July 24, 2008

The Last Thing I Saw

The first thing I saw was a man doing a flip in the air. Then again, maybe the first thing I saw was the black SUV, it's hard to recall. It is also possible that the first thing I saw was the bike. It happened so quickly, some of it is a blur. I was also about three or four cars back, so I couldn't see everything. But the sequence of events can only work in one way, so I suppose that has affected my memory - logic always trumps perception.

The cyclist was coming south at a fairly good clip. The SUV was going north on the other side of the road at about 25 miles per hour when he took a quick left. Cyclist hits SUV, flies into the air, does flip. His head bounces on the ground. Literally, it bounced. I saw it. It hit the ground, bounced and smacked into the ground again.

I cringed. The SUV was still moving and I cringed and hoped that he didn't run over the cyclist. I was three or four cars back and couldn't quite see. I prayed. Sometimes you can say very long, thoughtful prayers in a millisecond. I could tell that the cyclist was on the ground and that the SUV was still moving and all I could do was cringe and pray and hope he didn't get run over.

He didn't.

I immediately grabbed my phone and held down the 9 button. "Would you like to pre-program this key?" the phone prompted me. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?! I yelled to Verizon. NO, I DO NOT WANT TO PRE-PROGRAM THE KEY. THE KEY IS ALREADY SUPPOSED TO BE PRE-PROGRAMMED!! Since when is the goddam 9 key NOT already pre-programmed to dial 911?!

I swore at Verizon. I stumbled with the phone. I was shaking.

My fingers felt like tree trunks, the number pad mere pinholes. I somehow pushed the numbers, 9-1-1. I gave them all of the information about the cyclist lying in the road, the SUV parked on the side. I pulled over, got out of my car and rushed across the street.

People had already come by, they were standing around him staring. Don't move, they said. Did anybody call 911, they asked. I did, I said. They're on their way.

I'm a doctor, a guy said as he knelt on the ground. Move away, everybody please move away.

What's your name? he asked as he scanned the body for broken bones.

Christopher, he replied.

Can you feel this? he asked as he squeezed fingers on his right hand, his left

Yes. Yes.

How about this? as he squeezed his left foot, his right.


OK. Don't move. Don't get up.

The paramedics arrived, the police arrived. They talked to the witnesses, they examined the victim. The victim. He was a cyclist, now he's a victim.

They asked about the car, they looked at the SUV. They asked questions about the traffic lights, the speed, the incident. The man that was driving stood next to me, silent. He was 65, middle eastern, scared. He opened his phone and began to text. Probably his wife. He's going to be late for dinner.

Who is the driver, the police asked. I pointed my finger. Him.

He was scared. It was a mistake.

* * *

Mandeville wasn't a mistake.

Mandeville happened three weeks ago. The mass of cyclists were on top of the 5 mile climb. They were coming down when a friend fell over, broke a collar bone. The two friends waited while the rest of the crew continued. They called for help. The ambulance came and began to take care of the fallen one. The two friends bid farewell and began to ride down the hill.

Halfway down a car came up behind them. Honking. The cyclists moved to the side of the road in single file. The car came up next to them, he was yelling. They stayed single file on the side of the road. The driver pulled in front of them.

And then he slammed on his brakes.

The driver of the car, traveling just a few feet in front of the cyclists, purposely slammed on his brakes.

The first cyclist jammed his bike, clipped the car and was thrown onto the ground. Banged up, broken arm. The second cyclist hit the rear bumper of the car, flew off his bike and went through the rear window. Not INTO the rear window... THROUGH it. His body was destroyed. His nose was practically ripped off. He'd get 90 stitches on his face alone.

The man got out of the car and continued to yell. I'M A DOCTOR! He added amidst his rage. But he's not the type of doctor that is compassionate and caring, because he wasn't. And he's not the type of doctor that helps people when they're hurt, because he didn't. He just yelled. And nearly killed two cyclists.

The second cyclist pulled his battered body off the ground and lay his body on top of the car. We can't let this man get away, he thought. I must keep him here at all costs until help comes.

Help came. It was another cyclist - and the ambulance from higher up the hill that had been helping their friend with the broken collarbone. The ambulance stopped and took care of the cyclists. The ambulance called the cops.

The driver was arrested. Road rage. A felony, up to 7 years in prison. And he's a doctor. Hopefully he'll lose his license.

The pictures are horrendous. The story is everywhere.

Los Angeles cyclists are hit by cars every week. Cyclists die every year. It's not getting better, it's getting worse. People are angrier, more stressed, they don't pay attention, they don't care. People are on their phones, their blackberries, they're reading books while they drive. People read books while they're driving.

I want to help, but I don't know what to do.

I feel it's not a matter of if I'll get hit by a car, but a matter of when. In the past two years I've been hit by one car and run off the road by two others. But it could get worse. I'm still alive. Next time could be worse.

I'm nervous when I ride, scared when Catherine leaves. I fear my friends will fall victim.

We want to be cyclists, not victims.


katie b said...

i was hit by a car once while i was riding. it was a mistake. luckily i wasn't badly injured, just a concussion and an ambulance ride. i was lucky. the driver was almost as scared as i was and i felt bad for her...i pray that we are all safe out there. i pray we find a way to make it safer for all of the cyclist out there...

Anonymous said...

That is absolutely shocking. I have to admit though, your fears aren't just yours. I hate riding in traffic! It is my biggest fear being hit by a car. Nothing much you can do about it, like you said, what do we do? Become better drivers ourselves is a start....

Trihardist said...

I was hit by a car in Pasadena. But it was an accident, and the fellow was friendly (a fellow Trojan, as a matter of fact). It could have been so much worse. This is one of the reasons I decided to move back to Kansas. Much less risk of being injured or killed while riding on deserted county roads. Of course, risk of alien abduction substantially increases.

I think it's terrifying that people don't realize that their cars are weapons. If you're careless (or, even worse, malicious) and you hit another car, maybe there's some damage to the vehicles, maybe a little injury. If you hit a cyclist (or a motorcyclist, for that matter), you could potentially be responsible for the death of another human being.

TriGirl Kate O said...

That Mandeville story is scary, mainly because the driver INTENDED them to crash.
From now on I'll offer up a prayer everytime I head out on the road--not just for me but for all cyclists.

Judi said...

That was a scary story. I can't believe some of this crap.

Jeannine said...

It's not just the vehicles.

Two weeks ago I was riding on a safe, well-travelled residential bike path. Lots of kids, dogs, families, etc. We all ride slow in this area, otherwise we risk maiming somebody small.

I was at the end of my ride, slowing to turn off the trail, and was hit from behind by another cyclist. He was coming down a hill, picking up speed, wanting to build momentum for the next hill. He sent me flying, bloodied my legs. Fortunately I did not have my young son either in trailor or co-pilot.

The cars drive crazy. The bikes drive crazy. It makes me want to retreat to the machines in the gym, and that just makes me sad.

Tea said...

I read your post just after having seen an accident myself. The woman cyclist did nothing wrong, but the guy making the left apparently thought he could beat her through the intersection. I stood there as they put her on the gurny, and she said that it was her first time back on her bike in 5 years.

It's frightening.

Fred Doucette said...

Yes, that is a terrible story. The worst part of it was there was some public syphony for the guy after the fact:(

Irongirl said...

wow! what a post.
I am always afraid when Josh goes riding without me. Or when I don't here from friends on a long ride. It seems scarier seeing it written out that way. I always try to suppress it.

Aaron said...

Seems as though it doesn't matter where you are - this happens everywhere.

In the Toronto area today, two cyclists were hit by cars and killed, one in the east end of the city and one in the west. This prompted calls for yet more bicycle lanes. Whatever. When cars are operated by lunatics it doesn't matter where the bikes are.