a.m.

Dennis, I'm wondering where you got your information that he was thrown 200 feet. It says nothing of the sort here.

Dennis Bales

Sun, Aug 5, 2012 : 1:12 a.m.

If you were thrown 200 feet like he was do you think a helment would of helped?

tom swift jr.

Sat, Aug 4, 2012 : 6:31 p.m.

If I'm reading this correctly, the bike was stopped and disabled, even under the old helmet law the rider would have been unlikely to have been wearing a helmet. The article is a bit odd in that it seems to say that the bike broke down but he was sitting on it in the roadway (not on the shoulder), that's a bit hard to imagine.

Craig Lounsbury

Sat, Aug 4, 2012 : 6:19 p.m.

The repeal of the helmet law was arguably a good thing on 2 fronts. 1. The obvious personal choice front...Let the rider make his/her own adult decision. 2. The less obvious good was a Michigan State University study that indicates organ donation goes up in states without helmet laws. That is good for everybody except the donor. In that regard see #1.

Tom Todd

Sat, Aug 4, 2012 : 2:49 p.m.

I thought the most important thing to do when on the roadway, driving anything, was to keep your eyes on the road for anything that might happen in front of you.


Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 5:01 p.m.

If you are correct Youwhine, the speed limit before that dip in the road should not be 50.

Dennis Bales

Sun, Aug 5, 2012 : 1:11 a.m.

her mind was somewhere, she threw him 200ft from the impact


Sun, Aug 5, 2012 : 12:20 a.m.

I have no idea if this happened in the same spot, but there IS a drop in the road in that area and if you are headed south, you can't see what is directly below the drop in the road. If somebody happened to sit on a disabled motorcycle in that particular spot, you would likely never see them until it was too late seeing as the speed limit is 50 MPH or so in that area which translates to About 73 feet per second.


Sat, Aug 4, 2012 : 2:09 p.m.

The article seems to imply the motorcycle rider was sitting on the bike in the middle of the road rather than the side. Is that accurate? If so that is very strange.


Sun, Aug 5, 2012 : 2:49 p.m.

Where does the information that he was thrown 200 ft come from? I don't see it in any of the articles describing the accident.

Unusual Suspect

Sun, Aug 5, 2012 : 3:47 a.m.

22 years old. I think I know what tidbit of information comes in the next update of this story.

Unusual Suspect

Sun, Aug 5, 2012 : 3:45 a.m.

I think by including "broken down" they implied he was off to the side, on the shoulder. That's what I assumed.

Dennis Bales

Sun, Aug 5, 2012 : 1:10 a.m.

not the way it was the bike just quit he was pushing it off the road when hit anf thrown 200 feet


Sat, Aug 4, 2012 : 2:16 p.m.

That's how I read it too.


Sat, Aug 4, 2012 : 2:02 p.m.

The side of any roadway is the most dangerous part of the road. The cops, tow truck drivers and road workers will all tell you the same thing. It is not always possible, but If Possible, you shouldn't be anywhere near a vehicle on the side of the road. If it's broken down and you are waiting for assistance? Stand fifty feet away from it. Yeah I don't care what the weather is like. You. Don't. Either. To the drivers: Move over and show some respect. To the bike riders: You're crazy to put yourselves ina situation like I see many of you doing. Sorry. Respects to the biker, family and friends. Cap'n Obvious

Soft Paw

Sat, Aug 4, 2012 : 4:04 p.m.

Your comment has nothing to do with the story, but any excuse for a cheap shot at cyclists.


Sat, Aug 4, 2012 : 2:03 p.m.

To the bike riders: You're crazy to put yourselves ina situation like I see many of you doing. Sorry. As in "Bicycle Riders"

Dog Guy

Sat, Aug 4, 2012 : 2:02 p.m.

Very sad in so many ways. I'll pray for both people and their families.