Kalamazoo: My reaction, press reaction, your reaction

Last night’s tragic news of a five people killed by a maniac behind the wheels of a Chevy pickup truck on a rural road north of Kalamazoo, Michigan continues to dominate social media. County attorney Jeff Getting and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder expressed their condolences and promised to fully investigate and prosecute the 50-year-old man who allegedly ran down the group.

For those who haven’t hard yet, police across three different counties began receiving calls about a reckless driver. Shortly after 6:30 P.M., this driver caught up to a group bike ride on the 5500 block of Westnedge Road north of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Media reports indicate the Chevy truck “looked like it hit a brick wall.” Police caught the alleged driver fleeing on foot. Five of the cyclists perished by the time medical help arrived, and another four remain hospitalized with serious to critical injuries.

Media response has been sympathetic to the cyclists, as have statements from local and state officials. Media and police all report the cyclists were riding uphill in the shoulder of a straight, rural road, and that the unnamed Chevy driver slammed into them at high speed in the shoulder.

Both the media and local officials have made parallels with last February’s shootings during which Uber driver Jason Dalton allegedly shot and killed six people and injured another two. Dalton claims the Devil manifested himself through the Uber app and forced Dalton to commit the murders.

Media, for the most part, have avoided calling this an “accident.” One notable exception was the Atlantic, which is ordinarily pretty good about such things. The Atlantic later changed their headline after several people called them out on this language.

I’d also hope that a “director of road safety” for a large cycling club would be aware of the national discussion regarding “accidents” and traffic safety, but I know from personal experience that one doesn’t always think and speak clearly when ambushed by media immediately after a tragedy like this.

safety is no accident

The reader comments following these news media reports seem more sympathetic than usual, though, naturally, the dregs of humanity feel compelled to contribute their sociopathic stupidity about licensing cyclists and worse. I was a little discouraged to see victim-blaming coming from one of our own, however, in a story that mostly did a decent job fitting this crash into a wider narrative about cyclist safety.

Bob Strader - cyclist safety Kalamazoo

He appears to put the onus of safety on the more vulnerable road user even as he tries to make some sense of this tragedy. After discussion with others, I’ve reconsidered my opinion of Strader’s comments. I’ve made similar comments about my personal preferences on local roads after reports of crashes and close calls, while maintaining that cyclists have full rights to use these public roads.

The 5500 block of North Westnedge Avenue looks like this:

5500 North Westnedge Avenue

There is absolutely no excuse for that Chevy truck driver not to have seen a large group of people on bikes, regardless of their position or even their choice to use this road.

About two dozen people lose their lives each year while riding a bicycle in Michigan. I imagine those closest to the scene of this mass casualty are in a state of shock. My sincere condolences to them, with hopes for real change in all our attitudes about road safety. Sorry for the sloppiness of my stream-of-consciousness narrative, but this it’s always difficult to get a handle on incidents like this.

8 thoughts on “Kalamazoo: My reaction, press reaction, your reaction”

  1. I think I need to make a vow and recite it to myself regularly that if something horrible happens to say for the first at least 24 hours, “I don’t know. I’m still processing this.” I know the mind searches desperately for SOmething To Explain when reeling and I might just say something like that about the road … knowing in *my* mind that it really has nothing to do with this homicidal threat to humans of a driver, but it being a too-quotable quote …

  2. I’ve been known to blabber stupidly when caught off-guard so I shouldn’t be too hard on those two cyclists, though I’m getting better about it with age I hope.

  3. That driver was on a mission to kill and would have struck the cyclists whether they were controlling their lane, in a separated bike path adjacent to the road, or hugging the shoulder. We need a lot of things done to make sure this never happens again.

  4. Terrorist attack. Belongs in a super max with the other terrorists, but watch as judge downgrades to misdemeaner and gives only few months probation and a small fine.

  5. This is just sad.

    Regarding whether or not a road is “unsafe”, it shouldn’t matter if there is a shoulder or not. No road user should travel too fast for conditions. Unless it’s prohibited by law on a particular road, cyclists have a right to be there and other road users have to expect and accommodate them (us).

  6. In my opinion the original Atlantic headline had 2 problem words: “accident,” AND “bicycle”
    An article about a truck running down a bunch of people should always be about the truck! How about “Truck crash kills 5”? I would also accept “Truck crash kills 5 cyclists”

  7. This is not so much a “cycling” issue as it is an alcohol/drug abuse issue. This
    motorist would have smashed into anything that was in front of him.
    In criminal cases arising out of cyclist fatalities, the harshest sentences seem to be handed out when the prosecutor can prove that the defendant was a “bad guy” – not just twiddling with the radio dials, but but high or drunk or driving without a license. It also seems to be impactful when cyclists ban together, make it clear they are monitoring the case, show up for hearings and speak out at sentencing…
    For “mere” negligence, the sentences are measured in days too often… for “bad guys” the sentences can run for years…
    In Ohio, I’ve seen a 30 day sentence for a woman who plead guilty to felony leaving the scene when she left a young cyclist for dead in thimble of the night and tried to cover it up by getting her car fixed… 60 days for an older guy who jeri-rigged his brakes and couldn’t stop, smashing into a cyclist riding in a charity ride… 60 days for a woman who killed a cyclist on TOSRV… 16 years for Cincinnati motorist who was drunk & high and driving on the wrong side of the road when he killed 2 Cincinnati Cycle Club members [including the wife of the president of the bar association]… 9.5 years for a woman who hit and killed a judge…9 years for a fellow with multiple prior DUI related arrests… 2 years of “house arrest” in lieu of 180 days in jail for a fellow who “didn’t see” a cyclist at 6 am while driving to work…

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