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5 Dead After Truck Crashes Into Group Of Bicyclists In Michigan

Jun 8, 2016
Originally published on June 8, 2016 7:35 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Public safety officials in Kalamazoo, Mich., received a call yesterday evening, then two more within minutes. The callers were reporting a blue pickup truck driving erratically across town. Police were actively looking for the pickup when the fourth call came in. The truck had plowed through a pack of cyclists. Five were pronounced dead at the scene, four more sent to the hospital in serious condition. Dustin Dwyer of Michigan Radio brings us this report from Kalamazoo.

DUSTIN DWYER, BYLINE: Along North Westnedge Avenue in Kalamazoo, the scene has been cleared. Investigators haven't released many details about the crash, but standing here, I can see the black tire marks. I can see where the grass was flattened. I can see a gray wooden cross leaning against the fence post. It was placed here today.

One cyclist passed by with a bouquet of multicolored carnations strapped to her handlebar. She stopped, kneeled briefly near the road and placed the flowers, along with a note, then she moved on. Around Kalamazoo today, many people in the cycling community struggled to find the words for how they feel.

TIM KRONE: You know, there's a bit of anger, but I think the overarching emotion that I sense is just shock.

DWYER: Tim Krone owns a bike shop in Kalamazoo called Pedal.

KRONE: People are very somber and fairly upset - I think would be fair.

DWYER: These feelings aren't just the Kalamazoo today.

ALEX DOTY: Well, this is one of the worst traffic fatalities for bicyclists that we've ever seen in the, you know, history of the league - the last hundred and fifty years.

DWYER: Alex Doty is executive director of the League of American Bicyclists. And while investigators haven't yet released many of the details surrounding this crash, Doty says there are a few factors that figure into many fatal crashes involving cyclists.

DOTY: Drunk driving and texting while driving are the two greatest causes of fatalities on our roads. This driver could've just as easily hit a school bus or a family walking on the side of the road or a motorist coming in the other direction. Clearly, they had no control over the vehicle and were acting incredibly irresponsibly.

DWYER: Investigators are still looking into what actually caused this crash. The driver is now in custody, and the county prosecutor says he'll decide soon whether to bring charges.

UNIDENTIFIED CYCLIST: Good idea.

DWYER: At Meg Zapalowski's house, cyclists spray painted bikes white this afternoon - symbolic ghost bikes to honor the five killed in the crash.

MEG ZAPALOWSKI: I want this to be focused on the families, and I want this to be focused on the people that lost their lives. I don't want that focus to be on the individual that did this.

DWYER: So this evening, Zapalowski and others in the Kalamazoo cycling community plan to ride to the site where the tragedy happened to make a memorial of ghost bikes for those lost, to honor them. For NPR News, I'm Dustin Dwyer in Kalamazoo, Mich. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.