TOWNSEND -- When 11-year-old Robert Mitchell's bicycle collided with a car on South Row Road on Aug. 14, the results could have been disastrous.
But thanks in part to his friend Jonathan Baldwin's reminder to wear a helmet on their ride, Mitchell came out of the accident with only cuts and bruises.
At the Sept. 10 selectmen meeting, Police Chief Erving Marshall presented both Mitchell and Baldwin with new bicycles and helmets to reward them for practicing exemplary bicycle safety, a decision that Marshall says made the difference in the results of the accident.
"There's no doubt in my mind, that may have saved this 11-year-old's life, or at least prevented serious injury. When you see the pictures of the windshield on the car and the condition of the bicycle, there's no doubt that it led to his receiving minor instead of major injuries," Marshall said later.
Mitchell said the accident happened when he and Baldwin were riding their bikes from Mitchell's home on Emery Road to the Cooperage Antique Shop.
As he was attempting to turn left from Emery Road to South Row Road, a car struck him. Mitchell said he broke the car's headlight, hit the hood and shattered the windshield before landing on the ground.
"I had a headache and some bruises on my face," Mitchell said.
Bruises that Mitchell said would have been much worse if Baldwin hadn't reminded him to buckle his helmet.
"I've been down there before and cars come really close to you," Baldwin said.
For Mitchell's mother, Lisa Mitchell, being notified of her son's accident just eight minutes after he left the house was almost a surreal experience.
"If you look at the helmet, it had some serious damage on it. Jonathan saved his life," she said.
Since the accident, Lisa Mitchell said she has been keeping a close eye on her son, and making sure he always wears and buckles his helmet.
"I'm nervous about letting him go out now. He's been staying close to the house," she said.
She said she was most thankful for the emergency responders who treated her son at the scene of the accident.
According to Chief Marshall, bicycle safety has been a priority of the Townsend Police Department for years ever since the TPD established a bike helmet safety program in 1995.
In that time, police officers have given ice cream certificates from local vendors to kids who are seen wearing helmets while riding their bikes around town.
Every November, those certificates are placed into a box and four names are drawn out. Those chosen receive $250 gift certificates to various stores.
Marshall said the department initially received grant funding to finance the program, but has since continued it without outside funding.
Every summer, the police department puts on a "bike rodeo" in conjunction with the Summer Recreation program to teach kids about bike safety.
The department also gives out helmets to those in the community who can't afford them, and officers stop and encourage those who are not wearing helmets to wear them, Marshall said.
Marshall said that since the program was established, there have been no fatalities or serious head injuries due to bicycle accidents in Townsend.
"It's something that I think has corrected itself over time. Back then you saw a lot that weren't, but now you see a very large percentage of kids and adults riding bikes with helmets on," Marshall said.
He said that bike safety programs like the one the TPD runs, and like the one Baldwin learned from at his former home in Texas, have helped to drive the message home.
"It's helped to promote the helmet law and to promote safety," Marshall said.