(Don’t overlook the comment about this column from James Glass at the bottom of this page.)
Hit and run crimes affect entire communities of people, not just the immediate victim and family. The following letter to Judge Stephen J. Schapanski, who is the presiding judge in the hit and run trial of Theresa Marie O’Connor, was written in the hope that the judge will thoroughly consider the appropriate penalty in this incident which killed Ernesto Wiedenbrug on January 25, 2014.
The Honorable Judge Stephen J. Schapanski
8th Judicial District Chief Judge
201 La Porte Avenue, Suite 100
Fort Collins CO 80521
Case # 14 CR 183, Theresa O’Connor
Dear Judge Schapanski:
On January 25, 2014 I became the victim of a hit and run bicycle crash when Theresa O’Connor hit bicyclist Ernesto Wiedenbrug on SW Frontage Road just south of Kechter Road near Fort Collins. According to the facts of the incident reported by Colorado State Trooper Ben Simpson, Ms. O’Connor fled the scene, leaving Mr. Wiedenbrug for dead. He died later that evening at the Medical Center of the Rockies.
The ghost bike placed on the frontage road along Interstate 25 between the Windsor exit and Kechter Road. Frontage roads are maintained by the State of Colorado Department of Transportation and CDOT does not allow roadside memorials. So the ghost bike was removed by CDOT officials about ten days after it was placed.
I wasn’t present at the scene of this incident. And I am not related to Mr. Wiedenbrug. I didn’t even know him. But I am a victim of this hit and run just as any bicyclist in the region is a victim. Hence the reason for this impact statement.
Since the spring of 2005 I have worked tirelessly to make Fort Collins a safer bicycling community. As Safe Cycling Coordinator at the Fort Collins Bike Co-op over the last several years I have taught bicycle safety to thousands of Fort Collins school children and trained over a hundred adults how to teach bicycle safety. And as the Smart Cycling columnist for the Fort Collins Coloradoan I have written about bicycle safety monthly for over four years.
Because of my advocacy efforts community members often come to me with questions about bicycle safety and about the best behavior for both cyclists and motorists to be safe on the road. But since Ernesto Wiedenbrug was killed I’ve heard repeated expressions of fear from experienced cyclists. Some of these cyclists have bicycled for decades and they are beginning to fear for their life riding in Fort Collins.
One long-time commuter cyclist wrote that “I’ve been in some scary situations, but I’ve never been ‘scared to ride’. . . [but] in Fort Collins lately I now find myself actually asking if I really want to ride anymore. . . that is NOT right.” Another cyclist wrote “I absolutely will not ride on city streets in Fort Collins for more than a few blocks. It is absolutely unsafe — extremely dangerous. No amount of happy talk will change this. Fort Collins as [a] ‘Platinum’ (whatever that means) cycling spot is a bad joke.”
Since this incident parents of middle school children tell me that they won’t let their children ride their bikes to school, even in the bike lane, because it is dangerous. Senior citizens approach me on the street and tell me that they have begun to ride only on the trails as it is too dangerous to ride on our streets. And many, many people have told me that they prefer to ride on the sidewalk. This last impact can lead to terrible consequences as bicycle crash rates double or triple when people ride on the sidewalk.
Your honor the entire bicycling population of Fort Collins has been traumatized and victimized by this hit and run incident. Community efforts to teach bicycle safety have been set back years.
Rick Price, Ph.D., Safe Cycling Coordinator, Fort Collins Bike Co-op
One of the comments posted in response to the above column is shown in its entirety below. A response to the comment will appear in the Coloradoan April 15th.
Rick, PhD, I am Jim PhD, chemical engineer.
I am saddened by this death of a cyclist a the hand of an auto driver. There is no way that the driver can defend this death.
Yet, you are negating the simple fact that many of your cyclist friends have apparent death wishes and are protected by auto drivers.. I will elaborate…
I learned to ride in Los Angeles, Westwood, near UCLA, on very high-traffic streets. I quickly developed “situational awareness” to protect my life. A 200lb cyclist vs a 4000lb auto is a no-win situation, as we both can agree. Every cyclist has a personal obligation to protect his/her life.
Yet, I have encountered cyclists in Old Town on College Ave and environs that wend their way, oblivious to auto traffic; auto drivers have to protect these cyclists because they cannot protect themselves.
I have encountered many cyclists near CSU at Shields and Elizabeth that test my above thesis of cyclist vs auto frequently. Auto drivers have to protect these cyclists because they cannot protect themselves.
Your cyclists are not being injured or dead because we auto drivers are taking care of them, because many cyclists cannot take care of themselves – no situational awareness, and apparent death wishes.
I live near Horsetooth Mountain Park on County Road 38E (CR38E). CR38E is a very popular cycling road, good weather and bad, as you well know.
I cannot enumerate the number of times on CR38E that your cyclists ride after dark, without adequate lighting, in dark, non-reflective clothing. We auto drivers have to take care of your cyclists because they cannot take care of themselves. The roadside deer have more self-awareness of their personal safeties than many of your cyclist compatriots!
We auto drivers have to protect your packs of cyclists on CR38E who, I think, are reliving the Tour de France, and block the road, pull out suddenly in front of traffic, etc, without apparent regard for their lives. We auto drivers have to take care of your cyclists because they cannot take care of themselves.
I cannot enumerate the number of times that your cyclists, on the downhill eastbound on CR38E to South Bay, tucked up to minimize air resistance and maximize speed, suddenly pull out into traffic with complete disregard for their own well-beings. We auto drivers have to take care of your cyclists because they cannot take care of themselves.
Lastly, westbound on Harmony near Taft Hill , a family – mother, father, three children (with flags on their bikes), simply crossed Harmony in front of auto traffic in both directions. Auto drivers have to protect these cyclists because they cannot protect themselves.
Frankly, Rick, the primary reason that your cyclist compatriots are not being injured and killed is because we auto drivers are taking care of many of your brain-dead cyclists.
Many of your cyclist compatriots cannot comprehend the simple fact: A 200lb cyclist vs a 4000lb auto is a no-win situation, as we both can agree.
If it were not for we auto drivers taking care of your cyclists, cyclist injury and death at the hands of auto drivers might be an issue. It is not.
Your obligation is to educate your cyclist friends about THEIR RESPONSIBILITIES TO THEIR PERSONAL SAFETY while riding. We auto drivers are doing what we can to obviate your failed efforts.
It is “SHARE THE ROAD”, not “DEMAND THE ROAD”. Teach this, test this, In the meantime, we auto drivers will protect your cyclists as we always do.
The comment was posted by James Glass, apparently a retired chemical engineer who lives in rural Larimer County, Colorado.