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When COVID-19 quarantines hope, mourning, and recovery in fatal Annapolis crash

Update on fatal Annapolis Crash

[Photo of Arthur and Candy Carter]

There is uncontainable outrage when we learn of a catastrophic or fatal crash involving members of our community. One of the reasons is that of all the mortality rates, and especially amongst those involving motor vehicles, cycling and pedestrian fatalities are the only two that continue to increase. The other is that the responses to these tragedies are so rarely what they should be by those in positions to bring justice and accountability to the drivers that cause such irreparable harm. And when a crash occurs between a motorist and a person on a pedal cycle or pedestrian, the disparity in the killing potential between a person driving a car and a person riding a bike (or walking) should be directly proportionate to the penalties given for injuring and killing the most vulnerable of all road users. People on bikes are constantly fighting for equitable consideration and access to safe places to ride while also shouldering the responsibilities of every other road user: obeying the rules of the road, riding predictably, making themselves as visible as possible, and in this case, (and the approximately 850 others that occurred last year) managing the incomprehensible consequences of reckless, negligent, and oftentimes criminal driver behavior.

For the last few weeks and for the foreseeable future, there are numerous unknowns and no guarantees. We are living in a period of time in which the whole world is suffering from a viral pandemic and economic instability; both of which are objectively the worst that have occurred in the last century. For the vast majority of the global population, this means we’ve never experienced anything like it in our lifetimes. The suffering is exponential as we watch many we know and love (and strangers alike) stand to lose most- if not all- of what they have. And ironically, COVID-19, “social distancing,” stay at home orders, lockdowns, curfews, and the unwelcomed interruption to every part of our daily lives have had a marked positive impact on our community’s fight to denounce the idea that cyclists are second class citizens. With bike shops being recognized as essential businesses and more people spending more time in the saddle, an industry and way of life that have long suffered the imbalances and symptoms of a car-centric culture are booming and being utilized and celebrated for all the reasons we’ve always said that riding a bicycle is the fastest way to save the world.

But let’s unpack that a little more… because the sharp increase in ridership, rideshare, and industry revenue aren’t indications of net positive additions for all members of our community. Not all of us can celebrate the success of bicycle related businesses and increased patronage of our local bike shops. Not all of us can take advantage of the imposed “free time.”. And while all of us are scaling the walls with boredom, and anxiety, and a readiness for this health crisis to end yesterday, there are cyclists whose lives have been interrupted in the most unthinkable of ways, and forced into additional types of isolation for other reasons, too.

On Sunday, March 8th, as 7 of our friends were riding their bikes in Annapolis, MD, on a sunny, 70 degree afternoon, Carl Behler drove his Yukon XL over the double yellow line and into the center of their lane of travel. He plowed into the peloton head-on, causing a horrific fatal crash. We all know the metrics used to measure the level of responsibility exercised by people on bikes. Our friends met each of those and then some as they rode single file and as close to the fog line as physically possible, were outfitted in high-viz wind gilets, securely fastened helmets, and front and rear-facing Cycliq video camera lights. With well over a century of combined riding experience between them (as well as steadfast commitment to and participation in local and national bicycle advocacy initiatives), the suffering caused by Behler when he killed Arthur Carter and sent Jeff Adler and Kathleen Hayes to shock trauma with life threatening and altering injuries can only be described as evolving and compounding because of the systemic inequities imposed upon our cycling community as a whole and by COVID-19 and the consequences of it permeating every facet of our daily lives.

To say that Candy (Arthur’s widow), Zoey, and Andrew Carter’s lives will never be the same undermines the significance of their suffering and loss to the point of insult. Imagine being forced to navigate such immeasurable heartbreak without a funeral or social gathering to honor and celebrate Arthur, the husband, father, grandfather, and friend whose life Carl Behler took senselessly from behind the wheel of his 7,000lb SUV. Imagine working in an office with your Dad. Imagine having to walk past his desk every day just to get to yours. Imagine being forced to mourn the loss of a parent who was also a friend, partner, and professional teammate during a period of time in which the need for human connection, support, compassion, and sympathy- all of which are fundamental to surviving the roller coaster ride that is grieving a death- cannot and will not be met any time in the foreseeable future. And imagine having to do that while also worrying about whether or not the current health crisis will also impact your employment. Imagine having to wait longer than every other grieving widow before this pandemic to get the necessary documentation needed to manage the painful “administrative” aspects of Arthur’s death. Imagine having to sit and wait for pieces of paper that only confirm what is felt acutely and chronically in every cell of your heart, body, mind, and soul. And imagine having to do that in isolation. No drop-ins to help with the tedium of a cherished life that will never be the same. No more Monday night family dinners that will always feel incomplete. Carl Behler should go to jail for killing Arthur Carter. And if I had the keys to the jail he would be forced to serve that sentence in isolation for at least as long as the Carters are serving theirs. There is nothing that can ever replace the man who lost his life to another who doesn’t respect its value at all. But as we all sit anxiously with our loved ones and look out the window or enjoy bonus hours, days, weeks, and months on the bike, it’s important that we not forget how great the delta is between our discomfort and the Carters’ amidst this universal suffering.

The importance of family and a support system during life’s adversities and challenges is not marginal. In fact, when we look at how people overcome and recover from illness, injustice, injury, and life changing events (even in various states of consciousness), it’s widely known and accepted within the medical community that our bodies can’t survive without our minds, and the brain is capable of doing remarkable and miraculous things as a response to the love, support, and encouragement the person it belongs to receives. Jeff Adler (who suffered numerous life threatening injuries including a shattered pelvis, other broken bones, and an amputation to mention a few) has been laying in a hospital bed for 29 days. Still weeks and weeks away from being able to bear weight on his legs, and the number of invasive future surgeries unknown, he has been relegated to recover from the injuries sustained in the crash Behler caused without the human interaction and support system his wife and son desperately want to provide. Of those 29 days, not all of which have been spent in consciousness, 14 of them have gone by without being allowed to see Deb, and almost all of them without his teenage son. Rehab requires multiple therapeutic interventions. Recovery requires the participation of the whole team. Unlike cycling, it’s not an individual sport.

Birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays have passed and will come and go while the people bonded for life by the egregiousness of what Behler did to them on March 8th are forced to manage and cope with debilitating injuries and death in complete isolation. What could possibly be worse? To quarantine hope is an attack on humanity.

While Kathleen is able to continue focusing on her recovery at home, the physical pain that Behler caused her is also accompanied by the kind of theft that doesn’t only rob one of their physical health and wellbeing, but of their ability and willingness to do something that they love, too. To hear my friends tell me they won’t ever ride on the road again is devastating. How could anyone blame them? Look at what has happened. Take inventory of how much has been lost. It would be crazy to try and change their minds right now.

But in the eye of this perfect storm are people who will always be valued members of our cycling community; people who have redefined the compelling power and antidotal properties of friendship and love. It is an honor for me and Peter to be involved in helping those who are connected by those beautiful things as well as their survivorship of this tragedy and unprecedented isolation. And as unexpected as the crash itself, the geometric and irreplaceable loss of Arthur Carter, and the numerous challenges these friends of ours face might be, it’s the way they continuously rise to the occasion, each taking their turn pulling at the front of the paceline, that makes them the gentle tailwind helping us up this hill that has no visible end in sight.

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