Mike Elmore never saw the suspected drunken driver coming as she barreled toward him on West Colorado Avenue.
The bass player and sound engineer was unloading a speaker cabinet from his van for a gig at Benny’s Restaurant and Lounge, 517 W. Colorado Ave., when a red Oldsmobile SUV smashed into the back of his van, pinning him between the vehicles.
“I was getting that out when just, ‘Bam,’ I didn’t know what hit me,” said Elmore, 65.
“I knew something had happened, and I was being crushed and in excruciating pain and kind of tumbling around. The next thing I know, all of that action had stopped and I’m laying face-down on the street, still somewhat conscious, and looking at the pavement, because my face is pretty much on it, and seeing a puddle of blood forming up under me, so I knew I was bleeding pretty badly.”
When Elmore got to the hospital, doctors told him that to save his life, they needed to amputate his leg.
“So, they asked me if they could do that, and of course, it’s a difficult question to hear and it’s an even harder question to answer, but what choice do you have, you know?” Elmore said.
His injuries are extensive: His right arm also was broken at the socket. He had three fractures and a torn ACL in his left leg, broken ribs, two fractured vertebrae and head laceration. He’s had four surgeries and doesn’t expect to leave UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central until Aug. 9 — exactly one month after the crash.
“It’s rough, I have to admit: I mean, I was hit by the hammer of the gods with this,” Elmore said Wednesday, lying on his bed in the hospital’s Rehab Patient Care Unit.
“I’ve seen some of the surveillance camera footage of her car hitting the back of my van, and she’s moving at a pretty good clip. They think 45, maybe even 50 miles an hour, so she was cruising.”
Officers saw the eastbound SUV hit two vehicles legally parked on West Colorado Avenue, and as they tried to flag down the driver, the SUV crashed into the back of Elmore’s Ford van. The van was parked in the outside through lane with its hazard lights flashing, police said.
SUV driver Tara D. Studer, 30, of Colorado Springs wasn’t injured. She was arrested on suspicion of vehicular assault, driving under the influence of alcohol, reckless driving and driving under restraint.
“It’s been a surreal, very difficult experience, very painful experience, I don’t know what else to say about it,” Elmore said. But he appeared at peace with what happened, an attitude he attributed to “a few nuggets of wisdom” that he’s gathered in recent years.
“I said, ‘I don’t want to be a victim in this, I don’t want to have a heart filled with hate,’” he said. “That’s my core, right there. I couldn’t live with anything else.”
Instead of hating Studer, he said he has tried to sympathize with her and understand her.
“I’m sad for her,” he said. “I hold no malice toward her. Obviously, I wish the accident hasn’t happened, but ... anyone that drinks like that has got to have something they’re wrestling with inside that’s making their life difficult, and they’re probably trying to numb the pain through drinking or whatever.”
Five days after the crash, hundreds of people gathered at Johnny’s Navajo Hogan, 2817 N. Nevada Ave., to raise money for Elmore.
Richard Rifkin and Levi Maez, longtime friends of Elmore, organized the event, which drew musicians from around the area.
“Every musician in town that isn’t out of town or at a gig is here,” Rifkin said at the event.
A Hogan’s employee came around to collect money from those gathered inside, and a silent auction — with vouchers for lawn service or a spa treatment offered by business owners — also raised money. Including a contribution from the restaurant’s owner, the event brought in $9,207 for Elmore.
As of Thursday night, an additional $21,760 had been raised by a GoFundMe page created on his behalf.
Elmore’s friends said they hoped that the outpouring of support would be an example of community to the area’s younger musicians.
“It has blown my mind, the level of support that has shown up, and on so many different levels — I mean, physically, mentally, emotionally and financially,” he said. “It’s just been overwhelming for me and just heart-opening to see that people have cared this much to be able to do this.”
Although he might not be able to haul sound equipment anymore, Elmore said he’s optimistic that he will be able to play bass again. He also works as an audio/visual contractor for large venues, from schools to churches to restaurants.
“As far as that part of my business goes, I’ve been doing all of my own roadie work for years with concert audio, whereas most people with any level of sanity about them have helpers,” he said, laughing.
“Most people look at me and they don’t understand why I do it or how I can even do it. But I guess if there’s a blessing for me in that, it’s that I’ve had the strength to do it and that’s just the way I like to do it. That’s going to have to change.”
Elmore’s body had been mangled, but when friends came to visit Wednesday to play blues for him, he couldn’t help but dance in his bed.
Russ Spaeth and Steve Shwen sat on chairs in the seventh-floor hospital room and began to play their guitars. Elmore moved his arms back and forth, bounced his toes and snapped to the beat.
“Just because I’m in bed doesn’t mean I ain’t dancing,” Elmore said.
The Gazette’s Evan Ochsner contributed to this report.