Friday, October 9, 2009

Tragedy On A Bicycle Built For Two

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Kylie Bruehler at a funeral service to bury her parents, struck by an out of control motorist in San Antonio Texas. Local cyclists form an honor guard. (Photo by Tom Reel/Express-News)

Something about this tragic photo pierced through and really hit me hard even though I've gotten pretty jaded lately. Transportation issues can turn into a mess of statistics, but this puts a very human face on the consequences of reckless driving . This little girl's parents, Gregory and Alexandra Bruehler, two experienced road cyclists, were riding a tandem bicycle together when they were prematurely taken out of this existence together after being dragged 200 feet by a driver who unexpectedly swerved into the shoulder where the couple had been riding. The lost innocence of this girl's face is the reason we simply must fight for and demand safer roads for everyone. No criminal charges have been made against the driver, and the incident was written off as just an accident as most tragedies on the road are.

Where is the accountability, what good are laws, and drivers licenses if in the end the outcome of most crashes are considered blameless accidents without penalty even when clearly one party was at fault. The State of Texas was on the verge of passing a bill with explicit legal protections for vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians, with common sense measures like defining safe passing distance as some states have already done. After years of work from Texas activists, the bill went through the senate with a landslide 25-6 majority, only to be shot down by veto from Governer Rick Perry. Ugh.

My girlfriend and I are also both experienced cyclists who occasionally tandem ride, and dream of having a nicer tandem suitable for longer travels some day. I could easily put my self into the shoes of that couple, loving life and riding bikes together. In researching more about this story I stumbled across the Twitter account of the mother, who like any serious American cycling enthusiast was following the likes of cycling greats like Lance Armstrong and Levi Liephiemer as I also do myself. Sadly their 7 year old daughter now has to go on without them though I'm sure they'll never be forgotten.

These are human beings on the road out there and even if your out there doing everything right, all it takes is a few seconds of someone else careening unexpectedly off course to change lives forever. I hope we can live to see a day without tragedy like this as a daily occurrence in cities and towns across our country. Whether you ride a bicycle, a motorcycle, drive a car or even just walking across the street, we all can die out there when due care is not taken by all parties.

I first saw this story on the Tucson Bike Lawyer blog with a link to the original news story. More in depth blogging on this incident and the failed vulnerable road user bill by San Antonio local Veronica Flores. The obituary with more details about the couple is posted here.

A trust fund has been set up for 7 year old Kylie Bruehler and donations can be sent to Kylie Bruehler Benefit Fund, c/o 24165 IH-10 West, Ste. 217-270, San Antonio, Texas 78257-1160.


Joe Mizereck said...

Well said Gary. My heart sinks every time I see Kylie's face.

Joe Mizereck

Anonymous said...

This is so sad. My biggest fear is getting killed and leaving my daughter behind, alone. I cannot believe charges [even manslaughter]are not being brought against the driver. He had to have been speeding and operating a vehicle recklessly and negligently.

Anonymous said...

This is very tragic and sad. Just last week we were almost hit by a UPS truck in Cedar Park. We called in and have not heard anything back. We waited on the side of the road for him to come back by and get his truck number and he stopped and debated us that we should not be on the road. Even 'professional',and I use the term loosely, drivers don't realize bikes have the same rights and obligations as autos on the road.

Anonymous said...

For the record, the shoulder where the couple was riding is a very wide shoulder, at least as wide as a regular car lane. Probably about 10 feet wide. It's not a narrow shoulder and cyclist ride that stretch of road often. I have ridden it myself many times.

I say this in case there's any doubt about the driver's negligence. He hit them outside of the driving lanes, well into a wide shoulder marked with a solid white line. Oh, and plenty of "watch for bicycles" signs around. Plus, the driver lived only a few miles from the incident, so he knows the roads and has certainly seen cylists there before.

- Don (in San Antonio)

Adrienne Johnson said...

This goes way beyond bicycling. It speaks to just how far people are embedded in their narrow, personal and distorted view of the world. So few people have any idea just how wide the scope of influence their actions have. No one leaves the house thinking they will run over a cyclist, but they also don't leave the house and say to themselves "I should turn off my cell phone before I get in the car" or "I need to worry about this ____ later and concentrate on driving" or "It is really nice out today so there will be lots of people out riding on that road. Maybe I should take a different route."

I can't look at that picture again. My kids need to sleep and if I see it again I will go in and wake them up so I can hug them : (

John said...

Please send that photo to Governor Perry.

Steve said...

Unfortunately, this kind of tragedy happens all the time - without a bicycle in sight. It might be a motorist changing a tire. Sometimes it's a policeman out of his cruiser to talk to the person he just flagged down.

People not being careful cause accidents and tragedies whether there are laws or not.

The thing I like about biking is the freedom it brings...the freedom to ride on a sidewalk if I need to, or go where autos CAN'T go. The key to staying alive is not assuming you're safe anywhere, especially anywhere near visible traffic.

But of course with the kind of freedom I'm talking about, you must be forever vigilant and courteous. For me, in many situations sidewalk riding means going at a very slow speed. Very Slow.

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Anonymous said...

I am related to these 2 amazing people and their little Kylie. Alexandra is my cousin. She met Greg while working at the Shamu show as an animal trainer at Sea World-San Diego. I have these amazing photos I took of her on the nose of Shamu (the Killer whale). Greg worked with JJ the whale that was saved in San Diego. Alexandra had lost her Mom at a young age from Brain Cancer. Then 2 years ago Alex, Greg, his Mom and their sweet daughter were hit head on by a 25 year old drunk driver on their way to a 10k run early in the morning. Greg's Mom was killed.They went thru a lot of hell and physical pain. I wasn't sure Alexandra was ever going to walk normal again.. She suffered numerous broken bones and a broken back...yet she put us all to shame and ran in the New York marathon! She was humble, honest, smart and loved animals. Greg was also amazingly sharp, funny, and he also an avid animal lover. They were both as down to earth as can be. They will truly be missed! My heart is broken for their little daughter who is the sweetest little Angel, and for my favorite Uncle -Kylie's Grandpa and Family left behind. Thanks to all of you cyclists who made your way to our memorial service we were all so deeply moved by your presence. Not a dry eye to be had. Thank you for your comments and prayers. It all helps...answers questions about their last ride too.Her cousin Leslie from San Diego

Michael Brown said...

I will never forget this picture. That face is the price of not paying attention.