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Originally published Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 7:24 PM

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Motorcyclist hit by Ride-the-Ducks vehicle files lawsuit

Motorcyclist Austin Porter was critically injured Oct. 11 when he was run over and dragged by a Duck, an amphibious tourist vehicle. Porter, who was stopped at a red light at Third Avenue and Pike Street when he was struck, filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking unspecified damages from Ride the Ducks of Seattle.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Austin Porter remembers hearing the blare of music — it was the Bee Gees' 1978 chart-topper "Stayin' Alive" — and the growl of a diesel engine approaching him from behind. Then he heard the screams, including his own, as he and his motorcycle were run over and dragged by a Ride the Ducks amphibious vehicle loaded with tourists in downtown Seattle.

Seven months and more than $500,000 in medical bills later, Porter and his wife filed a civil suit Wednesday against Ride the Ducks of Seattle for unspecified damages. His attorney, Stephen Bulzomi of the Seattle firm Messina Bulzomi Christensen, announced the suit at a news conference and questioned the safety of the Seattle fleet of Ducks.

Bulzomi said the vehicles' huge hulls and faulty sightlines make them a hazard to other vehicles. Duck drivers are expected to play "tour guide and entertainer" from behind the wheel, creating even more of a danger given the size and maneuverability of the half-bus-half-boat vehicles, he said.

A call to the cellphone of Ride the Ducks of Seattle CEO Brian Tracey was not returned Wednesday.

The Oct. 10 incident — which broke Porter's pelvis and sacrum and tore the ligaments in his left knee — is the third since December 2010 involving Ducks rear-ending other vehicles that had been stopped at stop lights, according to Seattle police-collision reports that Bulzomi provided to members of the media.

A surveillance camera outside a nearby Walgreen's pharmacy captured footage of Porter's accident, which a Seattle police spokesman said would be released to Bulzomi, along with a collision report, now that a lawsuit has been filed. The crash remains under investigation by the department's Traffic Collision Investigations Section.

On Dec. 31, 2010, and again last June 11, different Duck drivers rear-ended passenger vehicles, the first at Third Avenue and Pike Street and the second at Aurora Avenue North and Denny Way. No one was injured but both Duck drivers told officers they didn't see the cars because of the height of their own vehicles, according to the collision reports.

Porter, a 28-year-old industrial designer, recalled Wednesday that he'd started a new job the week before he was hit. He was running errands on his lunch break, riding his 2010 Triumph Bonneville T100, when he stopped for a red light at Third Avenue and Pike Street. He heard the music and the Duck's engine.

As the light changed, "I looked back and the hull is above me," he said, seated in his lawyer's office near Seattle Center. "I scrambled to get between the wheels" of the Duck, but his jacket became snagged in the undercarriage and he felt the tires roll over his body, he said.

"At that point I was just kind of expecting to die, waiting to be crushed," said Porter. He said that along with his physical injuries, he suffers from post-traumatic stress as a result of the collision.

If not for pedestrians who witnessed the collision and screamed at the Duck driver while pounding on the sides of the boat, Porter believes he could have been dragged for blocks, instead of yards.

He spent a week at Harborview Medical Center, then two months in a skilled nursing home. His knee and pelvis are now held together with screws and bolts, and Porter attends physical-therapy sessions twice a week. Porter walks with a limp and with the aid of a black cane, which is topped with a brass duck head.

It was unknown Wednesday if a lawyer had been retained to defend Ride the Ducks of Seattle against Porter's lawsuit. According to the company's website, Duck drivers are certified by the Coast Guard and its fleet of amphibious vehicles are inspected annually.

The Duck name is derived from the six-wheeled vehicle's official designation of DUKW for the vehicles used as landing craft by the U.S. military during World War II. They were designed to deliver cargo from ships at sea directly to the shore, according to the company's website.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

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