Sunday, March 7, 2010

Gone But Not Forgotten

This has been a really tough week. I hope the one coming up is way better. I can't really blog about anything else until I say something about this, and I haven't been able to say something about this until now.

On Monday last, a cyclist was killed downtown. As he was riding through a crosswalk, the driver of a truck struck him, knocked him off his bike, ran him over, and then kept going.

I've been living under a black cloud in the days since. What happened was bad enough, but the attitudes that subsequently surfaced in online communities and forums put me in a tailspin. I should know better than to pay attention to the krap that people put on the internet, myself included. But there was no way to ignore it. Super dark, callous shit. Depressed the hell outta me.

I realize that some of it's psychology . . . cyclists live in fear and we want to look for what the other guy did wrong, so we can assure ourselves it won't happen to us. Motorists look at how hard the cyclist was to see, so that we can live with ourselves next time we have a drink and get behind the wheel. But still, it was cold as hell.

But that doesn't cover it all. I've spent more hours than I care to admit reading comments, searching for facts, trying to get my head around this. The conclusions should have been so simple, but they were not. The driver is well-liked and respected in the community. The cyclist apparently wasn't wearing a helmet and was riding after dark without lights. It wasn't the clear cut case of a day-glo-clad-LED-laden-rules-of-the-road-model-bike-citizen-meets-scum-of-the-earth-should-be-in-jail-dirtbag. It appears that it's rarely that simple.

I was seriously wrestling with this and trying to find answers and then Patty and I were having lunch yesterday at Taste, on the corner of Howard and 2nd and we were sitting at a window table, watching all the pedestrians and bikes and cars go by and all of a sudden it was pretty clear to me.

All the talk about personal responsibility and the fact that David's death was somehow his own fault make me want to puke. He was riding legally. Bike helmets aren't designed to save your head from getting crushed by the undercarriage of a vehicle, but I not trying to stir up that tired old debate. Nor do I care to crucify Scott Reckord . . . at the same moment that David died and went to bike heaven, Scott died the life he knew and went to hell on earth. His family was dropped into a bath of sewage that they can't swim out of. It's pretty damned tragic from every angle.

But here's the thing: There are a bazillion vulverable and marginilalized and regular folks that are either walking or riding around downtown because that's where they live or go. Some of them don't wear helmets. Some do. Some don't have lights. Some do. As a civilized, progressive city, we need to allow for this fact and for their safe passage. PERIOD.

Downtown is a busy place . . . human-powered humans are flying around all over the place. At the same time, tens of thousands of individuals control how and when 2 tons of steel they are sitting in is started and stopped and what direction it goes all the time. It's a lethal mix, and yet, it's what we have to deal with. I just think that it takes extra attention when you are driving sober downtown and that nobody has any business whatsoever doing it impaired. And that we need a way stronger sense of societal responsibility towards peds and bikers.

Thanks to John and Jon for the ghost bike. It's really, really important that Spokane remember and evolve from this tragedy.


To David: Rumor has it that in heaven, hills only go down and the wind is always at your back. I hope you're finding the rumor to be true.

To David's family and friends: No matter what kind of bullshit you hear, EVERYONE should have the right to walk or ride a bike downtown without getting run over. HE WASN'T DOING ANYTHING WRONG. I have no idea how hard this must be, but I hope that you can somehow find peace and some way to forgive, so it doesn't tear you up and claim your life, too.


Alistair said...

Pat, terrible tragedy. I know from personal experience these things can be very difficult to deal with. My condolences to all involved and touched by this.
I have a couple of questions, after looking at some pictures of the accident site.

1) Was the driver breathalysed, and what were the results? (I know that just by asking this question I'm casting aspersions by implication, but I gotta know. Sorry).

2) How many feet was David from the sidewalk when he was struck? Looking at the pictures, the support columns for the train tracks look like they could easily hide a cyclist just entering the roadway and similarly, prevent a cyclist seeing a car in the road. What I'm getting at is, did the driver have a reasonable shot at stopping in time?


Pat S said...


I've been scouring the internet ever since this happened because I want some details, too. The reporting is frustratingly contradictory and downright innacurate, so it's hard to pin down facts, but here's what I know . . .

The driver was not breathalyzed. He was given a field sobriety test and blood was drawn for an analysis. I'm not sure what the protocol is for breathalyzer testing, but I've noticed that blood testing seems to be the norm anymore for serious incidents. As far as the field sobriety test, here's what was reported in the paper:

"Scott C. Reckord, 49, was booked into Spokane County Jail on a vehicular homicide charge after he failed a field sobriety test and on a charge of felony hit and run."

I read that when it's determined that a driver is drunk, the charge is automatically upgraded from vehicular manslaughter to vehicular homicide, so there's something telling in the charge, I think.

This is just my educated guess only, based on a bunch of stuff I've read and trying to make all the pieces fit together, but it looks like he was fairly lit up.

As far as what actually happened at that intersection . . .

It's so hard to tell because the information just isn't available. But the driver was northbound on Division, which is a four-lane, one-way street. He was in the far left lane and was turning west onto Sprague, which is a four-lane, two-way street. The cyclist was travelling south on Division, on the west sidewalk/crosswalk. I've driven the path of the driver quite a few times since the accident and I can tell you for absolute sure that there is no obstruction in line of sight between the path of the driver and the path of the cyclist, either while on the approaching sidewalk or actually in the crosswalk. It was dark, but not raining, and there was no glare from approaching traffic, since it's a one-way. So yes, IMO, the driver had a very reasonable opportunity to stop in time.

What I've found out is that the cyclist wasn't struck by the front of the vehicle. Rather, he was struck by the side of the vehicle and then drug under and run over by the rear wheel. From the news photos I've looked at, it appears that he was struck in the lane closest to the centerline, so quite a distance from the curb. I can't find anything definitive that says whether he was struck by the left or right side of the vehicle. It makes a difference to me becuase if he was struck by the left side of the truck (which I think is more likely), then he was well into the crosswalk when the driver entered the intersection. But if he was struck by the right side of the vehicle, it may be that the vehicle entered the crosswalk before he did and cut him off, and he couldn't stop in time.

One of the witnesses interviewed said that the cyclist attempted to swerve out of the way, but wasn't able to swerve far enough.

Lucas said...

I have to agree that some of the comments, particularly on KREM's page, were horrible. I ride through that intersection going west-bound on Sprague and turning right onto Division pretty often. The first time I went through it after they put the ghost bike up was eerie, but I am glad for the ghost bike. We need to do something to raise awareness.

Pat S said...

Lucas, I'm glad to hear that the ghost bike struck you as eerie. I hope that it generally has that effect on people because that's the point. I don't know who came up with the idea, but it's very effective.

Alistair said...

Pat, thanks for the information. It just sounds bad all around. A tragic combination of circumstances.