Within the past week, I was tipped to two separate absolutely appalling stories of cyclists being run down by motorists. They’re appalling not just for the fact that they happened, and are similar in that both cyclists were struck from behind. Rather, the events that preceded one, and that transpired after the other, make them each especially galling.
First is the story of an Episcopal bishop in Baltimore who on December 27 hit and killed Thomas Palermo, a well-known 41-year-old cyclist, and a father of two young children, while he was riding in what the New York Times described as a “wide bike lane” on a popular cycling road.
The bishop, Heather Elizabeth Cook, 58, was reported to be drunk, and texting, at the time of the accident. She fled the scene, returning 30 minutes later, with a church official in tow. A breath test showed her blood alcohol level to be .22 (the legal limit in Maryland is .08). Yet, she was released after the breathalyzer test at the police station and not charged for another week.
Cook eventually was charged with manslaughter, leaving the scene, driving under the influence of alcohol and texting while driving. She faces up to 20 years in prison.
If that single incident weren’t horrific enough, what came out in the aftermath is what truly sets this tragedy apart. This paragraph from a Wall Street Journal story on the case summarizes it perfectly:
“The accident has drawn national interest because Cook is the No. 2 official in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and its first female bishop, and because she was charged in a dramatic drunken driving case in 2010 at her previous assignment, in the Diocese of Easton on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, before becoming bishop. In that case, an officer found Cook in the middle of the night driving on three tires, with vomit on her shirt and too intoxicated to complete a sobriety test, according to the police report.”
In that earlier case, Cook registered a 0.27 blood-alcohol level. She received probation and was ordered to pay a $300 fine. Yet, even with that arrest on her record, church officials still promoted her to bishop after the incident.
Palermo’s family released a statement that read: “We are deeply saddened to learn of the events leading up to the senseless hit-and-run accident that claimed Tom’s life, and support the prosecutor’s efforts to hold Bishop Heather Cook accountable for her actions to the fullest extent of the law.”
This tragic case raised a host of issues about the way church organizations handle forgiveness and addiction, about the way police handle cases such as this one (critics claimed the bishop received deferential treatment), and cycling advocates, too, complained that such a clear-cut case should have been prosecuted quicker, and more forcefully. There’s also the question of how her initial drunken driving case was adjudicated.
Read the Wall Street Journal and New York Times articles for more information.
Cyclist Hit From Behind, Then Issued a Ticket!
A first-person story in VeloNews told another jarring story about a cyclist hit from behind.
Out for a weekend ride with a buddy on a stretch of country road outside of Boulder, Colorado, VeloNews writer Matthew Beaudin was struck from behind on an otherwise traffic-free stretch of road under a bright blue sky.
His front wheel popped off from the force of impact, and he went from 25mph to zero as he landed on the fork and pavement along his right side. He lay motionless for a while before realizing that he seemed – miraculously – to have suffered only relatively minor injuries (road rash, mostly). He stood, and walked, away from the crash site.
After he was attended to by a local sheriff’s deputy and firefighters, and while sitting on the roadside counting his blessings, a highway patrol officer walked up to him. This is where this story goes south.
The officer asked, “…without any precursor, if we were riding two across. If we were riding in the middle of the road.
“Imagine for a moment what agenda it must take to approach a man, who has just seen his very short 32 years roll before him on old movie film, a question like that.
“No, and no. Maybe if we were two across in the middle of the road, someone would have seen me and not ran into me square from behind. And even if I was, I have a right to be on the road — as a rider, driver, runner — and not be struck from behind, ever.
“I was given a ticket for something amounting to failing to move over when being overtaken. I asked the officer to tell me why it was he thought I was riding in the middle of the road. He responded that he wasn’t going to explain himself. That I could hire a re-creationist if I wanted. That he wasn’t going to explain himself, again. And for a second time that I could hire a re-creationist if I wanted.
“In the clarity of hindsight, I wish I would have said, flatly, “No, I don’t want to. I want you to do the right thing, not be a cyclist-hating cop; that’s what I really want.” Imagine being cited for failing to move over while driving on an empty two-lane country road after being hit from behind. Would that ever happen? Why is a human being on a bike, with nothing but fabric and Styrofoam between him and the cars and the road, seemingly less protected by the law than the driver of an F-350?”
That last hypothetical question Beaudin poses strikes at the heart of the matter regarding how cyclists are far too often regarded as “second class” citizens of the road. It is truly alarming that even officers of the law carry their own personal agendas into such situations, when clear-cut evidence abounds, and common sense should rule the day.
Just as we all must do everything we can to support cycling safety, cycling advocacy and infrastructure, we roadies must also support – through those advocacy organizations and otherwise – ongoing law enforcement education about the rules of the road, in general, and cyclists’ rights, specifically.
— John Marsh
Two Americans Also Challenging Annual Mileage Record
A couple of weeks ago, we wrote about English rider Steve Abraham attempting to amass 75,000 miles this year, to eclipse the annual mileage record that has stood since 1939.
RBR Premium Member Ed Garrison, himself no stranger to “riding long” (he chronicled his own Race Across America attempt for RBR last year) wrote us to say that two Americans are also making runs at the annual mileage record:
Closer to home, there are two American riders going after the top mileage award, otherwise known as Highest Annual Mileage Record Ridden (HAMR for short). One I know personally because he lives about 2 hours from me here in Memphis. Kurt Searvogel is going after it, and I will go on the record now and say this — barring injury, he will set the record, and if either of the other two competitors are close to him in mileage, he will ride even more miles.
I ride long, but I can’t ride with Kurt. He is simply too fast for me. I can tell you that Kurt is a fierce competitor, but even more than that, just a great guy. His website to follow him is www.tarzanrides.com and of course he has a Facebook page. Kurt has posted his plan to achieve the record on his website and it is amazing to read. His ‘recovery’ days are just little short century rides! Because of his intended high average speed, Kurt does not plan to be on the bike for all hours of the day (unlike the Englishman, who I believe is riding significantly slower and therefore more hours per day).
The other great thing about Kurt’s attempt is that he is making it fun by competing throughout the year in many organized rides around the country, including RAAM in June. To me, that is a great idea, as it won’t be simply an ‘I’ve got to get out and ride today’ type mindset. He will be with friends, in competition, etc.
I expect to see Kurt knocking on my door a few times this year when he is out for a “short’ ride (about 150 miles between us) and needs a place to crash for the night).
The other American rider is William “Iron Ox’ Pruett from Texas.
Donate Used or Extra Cycling Gear to a Good Cause
Over the recent holidays, I began to go through my closets and pull out some of the old, little-used cycling gear I’ve amassed over the years. (Unbelievable how it can pile up!)
I’m not a packrat, but I tend to keep some things (like old shoes, for instance) with the thought in mind, “Maybe I’ll need those someday for a [insert never-to-happen event here] ride, so I’ll hold onto them….”
When you could wear a different jersey every day for a month, but you wear the same five or so jerseys in rotation, it’s time for a winnowing. And what about those shorts you’ve never worn?
Maybe you’d like to join me in rounding up your used but still in good shape gear (new is fine, too: clothing and bike parts alike) and sending it off to Lon Haldeman at PAC Tour. Lon takes regular trips to Peruand Africa to donate gear he’s rounded up for cyclists who don’t have the means or access to what we take for granted.
When I wrote Lon recently, he said:
“Thank you your support to help collect old bike parts and clothes for our projects in Africa and Peru. I was in Ghana, Africa, during November and we took 200 items for their racing team prizes. I will be taking another 200 items to Peru next week. Your donations are greatly appreciated!”
Here is the address for donations:
P.O. Box 303
202 Prairie Pedal Lane
Sharon, WI 53585
Have a cleaner closet, and start your year with a pay-it-forward good deed at the same time!
— John Marsh