It’s been nearly a month since all of us heard the catastrophic news that five people who loved to ride the bicycle on Tuesday evenings in Kalamazoo, Michigan lost their lives because one deranged and careless driver plowed right into them. Four other riders were injured but none of these nine veteran riders had a chance to avoid the collision. There was absolutely nothing they could do to since this 50-year-old local native was driving recklessly, far over the 35 mph speed limit on the tree-lined, two-lane road in Cooper Township, a few miles north of Kalamazoo.
Millions of riders around the country, and probably around the world, have felt powerless, angry and extremely sad that an atrocious act of this nature took place. The Kalamazoo reporters wrote that there were at least three telephone calls to the local police from citizens who saw someone in a blue truck driving recklessly. The pickup driver, Charlie Pickett, of Battle Creek, MI had been driving erratically for 30 minutes before running into the bicyclists, witnesses told the police.
Eyewitness Markus Eberhard told local station WWMT, “I saw a Dodge Ram fly past me coming past my house and I saw a blue truck spin around and land in someone’s yard. They caught him from running and I hope all the other ones live.”
According to an article in The Daily Beast, Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeffrey Getting said, “As members of the Kalamazoo community, we have all been dealt a devastating blow by the deaths and injuries of so many people. Our hearts are saddened for the victims, their families and friends who are trying to cope with this tragedy. As a community, we must reach out to them and give them our support as we all struggle to deal with what has happened.”
Among the people killed were a former nurse, a research manager and two retirees. One of the retirees, Tony Nelson, has a sister and a son who both live here in Salt Lake City, UT.
On Wednesday June 22, Pickett was accused of five additional charges of operating while intoxicated causing death, on top of five charges of second degree murder. Pickett also faces four charges of operating while intoxicated causing bodily injury. Those charges replace the reckless driving charges he had faced. The operating while intoxicated charges allege Pickett had controlled substances in his system at the time of the crash, said Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting.
The Daily Beast also reported that Pickett often showed off an angry side on Facebook. “I’m not an asshole. I’m actually one of the nicest people you will ever meet,” read one memo he posted. “I may look calm, but in my head I’ve punched you in the face 5 times,” read another.
The evening after the tragedy, hundreds of local bicycle riders gathered for a silent tribute, with cyclists wearing black and red armbands in memory of the victims. Paul Seldon of Bike Friendly Kalamazoo told a newspaper, “Last night our community experienced a senseless bicycling tragedy the likes of which I cannot recall. This is worth repeating: motorists and bicyclists need to share the road safely throughout the year, but be especially alert during peak bicycling season. I believe that as more facts come out, the kind of awareness-building messages and education we should be sharing with each other, will become clearer.”
Throughout the country, many bicycle riders are asking, “What can be done to avoid such an atrocious tragedy like this one?” The group of nine riders was in a peloton that could obviously be seen by automobile and truck drivers in both directions. The riders were no doubt wearing bright jerseys so their visibility was also apparent. There has not been a report concerning whether the riders had turned on their front and/or rear flashing lights. Perhaps that is something all riders should consider doing even if you are riding in broad daylight. There are also flashing lights that are easily attached to the back of your helmet. Under the circumstances of what happened in Kalamazoo on June 7 at 6:35 p.m., there was absolutely nothing they could have done to avoid being struck by this careless idiot. But as all of us continue to ride and enjoy this wonderful sport, remember to do everything possible to maximize your safety on the road.
Bill Roland is an avid bicycle rider who recently transferred from Columbus, Ohio to Salt Lake City. In the 1980’s he was the editor of The Golf Traveler Magazine published here in Salt Lake City. Two years ago he published a biography entitled, “Champagne Tony Lema:Triumph to Tragedy.”