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Search is on for suspect in hit-and-run

The pain is close to being bearable now and Timothy Berns has hope on several fronts -- that the person who ran into his motorcycle ultimately will be caught and he will be able to return to work with a prosthetic leg.

Life changed dramatically for the 48-year-old prison guard the evening of June 14 when his Harley Davidson motorcycle crashed on Santa Fe Drive at Buchanan Hollow Road in the Le Grand area and he lost his left foot and much of his left leg.

"It's in God's hands; I'm letting God handle it. I'm thankful; I could have died there real easy," Berns said. Still he is frustrated the California Highway Patrol hasn't determined what he knows -- a car with a single square or rectangular headlight veered into his path and he lost his foot in the impact.

Berns' mother, Bonnie Berns of Carmichael, has offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for the accident as her son was returning to Merced from his job as a correctional officer at Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla.

Berns said the down time is getting to him. The pain and discomfort from the accident and breaking his hip after the first of several surgeries is lessening somewhat but Berns says he still can't sleep through the night.

Officer Shane Ferriera of the Merced Area Office of the CHP said Berns' wreck is still being investigated and there is some new evidence suggesting there was another vehicle involved. Ferriera said originally there was no independent witness to corroborate Berns' statements that a southbound vehicle crossed over the double yellow line into his lane.

Berns has been a correctional officer for 13 years, five of them at Blythe, before moving here when the new Chowchilla prison opened. Since losing his leg and being confined to a wheelchair, he has realized some things in life are more difficult and access issues are difficult in his home.

The father of five just became a grandfather several days ago and an orthopedic surgeon tells him he could be back to work in February. He's not sure how a new limb will affect his walk and wonders about the healing of his still-stiff left knee.

Berns' wife Margaret called her husband's accident a life-changing experience that has left both of them in shock. She said Berns has recurring nightmares about the crash and she is on the verge of crying all the time.

Still Mrs. Berns tries to be "really positive" and thankfully realizes her husband could have been paralyzed or killed in that 8:50 p.m. accident.

"He was just on his way home; he didn't do anything wrong," Mrs. Berns said.

Bonnie Berns, the president of the Carmichael Chamber of Commerce, praises God every day that her only son's life was spared. Still the family is tremendously upset at the agony Berns has endured and hopes the $5,000 reward she has offered will prompt someone to come forward with information about the person who ran into her son.

Berns said all he knows is a dark, older vehicle of small to medium dimensions came in to his lane and made two to three moves into his direction. As a correctional officer, he wonders if opportunity presented itself for someone who thinks differently from most people to act out his aggression.

"I can't see anyone planning to get me. My biggest frustration is with the CHP," Berns said.

Ferriera said anyone with information about the Berns crash should call his office at 356-2900 or 356-2956.

"We will see where new leads take us. Some evidence may suggest another vehicle and we are looking into new evidence," Ferriera said.

Berns said it has taken a long time for his leg to heal. His foot was sheared off just above the ankle bone and another six inches of leg bone were amputated in a subsequent surgery. More surgeries will be required on his leg so it can accept an artificial limb.

Berns would like to meet the man who works for a turkey farm supply company who came to his aid right after the accident. That man, whose cell phone had gone dead, flagged down another motorist who summoned officers and emergency medical personnel.

"Everybody, family friends and people at work, has been so positive," Berns said.

A Fresno Falcons hockey game Oct. 26 will benefit the Berns if tickets through the California Correctional Peace Officers Association are purchased at the College Green Haircutters in the College Green Shopping Center at West Olive Avenue and G Street, Mrs. Berns said.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2485 or dyawger@mercedsun-star.com.

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