Local Man, 38, Killed in Motorcycle Crash
By Bonnie Hobbs
June 5, 2003
2003 Connection Newspapers

Ever-dangerous Bull Run Post Office Road claimed a victim, Friday night, when a Centreville man failed to negotiate a curve, causing his motorcycle to continue straight - and into the path of an oncoming truck.  Killed at the scene was Colin Thomas West, 38, of Chalet Woods. Fairfax County police say he was struck by a Ford F350 pickup truck driven by Gary Hall, 40, of Boyce, Va. The accident occurred around 5 p.m.; West was driving westbound on his Harley Davidson, and Hall was traveling east.  Colin lived with his brother Nigel, 30, a software engineer, for the past three years. Police notified him of the tragedy, Saturday morning, and a devastated Nigel broke the news to his parents, Hilary and Lou West of Chantilly's Poplar Tree Estates community.

"It is every parent's nightmare to be woken from sleep and learn that your son has been killed," said Hilary West. "Nigel and two policemen were standing by the bed. [Colin] was my first baby, and I told myself, 'This can't be happening - it's a nightmare, and I'm going to wake up.'"

The close-knit family moved here in 1986; Lou West is retired from the Navy.  Another child, daughter Heather, 32, lives with her husband Atal and three children in Willow Springs.  Colin designed and built touch computer-screens for Trident Systems in Fairfax and attended GMU. "He was one class away from graduating with a bachelor of science in biology," said Nigel. "He needed an organic chemistry class and was going to take it in the fall."

Colin had many interests. He lifted weights and performed each year in the Scottish Highland Games, participating in the caber toss and log and hay-bale throw. And he enjoyed playing with his pitbull Murphy and walking his and Nigel's three dogs in Bull Run Regional Park.  He also knew his way around a kitchen. "He and a group of friends got together every Wednesday night at each other's homes for dinner," said Nigel. "They always said he cooked the best." And Colin loved his motorcycle. "He always wanted a bike," said Nigel. "He got it last year and liked to go to Shenandoah and ride around." He was wearing his helmet Friday and had taken motorcycle-riding classes at NOVA.

HE LIKED PUTTERING IN THE YARD and working with his hands. And for awhile, he tended the trees and plants at Fairfax Memorial Park - where this Thursday he'll be laid to rest. Always respectful of nature, Colin wanted to someday use his degree to do research dealing with lakes, rivers, plants and animals. He wanted to study man's effects on nature.  "He was so sensitive for a big guy," said Nigel. "He was 5 feet 10 inches, 260-270 pounds and a very loving person. People called him the Gentle Giant.  Ever since he was a little kid, he loved frogs and turtles, and my sister used to tease him about it. If he saw a turtle in the middle of a road while
he was driving, he'd stop, pick it up, take it with him and release it in a park somewhere."

On Friday, shortly before 5 p.m., Colin and another motorcyclist went riding. He and Nigel planned to meet later at the Herndon Festival and listen to a live band outdoors. It's unknown what happened to the other rider - or his identity - but, for some reason, he and Colin ended up on narrow, winding Bull Run Post Office Road between Route 29 and Fairfax National Estates. For years, residents have decried the dangers of that road, and locals tell stories of collisions and near-misses along it. Indeed, at public hearings for the SYA Fields of Dreams youth-sports complex planned for construction nearby, some parents said they feared for their children's lives if the facility was built off Bull Run Post Office.

Friday's fatality occurred in one of that road's deadly curves; police say neither speed nor alcohol was a factor. It happened in a 10-mph turn and, said Nigel, "You don't realize it's that slow 'til you get there, and you don't see the speed-limit sign until you're in the curve. Colin wasn't expecting the turn to be what it was."  According to the police, said Nigel, "The truck driver saw my brother coming toward him and tried to swerve into the woods to avoid him. Colin fell off the bike and collided with the truck. A lady who's a registered nurse heard the accident and ran across the street but, by the time she got there, he was gone."

He said he didn't think much about it when he and Colin didn't meet up at the festival, as planned. "It was so busy, I figured he was around there somewhere," said Nigel. "I found out the next morning; a police detective left his card on my truck. Then I had to tell my mom and dad." Colin's best friend, Greg Chezem of Nokesville, was also crushed by the news. They'd known each other since 1986, attended college and worked in various jobs together and were even roommates for four years.  "The last few days, I realized what an integral part of my life he was," said Chezem on Monday. "I don't think a day went by that I didn't see or e-mail him, talk to him or meet him for coffee. And we shared the same group of friends so we were constantly doing things together." He, too, likes motorcycles and said, "One of my fondest memories is of Colin riding next to me. He'd given me a call Friday, around 4-4:30 p.m. We'd planned on going for a ride - it was the first sunny day in a long time - but my bike was
being fixed and I didn't get it back in time."  Instead, Saturday morning, just before 7, Chezem received a call from Nigel. "My wife said I just stared at the floor for a half hour," he said. "I was just stunned - I couldn't wrap my brain around it. It didn't make sense; I'd just talked to him."

DRIVING TO THE ACCIDENT SITE, Saturday, Chezem said the only thing that slowed him down were flares left from the tragedy. He said the speed-limit sign is overgrown with vines and can't be seen "until it's too late." And the curve is deceptive, he said, because "as you complete it - if you enter it too fast - you're slingshotted into the next lane." Calling the incident "unspeakable," Colin's mother is comforted by the many longtime friends her son had and how he's "touched so many lives." The last time she and Colin spoke was on Memorial Day at a family barbecue at his sister's home. "As always, I held his face in my hands and told him I loved him," said Hilary West. "Colin and I always ended a conversation with 'I love you,' and he knows he was loved by every member of the family." She said his father is thankful that he "had this wonderful person for 38 years."  She said Colin accepted people for themselves and saw the good in everyone. And he strove to live an ethical life, harming neither man nor nature. "People should never leave home without saying goodbye, giving a hug and saying 'I love you,'" said his mother. "Life is so fleeting and fragile - Colin's life ended in a second." A memorial service was held Thursday, June 5, at 2 p.m. at Living Savior Lutheran Church, 5500 Ox Road, Fairfax Station. Burial was at Fairfax Memorial Park. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent to the World Wildlife Federation (1-800-CALL-WWF).