Thursday, July 4, 2013

Tragedy In Woodruff County-18 Year-old Rider Dies. What Do We Do?

By now, most of you have heard about the tragic accident in Woodruff County in which a 21-year-old plowed into a group of high school aged cyclists. The road was apparently straight, in dead flat country, and it was broad daylight. Reports indicate there was no sun-in-the-eyes, and no other factors that would have prevented the young man from seeing the riders had he exercised any degree of reasonable care.

From the Arkansas Times blog:

Update from David Goins of Fox 16 on the accident in which a car plowed into a pack of cross-country bicyclists near McCrory this week:

McCRORY, AR - Arkansas State Police confirm one of the seven cyclists injured in an accident Tuesday in Woodruff County has died.
According to a fatal crash report released Thursday, Lee Levitan, 18, of Milton, Massachusetts died as a result of injuries sustained in the accident north of McCrory.
Levitan and twelve others were on the American Challenge a six week cross country bike trip from South Carolina to California when a car struck seven riders on Highway 17 around 4:30pm Tuesday.
Tom & Liz Costley of Overland Travel in Massachusetts released the following statement on the company's website:
"This morning we received confirmation that Merritt Levitan of Milton, Massachusetts, died as a result of injuries sustained in a terrible incident that occurred outside of McCrory, Arkansas, while participating in an Overland bicycle touring program. Liz and I, and the entire Overland community, are heartsick by this tragic loss. We extend our deepest condolences to Merritt's family, friends and loved ones."

Arkansas Roads: Dangerous For Cyclists

Last year, a cyclist attempting to circle the world by bike in a Guiness World Record effort was struck and injured near Judsonia in White County. Prior to that, another cross-country cyclist was struck and killed by a motorist, also in White County. We've had two local riders and friends killed by cars in the last couple of years, Marilyn Fulmer by a grandmother running a red light and Diane McConnell who was struck by a motorist on Kavanaugh Blvd. as she rode home from a bike advocacy event in downtown Little Rock. I'm sure there are others that I don't know about, and we regularly hear stories of encounters with drivers who are careless, aggressive, and just plain mean when dealing with cyclists on the road. We are buzzed, yelled at, honked at, run off the road and often scared shitless by drivers who are either inattentive, angry, or who find some sick humor in the act of putting another human being at risk.

We have a 3-foot safe passing law that requires motorists to give cyclists a 3 foot buffer when passing. There has not been a single ticket written under this law, even in cases where cyclists were struck and injured or killed.

That's got to change.

I don't even want to hear about cyclists rolling stop signs or that "we shouldn't be on the road". Bullshit. The first time a cyclist running a red light or texting on the road kills a driver, then we can have that discussion.
I recently read a Facebook thread in which an Arkansas State Trooper was talking trash about bicyclists on the road illegally "impeding traffic." One of his buddies responded by saying that he appreciated the post and that now he "wouldn't feel bad when cyclists get mad at me for passing too close." Huh? You risk my life and you're smug about it?!
I won't pull the statute, but the trooper was flatly wrong, and when called out on it he admitted his error, but said he didn't understand why bikes are on the road when we have perfectly good sidewalks. This trooper is one of the folks who is supposed to be protecting us from a-holes like his bike-buzzing buddy and instead he is stirring the pot of animosity toward cyclists. Please consider another career, sir.

I don't have the answers, but we need action at the state level to at least demand that motorists learn that cyclists have a right to the road. I don't know how to teach simpletons that we are human beings with value, and that this is a fact that doesn't change when we get on a bicycle. If this driver had rear-ended a car load of slow driving grannies with babies-on-board, there would be hell to pay and cries for his head. As it is, most Arkansans are probably saying, "Too bad, but what were they doing riding bicycles on a road?"
The answer to that question is simply that the roads belong to us, too. Respect it.


Unknown said...

Where's the like button? Every time a car overtakes me from behind I tighten up. I don't see how someone can run into thirteen cyclists on a flat, open road in broad daylight. The thought that I am risking my life when some yahoo is texting or reaching for a cigarette just scares the crap out of me.

Anonymous said...

What are the ramifications for the driver of the vehicle that hit the cyclist? What does the laws say about this?

Tom Ezell said...

It's a misdemeanor... $500 fine if you injure the cyclist; $1000 if you kill somebody.

Anonymous said...

You've got to be kidding me. If there was no reason for the driver to hit them, aside from his own negligence, that's manslaughter.

Cindy Caton said...


I do my best to always give more than 3 feet to any cyclist on the road. It's just the right thing to do. Plus I don't want to hit anyone cyclist or pedestrian. Or another car for that matter. We all deserve to use the road and we should all have respect for each other.

Now that I said all the above, I hope you will hear me when I say I had a bad encounter a few Saturday's back from two cyclists going up the Kavanaugh hill to Cantrell. I was at the stop light behind 3 other cars. The cyclist were behind me. By the time I made it to the light it had turned yellow, but I went ahead and went through never knowing the two cyclist were behind me until I heard yelling and looked in my rear view mirror only to see them practically touching my bumper and screaming at me to go.

I sped up and we all got safely across, but they continued to yell at me. I had enough, so I simply sped up and left them there.

To me this was rude behavior on their part. I respect the cyclist, but it seems more and more they do not respect some vehicles. Perhaps it's due in part to almost being hit or run off the road. I get that. It would scare me too.

We all have to do our part including the cyclist.

None of the above has anything to do with the group in Woodruff County. I honestly do not understand how someone can just plow into a group of cyclist on a straight road. Senseless tragedy and my heart goes out to them and their family.

Thanks for listening.

JBar said...

Cindy, I appreciate your comment. Like rude drivers that will honk in that situation, there will be rude cyclists out there. It's frustrating to wait through a long red light, only to be caught out by a short green, but we all need to keep our cool.

Anonymous said...

What an awful story. In recent years I've thought about doing a similar ride across the northern route. In the end I decided against it. With texting, smart phones and countless other distractions I decided it wasn't worth the risk. I hate to think this way. I do think society, in the near future, will figure out a solution for negligent driving. Until that happens I'm putting a pin in this sort of ride. No fine is going to solve this issue. It has to become socially unacceptable before real change is made.

Charley said...