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The Tragedy In Kalamazoo

Since early this morning, my phone has been blowing up with calls, text messages, and e-mails from cyclists concerned, outraged, and simply wanting more information about the recent tragedy in Kalamazoo.  It’s hard for me to think about this tragic collision, but at the same time, it is impossible to escape.

Here is just one of the e-mails I received:

Hello Bryan –

I’m a bicyclist in New Orleans, and read this morning about the deaths in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Is Bike Law involved?  And if so, how can those of us who live far from Michigan support cyclists?

I apologize that I have not been responsive to all those looking for answers.  However, I regret that I don’t have all the answers, and it is simply too difficult for me to continue rehashing this tragedy with everyone who has reached out to me.  For this reason, I have decided to write a short summary of what I know at this time:

  • Last night, a group of cyclists were riding northbound on the 5500 block of North Westnedge Avenue, near Kalamazoo, at approximately 6:30 p.m., when they were struck by a blue pickup truck.
  • As a result of the collision, 5 adult cyclists are dead, and 4 adult cyclists sustained serious injuries.
  • The driver of the pickup truck attempted to flee the scene. He was unable to drive away, due to the fact the truck was disabled from the damage it received in the crash.  For this reason, he attempted to flee on foot, but was arrested a short distance from the scene.
  • The driver of the truck was a 50-year-old male.
  • Approximately 30 minutes prior to the crash, the Kalamazoo Township Police Department, Kalamazoo Public Safety, and Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Department all received calls indicating a blue pickup truck was driving erratically.
  • Multiple police agencies appear to have been involved in investigating the collision, and reconstruction work is being performed by the Michigan State Police.
  • Media outlets continue to refer to this tragedy as an “accident.” However, this was not an accident.  This is a tragedy caused by a person who had a complete disregard for human life.
  • This incident is a reminder of how vulnerable cyclists, pedestrians, motorcyclists, wheelchair users, and others when they are lawfully on roadways. Cycling groups have repeatedly advocated for a safe passing law, and a vulnerable roadway user law.  In fact, Michigan is 1 of only 7 states that does not have a safe passing law for cyclists.  Most recently, in late 2015, bills were introduced in the Michigan House, in an effort to codify a safe passing law and vulnerable roadway user law.  Unfortunately, the safe passing bill is held up in the House Transportation Committee and the vulnerable roadway user bill is similarly frozen in the House Criminal Justice Committee.  Neither has even received a hearing.
  • This incident is a reminder of the disproportionate number of motorists involved in collisions with pedestrians and cyclists who attempt to flee the scene of the collision. In fact, this incident occurred less than one year after a hit-and-run driver struck and killed Susan Cummings, miles after she set out on the One Day Ride Across Michigan (ODRAM).  Nine days later, an attorney contacted local authorities and indicated that his client, Ronnie Jo Claflin, had information that would help authorities confirm the driver of the truck that struck and killed Susan Cummings.  Evidence gathered by the Muskegon County Sheriff’s Office confirms that there can be little doubt that Ronnie Jo Claflin was the one who killed Susan Cummings.  Claflin’s criminal trial is scheduled to begin on June 28, 2016.
  • Kalamazoo Strong has set up a fund to help the families of the victims deal with the financial burdens that will result from the tragedy. Contributions can be made at kalamazoostrongorganization.org.
  • A ride of silence, to commemorate the lives of the cyclists, is being held in Kalamazoo at 6:00 p.m. tonight. It will leave from the Arcadia Brewing Co., 701 East Michigan Avenue, Kalamazoo, Michigan.  More information can be found on the “Tribute Ride of Silence for Kalamazoo Bicycle Tragedy” Facebook page.
  • A ride of silence is being held in Ann Arbor on Wednesday, June 15, at 6:00 p.m. the organizers are hoping to make this a statewide event, with multiple rides of silence occurring at the same time, at various locations.

I will try to provide additional updates as information becomes available. If you have information you would like to share, feel free to email me at [email protected]

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