Who was Dustin Turtle?The car-bicycle collision Sept. 22 at Hwy. 35 and the Paulson Road/County Road UU crossing killed a 22-year-old man, horrified his loved ones, and saddened a community.
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
The car-bicycle collision Sept. 22 at Hwy. 35 and the Paulson Road/County Road UU crossing killed a 22-year-old man, horrified his loved ones, and saddened a community.
The young victim was Dustin Turtle. He lived with his parents, Kathy and Mike, in the development near the 35/UU intersection. He’d graduated from Brown College in the Twin Cities and was making plans to learn more at UW-River Falls.
Dustin sought a job in broadcasting and worked at the local Burger King. He joked around with most people and played pranks on big brother Matt, stationed in California with the Navy.
His parents say he was always a giver. He never had much money, but gave to the Children’s Tumor Fund, Toys for Tots and other causes.
An organ donor, his eye has already given the gift of sight to someone else, and his family may hear the same about his heart valves soon. Dustin didn’t have a driver’s license but maintained a permit. He sometimes drove with one of his parents along.
“He just didn’t feel comfortable driving (alone),” Mike said.
Usually he rode his bike everywhere. Left weak by a stroke, he aimed at building strength to try running marathons.
State Patrol Specialist Keith Young conducted a limited reconstruction analysis of the fatal collision. That included forensic mapping of the scene and a speed calculation of the other vehicle.
Young determined that the 1987 Chevrolet Camaro driven by Aaron Cernohous skidded 112 feet, which revealed that the car had been traveling 43-51 miles per hour. Two witnesses behind Cernohous told officials that the car had been going 45-55 miles per hour.
Young notes the sound condition of the Camaro’s brakes and other mechanical functions. He also notes that Dustin’s limited vision may have “been a factor.”
Officers collected from the scene bicycle parts, paint chips, Dustin’s shoes and backpack. The medical tag he wore telling rescuers he has no carotid artery on his right side was missing.
Mike wears the tag now but on a different chain since they didn’t find Dustin’s.
Kathy said, “It was just a horrible, horrible accident.”
Mike happened upon the accident scene on his way home from work in River Falls’ north-end industrial park. Kathy said she heard the commotion from their home and looked about in her neighborhood wondering what had happened.
Mike said Dustin used to ride his bike at busy intersections in the Twin Cities, but for some reason, his son must not have seen the car coming that day.
Mike said, “He had a rough 22 years.”
Kathy said, “You never would have known it…I never ever heard him ask ‘why me?’”
Dustin had neurofibromatosis type I, a genetic disease that causes tumors to grow on nerve endings anywhere in the body. A genetic mutation can cause it in anyone, even if there is no family history of it.
A parent with it carries a 50% chance of passing it to their children.
The Turtles said they and many in their family got tested with no positive results. Though they don’t mean to scare anyone, they also want people to be aware that NF can come out of nowhere.
Kathy said, “We didn’t know (Dustin had) it until he was six months old.”
The Turtles saw their son had the common first signs of NF: A handful (or more) of spots called café’ au lait. Kathy says they’re the color of coffee and cream.
Mike said, “That’s how nearly everybody finds out (they have NF).”
Complications from Dustin’s severe NF led to Moyamoya Syndrome, an abnormality of the blood vessels that causes them to spread like a spider web instead of connecting. Because of the syndrome, he suffered a stroke at age five.
Doctors removed muscle from his jaw and surgically implanted it inside his skull so the part of his brain that wasn’t working could draw blood. The Turtles said only two specialists in the country knew how to perform that delicate brain surgery, and one was here in the Twin Cities area.
Mike said once when he was complaining after knee surgery, his youngest told him to quit whining. At least he didn’t have staples in his head.
Dustin eventually lost his right eye because blood wasn’t flowing to it properly. The Turtles said specialists made him a prosthetic eye made of coral, to which his optic nerves attached so that the eye moved naturally.
They said an oculist painstakingly details the eye to look exactly like its mate.
The Turtles say other than right-eye blindness, their son had no other impairments.
Dustin’s brother Matt said in his eulogy that all he had done for days was wonder “Why?” He also said that Dustin would probably laugh at him for crying.
He said his brother would probably be annoyed with everyone if they forgot that they still have each other, that, “We still have to live, love and be loved…”
Dustin’s coworkers at Burger King impressed his family by coming to the memorial and sending a nice bouquet of flowers. Kathy received card after card, some with stories about Dustin she wouldn’t have known otherwise.
Many contained points she already knew, like how funny and nice her son was, what a sunny disposition and positive outlook he had. Teachers from Somerset, Bayport, Minn., and college came to pay their respects.
The Turtles said they’re compelled to tell Dustin’s story in order to raise awareness about NF, a disease that Kathy said is little known but more prevalent than muscular dystrophy.
Several people have also wondered what they can do. The Turtles said with the money in Dustin’s savings account, they started a memorial fund with the Children’s Tumor Foundation, an organization that strives to “…end neurofibromatosis through research.”
Anyone can donate to the CTF in Dustin’s memory either online at www.ctf.org or by mailing funds in his name to CTF/95 Pine St./16th Floor/New York, N. Y., 10005.