Another Tragedy in Kzoo

the bikes

The bikes.

You move from the big city to a smallish town and think everything’s going to be cute and fun. But this has been a tough year for Kalamazoo. A few months back, we had the Uber guy who murdered six and seriously wounded two, including a 14-year-old girl. And just last night a pickup truck driver plowed into a group of bicyclists, killing five and seriously wounding four more. I know the road this happened on very well – it’s near a state park. Mostly straight and flat, with excellent visibility and just a few hills; and the crash happened in broad daylight. The police received several calls about erratic driving in the half hour before the crash, and the driver (whose name has not yet been released) is widely presumed to have been drunk and possibly distracted.

Groups around town are already making plans for five ghost bikes.

This might be a good time to mention the national campaign to replace the terminology of “car accident” with “car crash” or “car collision,” the idea being that the vast number of so-called accidents are preventable and the language of “accident” absolves the responsible party. Makes sense to me; what do you think?

Edit: I’ll also take this opportunity to plug Not So Fast: Parenting Your Teen Through the Dangers of Driving, a book by a father who lost his son in a single car crash. It’s a good book, full of useful information.

44 replies
  1. 1
    Trollhattan says:

    A daily cycle commuter to my downtown workplace, I can’t adequately state how this chills me. I see it all from drivers and my takeaway is we don’t really give a shit that there is a motor vehicle code and traffic laws. They’re not followed; they’re not enforced; there would be riots if enforcement was ever conducted. Also, too, somebody saw a cyclist do something wrong so cyclists=bad.

    I believe the European practice of separating cars and bicycles onto discrete roads/paths is the only answer. As to pleasure-riding rural roads, choose wisely and still watch your backs.

  2. 2
    cat copeland says:

    I totally agree!! I’ve felt this way for a very looonnngg time. A person is either distracted (cell phone, etc) drunk or what’s the word now “buzzed”, or high. An “accident” in these cases are NOT.
    So sorry for these people & their families.

  3. 3
    Earl says:

    I think this is why I don’t ride bicycles.

    My car weights 2k pounds and is a giant crumple zone to take one for team me.

    Every friend who commutes daily on a bike in sf has been seriously hurt (at least a broken bone) once or more. A close friend just had a second surgery on his hand because a driver hit him; he got away light.

    An acquaintance was hit by some woman running a red and badly broke his pelvis. He couldn’t stand for nearly 6 months and had to move into a nursing home. He needed help to go to the bathroom in his thirties!

    So yeah, I’ll get enthusiastic about bike commuting when the bike lanes have physical barriers.

  4. 4
    Betty Cracker says:

    Such an awful tragedy. From preliminary reports, it sounds like the proper terminology is “negligent homicide.”

  5. 5
    Gin & Tonic says:

    As a serious long-time cyclist, this breaks my heart. I thought living in a semi-rural area added some safety factor, but my local roads are no different than where these folks were killed.

    I hope the driver is charged with, and convicted of, murder, not some kind of “vehicular manslaughter” cop-out.

  6. 6
    Felixmoronia says:

    A commentor somewhere said a Master Chief or 1st Sgt told him once there is no such thing, only “premeditated stupidity.”

  7. 7
    smith says:

    I used to work at an urban hospital with a major trauma center. If you ever talked to a trauma surgeon there about a car “accident” you’d get a sharp rebuke. They were very clear that these were almost invariably human-caused crashes.

  8. 8
    JPL says:

    How sad! The prosecutor is awaiting additional facts before he charges the driver. What additional facts, he just killed five people and injured four.

  9. 9
    humboldtblue says:

    Local law enforcement as well as the CHP never use “accident” each incident is reported as a “collision” and the CHP now adds a sentence at the end of a release on whether or not impairment or distracted driving is being considered a factor.

    28 people died in traffic collisions in Humboldt County last year and 26 the year before and we’ve already had eight this year. Rural roads play a part (dark and wet) and another regularity is sleep deprivation — probably plays a role more than we think because this is an area you have to drive a long while to get to and back out of — and now cell phones and electronic devices have only added to the dangers.

    Driving under the influence of prescription medications is another issue and there is a retired CHP officer banging the drum for marijuana use as well although neither come close to the effects of alcohol. The only large study done by the University of Iowa found the smoking marijuana had little effect on driving and reaction times and it was nowhere near the effect of drinking although you can bet the University of California will begin a study on marijuana here soon enough.

    And I agree with the sentiment above, we will never have a safe roadway that is open to motor vehicles and bicycles without a barrier. They can change the 3-feet law all they want, bikes will never win and I hate sharing the road with bicyclists simply because there is no room for error, if I hit a cyclist there stands a good chance they gonna be injured and I don’t want to hurt anyone.

  10. 10
    Hillary Rettig says:

    @Trollhattan: yeah, during the initial reports the internet commenters on the local news site (looking for trouble, I know) was all about how bicyclists are so bad in traffic, etc. – a lot of victim blaming.

    I was an avid bicyclist in my twenties, up in Ithaca, NY, but haven’t really dared since. at the same time I know people who have commuted for decades without a scratch. but I also know some who got doored.

  11. 11
  12. 12
    Felixmoronia says:

    @Felixmoronia: edit not working; that should read “no such thing as an accident.”

  13. 13
    dp says:

    The feds and (I think) most states (certainly Louisiana) have adopted that terminology. There is no “accident report” after a wreck; it’s a “crash report.”

  14. 14
    Hillary Rettig says:

    @JPL: alcohol, drugs, maybe cell phone involvement.

    I also feel sorry for the driver, I have to admit. But if there was cell phone involvement, I hope they come down hard. Alcohol is an addiction, cell phones a stupidity.

  15. 15
    Trollhattan says:

    Happens here, too. A guy, pills, a pickup, boys walking on the highway shoulder where they’ve not bothered to extend the sidewalk.

  16. 16
    Miss Bianca says:

    Oh, Kzoo! What is happening to you?? Sorry to hear it, Hillary.

  17. 17
    KS in MA says:

    1) It’s not a tragedy, it’s a crime.

    2) It’s not a tragedy unless someone learns something from it.

  18. 18
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Felixmoronia: completely o/t, but sorry I didn’t get to go thru’ Montrose on my way to or from the Western Slope last week – life got in the way. Next time, perhaps?

  19. 19
    Gravenstone says:


    What additional facts

    Intent, most likely.

  20. 20
    Ultraviolet Thunder says:

    I’m 56 and I still think of my friend Steve. We rode bikes together back in the 60s and 70s. We grew up, he got married and had kids. In order to save money he biked 5 miles to work on a rural highway. One morning at 7:40 am a drunk RN ran over him on the shoulder and left him for dead. He’d have survived if she had stopped.
    His wife never recovered emotionally and his 2 small kids were raised by older relatives.
    When I hear about a car/bike accident I think about Steve.

  21. 21
    satby says:

    @Gin & Tonic: When I moved to rural Michigan, one hour southwest of Kazoo, one of my city girl fantasies was of all the cycling to the beach and walks along the winding country roads I would enjoy. Then I got here.

    And found out the majority of drivers here assume speed limits are for pussies, four way stops are an exercise in calculus, and there is a six inch band of gravel as the safe zone for the cyclist or pedestrian, either of whom are annoyances to be buzzed rather than fellow vulnerable humans sharing the road. And a lot of drunk or impaired driving occurs. I drive at or slightly above the limit usually, but I’ve lost count years ago of the fools in pickups passing me in the dark in a no passing zone on a hill, doing at least 20 over the limit. I never cycle and seldom walk any more until I drive myself to the beach.

    Throwing the book at this guy won’t make a difference, sadly. The cyclists will still be dead and the other drivers will continue to drive like insane people.

  22. 22
    satby says:

    @satby: and you know, there’s a almost complete lack of cops around here, so the reckless speed demons can get away with it until they kill themselves or someone else. Lotta crosses in ditches too.

  23. 23
    singfoom says:

    My heart goes out to the families of those slain and hurt. Used to commute daily all over in the city of Chicago on my bike and it’s a rough time out there. In a contest between a car and a bike, the car always wins. Never trusted a single car and always assumed they’d do the most dangerous thing that I could think of at any time.

    Since it was nine people involved in the ride, either the guy who hit them was drunk or he did it on purpose. You can’t NOT see nine people on bikes. Which doesn’t matter. Because they list it in the story as a hit and run.

    That’s the most damning thing. If he had hit them on accident and stopped and tried to help, it might be different. But he hit 5 bikers, killed them and sped off?

    I hope the jury gives him at least 10 years if not more. Wonder what the suggested time for negligent homicide is in Michigan.

  24. 24
    Original Lee says:

    I’m reasonably familiar with that road, too, as it’s over by the Kalamazoo Nature Center (a really nice environmental education facility). IIRC, the “speed limit” is 50 or 55 there, but 70 is kind of a normal speed. Elderly friends of mine have become nervous about driving around in broad daylight because they refuse to drive over the speed limit and get tailgated and almost-sideswiped all the time.

  25. 25

    Horrors. I was just at Markin Glen a couple of weeks ago; I have friends who live around the corner on F.

    Years ago, it was understood that bicyclists ought to ride facing traffic, so that they can see what is coming. (Granted, that may not have been sufficient ion this case.) But then that guidance was reversed, apparently on the notion that a bicyclist would rather be read-ended by a car than hit head-on? I’ve never understood that and cannot consent to endanger myself by riding or walking with traffic coming up behind me.

  26. 26
    SiubhanDuinne says:


    I remember a long classroom discussion in must have been fifth grade during which we all talked for a very long time about “accidents” — the idea being that nearly all events we brush off as “accidental” in fact and at root can be traced to human carelessness or stupidity.

    Hasn’t kept me from doing some careless and stupid things in my life, but I’ve never forgotten that eye-opening lesson (and to this day I don’t know whether it was a planned/scheduled part of the teacher’s lesson plan, or whether it came up organically and she just decided to go with it. Would have been around 1953-54.)

  27. 27
    Feathers says:

    @Gin & Tonic: Rural roads are probably more dangerous. A recent study showed that the main factor in low accident rates was higher numbers of cyclists. If people have in the back of their mind that there might be cyclists in the road, they are more likely to notice them.

    I recall a conversation with a woman where she said that bicycles and pedestrians were a problem because keeping track of them along with other cars was “multitasking” and it was proven that people weren’t good at multitasking. The jaws dropping would have been funny if she wasn’t serious. She finally admitted that people did need to be able to walk places (this was in Cambridge, Mass) but insisted that bicycle riders were endangering her and her children.

    Increasing the penalties for all sorts of reckless driving is very important. I read about someone doing mindfulness training for driving – teaching the sort of in the moment attention needed for safe driving. I found the concept fascinating. She said the main thing she teaches is to be aware of the physical sensations of your body, grounding yourself in the moment. People just don’t take the responsibility of getting behind the wheel seriously.

  28. 28
    Hillary Rettig says:

    @Ultraviolet Thunder: I’m so sorry. Such a loss, and so many affected.

    Forty+ years is a long time to miss someone.

  29. 29
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Ultraviolet Thunder: Something similar happened to me, but luckily it happened in the big city. The driver drove off but the ambulance got there quickly.

    ETA: It’s freaky to think that there but for the grace of God or circumstance or whatever, I survived when a lot of other people did not. So sorry to hear about your friend.

  30. 30
    Hillary Rettig says:

    @satby: :-( really too bad. but i noticed that moving here from the east – even in “urban” kalamazoo much less respect for pedestrians (and presumably cyclists)

  31. 31
    Malaclypse says:

    Awful beyond words.

  32. 32
    Hillary Rettig says:

    @Frank Wilhoit: sad day (and howdy neighbor).

  33. 33
    The Other Bob says:

    I live in Michigan, about 90 minutes from K’Zoo. I made sure I went riding tonight and thought of them the whole time.

  34. 34
    Joel says:

    Sounds like straight-up murder. Hope the guy never sees the light of day again.

  35. 35
    oldster says:

    I want every single vehicular death subjected to legal scrutiny.

    Every time you get into a car and kill someone, you go to court.

    Let the court decide whether you are innocent or guilty of manslaughter, negligent homicide, reckless homicide, first degree murder, who knows what.

    But every one should go to court, to explain to a jury of their peers how they killed someone with their car.

    Same damn thing for gun deaths.

  36. 36
    PurpleGirl says:

    @Betty Cracker: I really don’t care what they call it as long the punishment fits the crime. So many of these drivers may lose their license for a short time or get only minimal time when they should be getting real time, like a multiple years and many losing their license permanently.

    My (weird) twin’s father was killed by a driver running a red light and hitting him broadside. Her father was killed instantly (they said) and luckily her two sisters were in the backseat. But that crash changed the family forever. I don’t know what happened to the other driver, but given that this happened 1971, it was called an accident and he probably did no time.

  37. 37
    FarmerG says:

    Just got back from riding 53 miles for my 53rd birthday.

    I live in far Western NC in the Appalachian mountains. Thought things were pretty safe up here but had two friends get hit by senior drivers who probably shouldn’t have been driving in the past month. One got off with some bumps and bruises. The other is still hoping his lower leg will work well enough to allow him to ride again and go back to his job as a UPS delivery driver.

    None of these cases were unpreventable “accidents”, but this Kalamazoo thing is murder and should be treated as such. Vehicular homicide. Five counts.

  38. 38
    MobiusKlein says:

    @Frank Wilhoit: Going against traffic is dangerous in city areas. Pedestrians and folks opening doors will look the wrong way. If I’m biking 15 MPH on a 25 MPH street, going with traffic, it’s a 10 MPH speed difference. Against, it’s 40 MPH relative. That’s 1/4 the time for a driver or biker to react.

    Making left turns, right turns, every body expects vehicles moving one way, and not the other.

  39. 39
    Betsy says:

    I’m a bike and ped transportation planner. Most tranportation agencies, like mine, use the term “crash” because it is in fact neutrl from a data collection and analysis standpoint, whereas “accident” is not (carrying with it the idea of something that could not be prevented or is some act of God or random occurrence). And crashes are not random, we know that. For example they occur at much higher rates around intersections and street crossings. And they occur at higher rates where the road geometry is poorly designed in one way or another, or where pedestrian desire lines are resulting in people crossing the street, but there are inadequate facilities to make street crossing safe. A “crash” is something you can analyze from an engineering standpoint. Accident carries a value statement within the term, so it’s just not a good piece of terminology to use from an engineering point of view. If you’re trying to analyze data and statistics objectively, and you start by calling crashes accidents that’s a bias right there. But we also know that it’s inaccurate from the data.

  40. 40
    Betsy says:

    @Frank Wilhoit: oh, my gosh, it’s so vastly more dangerous to ride facing traffic, for a host of very well researched and documented reasons. (You are supposed to *walk* facing traffic, though, if there are no sidewalks.)

  41. 41
    Betsy says:

    @oldster: in some European states that is the case. Hit a pedestrian or cyclist with a motor vehicle, automatically charged.

  42. 42
    Rommie says:

    Kalamazoo is my hometown as well. It’s been a tough year around here.

  43. 43
    texasdoc says:

    @Frank Wilhoit: I think riding with the traffic rather than facing it has one advantage–the speed differential between the car and the bicyclist is less. I got hit by a distracted driver–I was going 20 mph on my bike, she was going 55 mph at least. I was thrown over the handlebars and barrel rolled for about 100 yards on the shoulder, with several injuries but no major bone fractures or head injry (Yay helmets!). Imagine if I’d been facing her–it would have been as though we had collided at 75 mph!

  44. 44
    🚸 Martin says:

    There’s a ghost bike about a mile from my house, along one of my running routes where a friend of mine was killed 5 years ago, struck by an SUV.

    The largest cause of death (non-natural causes) in my city is cyclists being hit by cars. And we’re not terrible about providing bike lanes, multi-use paths, etc. Cycling is extremely popular here but we have a fatality every few months.

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