Fatal Brownsville Motorcycle Accident Proves a Helmet Is Not Enough

Reviewed by Louis Patino, JD, DC

Louis Patino, JD, DC
A former U.S. Army Combat Medic, Dr. Louis Patino is a distinguished attorney recognised by Top Attorneys of America, Expertise, and the American Institute of Trial Lawyers. He has a Doctor of Jurisprudence from Texas Southern University and a Doctor of Chiropractic from Parker College of Chiropractic.

Image of a totaled motorcycle involved in a crash, similar to the motorcycle ridden in a fatal Brownsville, TX, accident.

On February 9, 2024, Valley Central reported a major accident on North Frontage Road in Brownsville. The Friday night crash killed a motorcyclist, who police later identified as 18-year-old Ismael Cervantes.

Police stated that Cervantes collided with two other vehicles, leading to his death.

Authorities did not release any additional information about what caused the accident or the other parties involved. Fortunately, we can fill in some of the gaps using crash data from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).

How We Analyzed This Crash

Our legal analysis is primarily based on data from the Texas Department of Transportation. Using the state authority’s Crash Records Information System (C.R.I.S.), we can dig into the contributing factors cited, the damage sustained by each vehicle and its occupants, and more to illustrate what happened and explain how such factors can impact entitlement to compensation.

We also draw on local news reports and updates from official state departments — such as the Brownsville Police Department (P.D.), which we have cited where relevant.

With so many car accidents occurring across the state each day — not to mention the slew of other stories competing for and deserving of coverage — not every crash is picked up by the press. When local news outlets do report on a collision, the level of detail can vary. Some reports are extensive, including information about the parties involved and the injuries sustained, the circumstances that led to the accident, and quotes from law enforcement regarding the investigation. Other reports, however, are relatively sparse, perhaps comprising a short paragraph announcing when and where the accident happened and little else.

This accident is an example of such a report, although the press later updated the piece to reveal the identity of the individual who suffered fatal injuries after police had notified the next of kin.

How Did This Accident Happen?

According to C.R.I.S., the crash occurred on the service road alongside Interstate Highway 69E (I-69E), just off Woodruff Avenue, but Brownsville P.D. confirmed the collision occurred further down the road — at the 600 block of North Frontage Road near Paredes Line Road.

At 8:44 pm on Friday, February 9th, 2024, two vehicles collided with 18-year-old Ismael “Smiley” Cervantes, who was traveling northwest on a Yamaha YZFR7 motorcycle. Emergency services arrived at 8:51 pm, but Cervantes died a minute later at 8:52 pm.

The first vehicle, a gray Hyundai Palisade, was traveling southwest and sustained left-rear damage. The impact was moderate, rated 3 out of 7. The report cited a contributing factor of failing to yield the right of way at a private driveway, which gives some insight into how the accident happened.

The second unit was Cervantes’ vehicle. The corresponding section of the report lists contributing factors of changing lanes when unsafe and unsafe speed, indicating that the motorcyclist was weaving or moving to another lane and driving slowly. While driving slowly can suggest a motorist is being cautious and showing consideration for those sharing the road, driving too far below the speed limit can pose its own risks, as this accident illustrates.

The final vehicle — a silver Ford Fusion — was also traveling northwest and sustained left front-end damage. No contributing factors were attributed to this vehicle or its occupant.

Finally, law enforcement listed the manner of the collision as “one straight, one right turn” and cited an additional factor — “one vehicle leaving driveway”.

Based on the above, then, we can more accurately speculate on the sequence of events that led to the fatal accident. One vehicle — likely the Hyundai Palisade traveling in the opposite direction — exited a driveway on Frontage Road and failed to yield the right of way to the traffic already on the road. With the Yamaha bike traveling slowly, the driver likely saw a gap and believed they could exit onto the road without incident.

Unfortunately, this was not the case, and the oncoming vehicles clipped the Hyundai.

Book a free, no-obligation case review with our McAllen motorcycle accident attorney to find out if you’re entitled to compensation for your or a loved one’s injuries. We’re available 24/7 and you only pay fees when we win.

Who Was Injured?

Despite the Hyundai exiting the driveway sustaining moderate damage, the vehicle’s occupants — a 37-year-old driver and three child passengers aged five to 11 — were not hurt.

The 66-year-old driver of the Ford Fusion was also uninjured.

As we know, the motorcyclist sustained fatal injuries. Interestingly, this vehicle sustained the least physical damage — the report cites a damage severity rating of 1 (minimum).

Why, then, did this collision prove so catastrophic?

The first factor is the nature of the vehicle itself. Motorcycles do not provide bikers with the same protection other motorists benefit from. In a car crash, the vehicle absorbs most of the impact. The physical shell and additional safety features such as airbags and seatbelts also help mitigate the damage.

In a motorcycle crash, the rider is exposed. Even if the bike itself sustains minimal damage, the outcome can still be devastating, with bikers more vulnerable to being ejected from their vehicle or hit directly.

Because of these factors, motorcyclists are at particular risk of sustaining a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Head protection can — quite literally — make the difference between life and death.

But despite their life-saving benefits, most motorcyclists can choose whether to wear a helmet. Bikers aged over 21 and who have completed an approved motorcycle operator course or who have insurance to cover injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident can decide against wearing a helmet if they choose — without fear of penalty from the law.

As Cervantes was 18 years old when the accident occurred, he was legally required to wear a motorcycle helmet — and he was. But one line in the crash report is incredibly revealing.

When completing an accident report, law enforcement must complete a field called “person helmet”.

Officers can select from several code values:

  • 1 = Not Worn
  • 2 = Worn, Damaged
  • 3 = Worn, Not Damaged
  • 4 = Unk. Damage (unknown if damaged)
  • 97 = Not Applicable
  • 99 = Unknown if Worn

The report data shows that Cervantes was wearing a damaged helmet. The unfortunate reality is that wearing any helmet is not enough to provide sufficient protection — the quality matters.

The data supports this fact, too.

In our 2023 Texas auto accidents guide, where we compiled 2022 and 2023 crash data to analyze auto accidents across the entire state and pull out statistics and insights, we reported that there were 10 times as many fatalities of motorcyclists wearing damaged helmets in 2023 compared to those wearing undamaged helmets. Perhaps most surprisingly, more motorcyclists died wearing damaged helmets compared to those forgoing head protection entirely.

Deaths of motorcyclists/motorcycle passengers not wearing helmets Deaths of motorcyclists/motorcycle passengers wearing damaged helmets Deaths of motorcyclists/motorcycle passengers wearing undamaged helmets
2022 244 281 38
2023 265 300 30

These shocking numbers underscore the importance of motorcycle safety and are a potent reminder that head protection saves lives.

Who’s Liable for This Accident?

The contributing factors listed in every accident report — and the party they are assigned to — typically indicate who is responsible.

In this accident, the liability falls on two parties — the motorcyclist, who changed lanes unsafely and drove at an unsafe speed, and the driver of the Hyundai Palisade, who failed to yield the right of way to Cervantes and the driver of the third vehicle.

When an individual is hurt or killed due to someone else’s negligence, the injured party or their family may recover compensation via a personal injury claim.

Cervantes is survived by his mother Irma Hernandez, his father Felipe Cervantes, his sisters Monica and Keila Cervantes, and his grandparents.

Despite Cervantes’ role in causing the accident, his parents might recover compensation for the heartbreaking loss of their son in a wrongful death claim. This is possible because of Texas’s modified comparative negligence laws, which allow victims to recover compensation as long as they (or the decedent in a wrongful death claim) were less than 51% at fault for the accident.

While the Hyundai driver might choose to settle a claim out of court by accepting liability and negotiating a settlement with the victim’s family, Cervantes’ family could equally decide to file a lawsuit and take the case to trial. If a jury were to determine that the Hyundai driver’s actions were the primary cause of the crash and the accident would not have happened if they yielded the right of way, Cervantes’ family would receive compensation for their loved one’s wrongful death.

No amount of money can remove the pain this young man’s family will endure every day for the rest of their lives. However, compensation — whether via a settlement or court judgment — can ease the financial burden by covering funeral costs; deliver a sense of justice by holding the liable driver accountable, and provide the means for the family to celebrate and honor the life of a devoted young man who had his whole life ahead of him.

If you’ve been hurt or lost a loved one in a motorcycle accident in Harlingen, Edinburg, Brownsville, or across the Rio Grande Valley, our McAllen personal injury lawyer can determine if you’re entitled to compensation for your injuries or loss. Dr. Louis Patino — our compassionate and experienced motorcycle accident attorney — is dedicated to protecting and advocating for the rights of his clients and will fight for maximum recovery.

We provide a free, no-obligation case review so you can find out where you stand. We speak English and Spanish and can communicate in whichever language is easier for you, and we can come to you if you cannot come to our McAllen office. Call 855-LAW-NINJA for an informal chat about your options or to book an appointment. You can reach us 24/7.

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