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7-hour Roethlisberger surgery called success

| Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger underwent seven hours of surgery Monday to repair multiple facial fractures suffered in a motorcycle crash in Uptown earlier in the day.

Roethlisberger was in serious but stable condition last night in Mercy Hospital, Uptown, said Dr. Harry Sell Jr., chairman of the hospital's department of surgery. Sell said the four surgeons who operated on Roethlisberger termed the surgery a success.

Sell said Roethlisberger was in the recovery room after coming out of surgery about 9 p.m.

"He suffered multiple facial fractures, all of which were successfully repaired," said Dr. Daniel Pituch, the chief of the division of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at Mercy Hospital.

"His brain, spine, chest and abdomen appear to be without serious injury, and there are no other confirmed injuries at this time.

"The Roethlisberger family extends their gratitude for the support, prayers and well-wishes that have been pouring into Mercy Hospital."

The late-morning crash stunned the Steeler Nation. The news dominated local television programming and Internet sites, and by evening some fans set up a tailgate-style vigil outside the hospital.

Physicians would not describe most of the injuries at the request of Roethlisberger's family, but city police said he lost most of his teeth, fractured his left sinus cavity bone, suffered a nine-inch cut on the back of his head and a broken jaw, and injured both knees.

"He was bleeding really bad. There was blood everywhere. It was really, really bad," said bystander Lauren Mizak, 19, of Mt. Washington. "He was so banged up, I didn't even recognize him."

Roethlisberger, 24, was not wearing a helmet when he hit a Chrysler New Yorker at 11:15 a.m. on Second Avenue near the 10th Street Bridge and Armstrong Tunnels. He was thrown from the motorcycle into the car's windshield "with a pretty good force," said one veteran city police officer.

Roethlisberger was talking and moving his arms and legs after the crash.

His mother, Brenda, was crying when she arrived at the hospital. Steelers coach Bill Cowher arrived at Mercy at 9:20 p.m.

Martha Fleishman, 62, of Squirrel Hill, was driving the car west on Second Avenue and turning left onto the 10th Street Bridge when Roethlisberger's Suzuki Hayabusa, which was heading east on Second Avenue, struck the car.

A witness said Roethlisberger didn't appear to be speeding in the 35 mph zone, and Fleishman had slowed to make the turn. Both drivers had a green light, the witness said.

Fleishman, who also has a home in Farmington, Maine, did not appear to be injured, police said.

"She really feels terrible about the whole thing, and we certainly wish him a speedy recovery," said her husband, Martin Fleishman.

Roethlisberger, who led the Steelers to a Super Bowl championship this year, slammed into the windshield, rolled over the hood of the car and landed on the pavement on his knees, striking his head again, said the witness, who declined to give her name.

She repeatedly asked Roethlisberger who he was and if he was OK.

He eventually replied, "My name is Ben," and asked, "Where am I?"

"You're at the Armstrong Tunnel," the witness said.

"What city is that in?" he said.

"Pittsburgh," the woman replied.

Roethlisberger fell silent briefly and then tried to stand.

"I'm OK," he said.

"No, you're not," said the woman, who instructed him to stay still.

Witness Sandra Ford was waiting at a bus stop when she said she saw the motorcycle approach. Seconds later, she said she heard a crash, saw the motorcyclist in the air and ran toward the crash scene.

"He wasn't moving, and I was afraid that he had died. ... He wasn't really speaking. He seemed dazed, but he was resisting the effort to make him stay down," said Ford, who didn't realize the motorcyclist was Roethlisberger.

Pittsburgh homicide detectives are investigating the crash, which is standard procedure when critical injuries are involved, said city police Lt. Kevin Kraus.

Investigators will likely need several weeks to reconstruct the crash before determining how fast both vehicles were traveling and whether charges are warranted, police said.

Roethlisberger was ticketed for speeding while driving a car Friday on Banksville Road in Banksville, police said. Details about that incident weren't immediately available.

"On behalf of everyone within the Steelers organization, I want to express my concern for Ben Roethlisberger," Steelers President Art Rooney II said in a statement. "I am sure Ben knows that we are praying for his complete recovery."

Rooney said the team was "encouraged by the early reports from the medical team" at the hospital.

Tony Iriti, a Shaler native and mayor of Roethlisberger's hometown of Findlay, Ohio, spoke with the quarterback's mother shortly after the crash.

Brenda Roethlisberger said she and her husband, Ken, were on their way to Pittsburgh to be with their son, said Iriti, who coached the future quarterback in youth football. Iriti's own son, Mike, played youth and high school football with Roethlisberger.

"They were holding up OK," Iriti said.

Roethlisberger and his mother were scheduled to tape Campbell's Chunky Soup commercials this week in Pittsburgh.

The ads will be shot as planned without Roethlisberger, and he and his mother will be added in later, assuming he's OK, said Erin Bobal of New Jersey-based Coyne Public Relations.

Yesterday morning, Roethlisberger was busy pitching his involvement with the sports-related Web site Roethlisberger did interviews on two national radio shows -- ESPN's "Mike and Mike in the Morning," and Sporting News Radio's "Tony Bruno Show."

Roethlisberger also taped an interview with ESPN Radio 1250-AM host Guy Junker.

Roethlisberger's 2005 Suzuki Hayabusa, which takes its name from a Japanese bird of prey, was totaled. The 170-horsepower bike, which weighs 500 pounds fully loaded, was targeted by law enforcement agencies worldwide after its 1998 debut because it can reach a top speed of 189 mph.

Suzuki Motorcycles of North America gave Roethlisberger the bike as part of a promotional deal in exchange for his appearance at several area Suzuki dealerships, including Andrews Cycle in Salem, Ohio, where he picked up the motorcycle last summer. Andrews' sales staff declined comment.

The motorcycle is popular among first-time buyers, said Steve Stiller, a salesman at Northgate Motorcycles in Cranberry, Butler County.

Roethlisberger has said he prefers not to wear a helmet when riding motorcycles. Pennsylvania's 35-year-old law requiring helmets to be worn was amended in 2003 to make helmets optional for drivers older than 21.

In May 2005, Cowher lectured Roethlisberger about the dangers of riding without a helmet.

"He talked about being a risk-taker, and I'm not really a risk-taker. I'm pretty conservative and laid back, but the big thing is to just be careful," Roethlisberger said at the time. "I'll just continue to be careful. I told him we don't ever ride alone, we always ride in a group of people, and I think it makes it even more safe."

According to several sports agents, standard National Football League bonus contracts read: "A player is potentially responsible to return bonus money if he sustains injury as a result of a non-football activity -- as a result of participating in hazardous activities which involve a significant risk of personal injury and are non-football in nature."

Under Roethlisberger's standard player's contract, the Steelers conceivably could seek to recoup some of his initial signing bonus if he misses a season or the rest of his career.

The language in the contract likely would be disputed, since there is nothing in it that specifically prohibits him from motorcycle riding or other activities.

In some other NFL players' contracts, such activities are specified and barred.

In May 2005, Cleveland Browns tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. tore knee ligaments in a motorcycle crash and missed the season.

Roethlisberger continued to ride after Winslow's crash, and that angered Terry Bradshaw, who quarterbacked the Steelers to four Super Bowl victories during the 1970s.

Visiting the Steelers' training camp last summer, Bradshaw remarked: "Ride it when you retire."

Earlier this year, Roethlisberger led the Steelers to the NFL title, giving the team the fifth Super Bowl win they had been chasing since 1980.

Risky ride

Athletes and motorcycles can be a dangerous mix. Here is a list of incidents and injuries involving athletes and motorcycles - some severe, some minor - during the past few years:

-- Three months ago, Jerome Mathis of the Houston Texans, a Pro Bowl kick returner, sustained scrapes on his wrists and hands in a motorcycle dust-up. One message board poster on a Texans fan site noted that Mathis' injuries were minor and wrote, "At least he wears a helmet, unlike Ben Roethlisberger."

-- In January, former bodybuilder and current California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger cut his lip, requiring stitches, when his Harley Davidson smacked into a car on a residential street. Schwarzenegger later admitted he did not have a license to drive a motorcycle.

-- Cleveland Browns tight end Kellen Winslow missed the 2005 season while recovering from injuries to his right knee and shoulder. Winslow was learning to ride a motorcycle in a parking lot and hit a curb at about 35 mph. He was wearing a helmet, but it was unstrapped and flew off while he was in midair.

-- A month after winning the E1 Tour de Phoenix, cyclist David Young lost his left leg in a motorcycle crash. Fitted with a prosthetic, Young competed in the Tour de Tucson six months after his accident.

-- The day before the start of the 2004 Olympics, Greek sprinter Ekaterini Thanou missed her scheduled drug test because of what she said was a motorcycle accident. Thanou, who was uninjured, later was charged with making a false accident claim.

-- In April 2004, LaKisha Gentry of North Texas University died of injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident. Gentry was the Sun Belt Conference champion in the javelin.

-- On March 30, 2004, Olympic gold medalist Rulon Gardner flipped over the handlebars when his Harley Davidson collided with a moving car in Colorado Springs, Colo. Gardner, who suffered some scrapes on his left side, said his training as a wrestler helped him land safely and avoid serious injury.

-- Indy Racing League driver Dario Franchitti broke his back in a 2003 motorcycle accident and missed several races, including the Indianapolis 500.

-- Jay Williams, the second overall pick in the 2002 NBA draft, has not played since he lost control of his red and black Yamaha sportbike and rammed a utility pole June 19, 2003. Williams severed a nerve in his leg, fractured his pelvis and tore three ligaments in his knee.

-- In 2002, San Francisco Giants second baseman Jeff Kent injured his wrist when he ran into a curb while popping wheelies. At first, Kent told team officials he was hurt while he was washing his truck.

-- Olympic champion skier Hermann Maier shattered his left leg in August 2001 when a car hit his motorcycle on a road in Austria. Maier had a titanium rod inserted in the leg and sat out the 2002 Games. But he made a dramatic comeback last year by winning two medals in Turin, Italy.

-- Major-league pitcher Steve Howe, who in 1997 was attempting a comeback at age 39 with the Sioux Falls Canaries of the independent Northern League, was critically injured in a crash and later charged with drunken driving. Those charges were later dropped after prosecutors decided his blood test was improperly obtained.

-- Former NHL tough guy Bob Probert, who played for the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks, sustained minor injuries in a motorcycle accident in 1994. Tests showed alcohol and cocaine in his system, and he was placed on inactive status for the 1994-95 season.

-- Mike Nyeholt, an All-American swimmer at USC, broke his neck and was paralyzed from the chest down when he crashed his dirt bike in January 1981.

-- Milwaukee Brewers shortstop Robin Yount injured his foot when he drove his dirt bike off a cliff a few days before the start of spring training in 1978. Yount began the season on the disabled list, enabling rookie Paul Molitor to take over at shortshop.

-- Daredevil Evel Knievel went into partial retirement after a failed attempt to jump a tank full of sharks in late 1976. In the crash, Knievel suffered a concussion and two broken arms, and a television cameraman lost an eye.

- Compiled by Rob Biertempfel, AP

Additional Information:

Accident scene

Click here
to see this graphic of Ben Roethlisberger's Tuesday, June 13 motorcycle crash in Uptown.

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