“This was, without a doubt, as close to death as I will ever come without actually dying,” says John Baizley via phone.
Baizley has a deep understanding of life’s fragility and speaks with great respect about the bus accident that nearly took his life and left his several of his bandmates badly injured.
Until today, the band remained “incredibly tight lipped.”
In a statement sent out earlier this week, the Baroness frontman detailed his first-person account of the horrifying accident.
On August 15th, just before 11 am, Baroness and our crew were involved in a very bad crash while on tour. The brakes in our bus failed completely, on a notoriously dangerous, incredibly steep (12% grade) hill in Monkton Combe, UK, on our way from a show Bristol to another show in Southampton. Our bus went entirely out of control, and we had no choice other than hitting a perpendicular guardrail going about 50 mph at the bottom of the hill. The guard rail and the 20 or 30 trees we ploughed through snapped like matchsticks as we went fully airborne and fell down more than 30 feet off of a viaduct to the ground below.
Unlike his bandmates, Baizley was in the front of the bus, watching the entire event unfold in slow-motion.
Once our brakes failed, the bus could do little more than gain momentum and plummet down the hill. When the bus hit the ground, I flew like a missile into the windshield. I can still see the double-paned auto glass turning blue and the spider-webbing cracks spreading outwards from the impact my body made. I hit the glass so hard, that the entire windshield flew from the frame to the ground, and I bounced back inside the bus. I landed on the ledge of the windshield. This came with an immediate and overwhelming pain throughout my body. I surveyed the damage to see instantly that my left leg was very obviously and badly broken. Then I lifted my arms forward to see if either had been damaged. My right arm was covered in burns, blood and broken glass, but working well enough. My left arm was crushed beyond belief, broken in the middle of the bone in my upper arm (humerus), and hanging 90 degrees backwards, with many spurs of bone poking through muscles and sinew at the surface of my skin. The bone was shattered into seven free-floating pieces, and my wrist and hand were swinging behind my back, spasming freely.
The injured were rushed to a hospital in Bath where Baizley was hospitalized for two weeks, following an eight-hour surgery in which his arm was rebuilt using “2 massive titanium plates, 20 screws and a foot-and-a-half of wire.”
To quell fear from friends, family and fans, “Our bass player took a handful of photos and posted them on Facebook while were still in the hospital to show everyone we weren’t being kept alive on life support.”
After returning home, the Savannah, GA band remained “incredibly tight-lipped.” Baizley explained, “Mentally, I don’t think any of us were equipped to talk to anybody beside our families and friends about it.”
When asked why he released such a detailed and gory account of the accident, Baizley describes a sort of exorcism.
“I have found, personally, that recounting the accident has allowed me to move past some of the stickier moments of it. Once it’s not a secret and once it’s not a personal nightmare that nobody knows about than I can almost begin to laugh about things. I can ratchet down the seriousness of it and allow myself to feel something other than pain.”
“There’s no way to grow or learn from this if we hide from the details.”
“Any one of us could have and should have, based on the statistics of the crash, been injured more seriously, and the fact that we weren’t is miraculous.”
Baizley’s online statement describes his moment of ultimate clarity.
There was one moment in the crash that cut me deeply. For one heartbeat and one tiny sliver of time, I became disconnected entirely. It was, specifically, the moment I impacted with the glass.[…] I realized in that moment that life can be seen as a light switch: “on” or “off”. When the moment passed and I heard the screaming, felt the pain, and tasted my own blood, I was overcome with joy.
Back on the phone, Baizley’s tone quickly turns from somber reflection to positive and excitable. ”Everybody, with the exception of the driver, is walking. Some are back out on tour!”
Bass player Matt Maggione had just joined the band this year. Baizley chuckles, “We were making jokes about hazing him… and… Well, I guess that’s done.”
Admittedly stubborn, Baizley subscribes to the notion that he can fix anything, including himself. But what he came to quickly realize is he too needed help.
“I understood for the first time how uplifting it [fan support] can be and how the care that somebody shows you, with whom you have no personal relationship with whatsoever, how a letter, a gift or just and the sentiment could really truly reach down inside and lift my spirits.”
According to Baizley, all the muscles in his left arm had atrophied; he will never again have any sensation on the top half of his arm, while the bottom of his hand feels like “pins and needles.” Simple acts like taking off the lid of a jar of jelly or scratching the back of his head now prove to be a nearly impossible task. But though some miracle, his biggest passion wasn’t taken away. He can still play guitar.
“The fact that my soul still spoke to my fingertips at that was shocking to me.”
Admittedly very ambitious, Baizley hopes he’s ready to head back out on tour within six months and with $200,000 of titanium in his body, he’s likely to feel even more at one with his guitar.
Click here to read John Baizley’s detailed account and see photos of their hospital stay.
— Jay Tilles, CBS Local