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Update On The Kalamazoo Cycling Tragedy

On June 22, 2016, the driver who ran down and killed five Kalamazoo cyclists and injured four others was officially brought into a Kalamazoo courtroom and charged with five counts of second-degree murder and four counts of reckless driving causing serious impairment.

At that court proceeding, it was also revealed that the driver, 50-year-old Charles Pickett Jr., was under the influence of an undisclosed drug at the time of the collision. As a result, Pickett is now facing five additional charges of operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing death. At the request of Pickett’s lawyer, the judge has granted a mental competency hearing, to determine whether Pickett is able to understand the charges brought against him.

Pickett struck the nine bicyclists, who were part of a cycling group known as “The Chain Gang,” on June 7, 2016, with his blue pickup truck. The cyclists were heading out on a 30-mile route and were struck from behind after riding only 5 miles. Pickett attempted to flee the scene, but was later apprehended by police. Kalamazoo law enforcement confirmed that, about a half-hour before the collision, they had received complaints of a blue pickup truck driving erratically in the area.

Since the tragedy, the outpouring of support and well-wishes has been nothing short of tremendous. The Michigan cycling community, the Kalamazoo community and the entire nation have offered their support and kind words, rallying around the victims and honoring them in various ways.

Here is a timeline, to help put the tragedy into perspective:

June 8, 2016

  • The 5 bicyclists killed were identified as:
  • Fred Anton (Tony) Nelson, 73, of Kalamazoo
  • Larry Paulik, 74, of Kalamazoo
  • Debbie Bradley, 53, of Augusta
  • Suzanne Sippel, 56, of Augusta
  • Melissa Ann Fevig-Hughes, 42, of Augusta
  • The 4 bicyclists injured were identified as:
  • Paul Gobble, 47, of Richland
  • Sheila Jeske, 53, of Richland
  • Paul Runnels, 65, of Richland
  • Jennifer Johnson, 40, of Kalamazoo
  • Five Ghost Bikes were placed at the scene of the collision, a rural road just north of Kalamazoo. Thank you, Michigan Ghost Bikes: Karen Dunnam, Gayle Underwood and Meg Zapalowski. While they intended to place five Ghost Bikes at the scene, when they arrived, one had already been placed by a neighbor.

June 9, 2016

  • Kalamazoo Prosecutor Jeffrey Getting announced that the following charges were authorized against Pickett: five counts of second degree murder and four counts of reckless driving resulting in serious injury.  At this time, there was no mention of drugs or alcohol being involved. No charges were mentioned regarding Pickett’s attempt to flee the scene.
  • State Senators Margaret O’Brien and David Knezak introduced bills in the Michigan Legislature known as “vulnerable roadway user protections,” that stiffen penalties for a motorist who kills a cyclist, pedestrian or wheelchair user.  A similar bill has been introduced in the Michigan House and is awaiting a hearing and vote in the House Criminal Justice Committee. A change.org petition has also been created, which is being sent to Governor Rick Snyder and Senators O’Brien Knezak.
  • Numerous vigils and tributes began being held for the cyclists and their families, not only in Kalamazoo, but across Michigan and the country.

June 9, 2016

  • The Detroit Metro Times published a fantastic article written by Michael Jackman titled, “Some cry foul on coverage of Kalamazoo cyclists’ deaths.” In the article, Jackman points to the absurdity of the coverage provided by various media outlets, that simply reminded cyclists to “practice bike safety” rather than focus on unsafe, careless and reckless motorists. 
  • The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) confirmed it is investigating the collision, and that it has a team at work in Kalamazoo. A spokesman for the NTSB acknowledged the investigation was not requested by any Kalamazoo agencies, but was being conducted because the collision caught the agency’s attention, particularly because there were five fatalities and many serious injuries. There is also speculation the NTSB decided to investigate because the agency has failed to examine bicycle/motor vehicle safety for decades, and in the meantime there has been a dramatic increase in the number of bicycles on U.S. roads.

June 11, 2016

  • Lance Armstrong announced he was traveling to Kalamazoo on June 14, 2016, to complete the ride that “The Chain Gang” was unable to finish.

June 14, 15 and 16, 2016

Continued Support

  • On June 26, the Kalamazoo Bicycle Club holds its Kal-Tour, and all funds raised will benefit the victims’ families.

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