It was the end of a long summer day in the tourism business. I lived 10 km inland from the ocean, and was on my way home. Just outside Quepos, the traffic was halted. I thought at first it was a transito stop, checking drivers’ credentials, or maybe just looking for a little extra spending cash.
After a couple of minutes, and no movement in traffic, I noticed a group of people standing in the road. I left my car and walked the 50 meters to where they were gathered. A young man lay sprawled in the road, blood trickling from the back of his head.
He was motionless, his eyes half open and staring at nothing. His damaged motorcycle had settled not far from his feet. In his gloved left hand, he still held the hand grip of his bike. Slung over his left shoulder was the helmet that, had he worn it, may have saved his life.
The first stopped vehicle in line told the rest of the story: A wide-body dump truck at a curve in the narrow road was the last thing the motorcycle driver saw as he attempted to pass. Roughly half of the annual highway fatalities in Costa Rica involve motorcycles, and anyone who has driven here knows that not only are motorcycles a preferred means of transport, but also that many of the drivers routinely seem to seek out the narrowest of spaces for passing.
Most of the time they make it, but other times, as in this case, they miscalculate by a fraction, and that fraction is the difference between a quick adrenaline rush and death. The crowd around the body grew, as more curious onlookers left their cars to see what was causing the stopped traffic.
A man stood briefly over the body, seeming to pray. Others in the crowd contributed dark commentary. “El casco no sirve alla”, (The helmet doesn’t do any good there), one man commented. Someone else wondered aloud if the motorcycle could be salvaged.
“El no va a necesitarlo mas,” (He won’t need it anymore) he said. A siren sounded in the distance. While awaiting the ambulance, I remembered the digital camera in the backpack I carried. This accident occurred before cameras in cell phones were common; no one at the scene was filming, as would happen today.
At that time the Diario Extra–a scandal sheet that regularly posted gory photos of victims of car accidents and street shootings was the top selling newspaper in Costa Rica. I knew that the Extra would buy photos of the scene. But my camera held only photos of tourists enjoying a tour and my family in various fiesta settings.
Happy, celebratory photos. I considered taking some shots of the dead man, but only for a moment. Gory photos of a freshly dead body in the road had no place in my camera. However, much Diario Extra might have paid, it wasn’t enough.
The medical staff arrived, someone checked for a pulse, and he was covered in a sheet and carried away. A few minutes later, traffic was allowed to continue. I went on home to my wife and daughter, driving a bit slower than usual.