Itís a tragic irony that a fatal accident occurred during a major biking event this year when there has been more discussion than ever before about bike/vehicle safety along our roads.
Last Sunday, I witnessed the accident that took one manís life and saw two other young people airlifted to Vancouver General Hospital. A third eventually followed. It happened during Pembertonís Slow Food Cycle, a mellow 26-kilometre ride up Pemberton Meadows Road that brings together famers and riders to celebrate fresh food and farming culture. For almost a decade it has been a favourite Pemberton event, attracting upwards of 4,000 people, from babies pulled along in bike chariots to senior couples on tandem bikes.
The lives of dozens of people were put in jeopardy because a driver recklessly disregarded the safety of others. And he paid a tragic and fatal price that has undoubtedly brought much pain and sorrow to those who loved him.
A little after 11 a.m., I was preparing to leave the community bike-decorating contest booth at the site of the old community centre, when I heard squealing tires. Then the unmistakable sound of crashing metal. I looked down the road towards town and saw a truck flipping in the air, a dislodged tire arcing over the vehicle.
While I didnít see the cyclists who had to run out of the way to avoid being hit by the out-of-control vehicle, I did see them running towards the vehicle to help the instant the vehicle stopped moving. My partner dialled 911. The women who were staffing the bike contest booth stood in disbelief of what was happening. One of the women sprinted down the street in panic, fearing for the safety of her bicycling husband.
While it felt like 15 minutes passed before the first siren was heard, in fact, Pembertonís emergency responders were on site within two-and-half-minutes. As paramedics, police, search and rescue and firefighters attended, people stood around in stunned silence only speaking to offer small pieces of information. No cyclists were hurt. The vehicle contained five people. One was dead.
In the field, in a stand of trees, was the mangled remains of a black pick-up truck, its roof collapsed, windshield crushed and front end badly damaged. Dazed youth stood around the vehicle. On the side of the road a mom comforted her young children who sobbed in shock at what they had seen. She told them they were safe and everything was OK. Seeing this as I rode by I teared up; it would not be the last time that day.
In time we will know much more about what happened. What we may not know is what the driver was thinking when he chose to accelerate to speeds estimated to be in excess of 100 km on a road teeming with people on bikes. Had he thought it might be a laugh to scare the cyclists? Was his decision fuelled by drugs or alcohol? Time and toxicology reports will help unravel the story.
This was not the first time thereís been reckless driving on that road during Slow Food Cycle. In fact, at all of the seven rides that I have attended over the years, Iíve seen vehicles flying down the road giving eight-cylinder ďF-yousĒ to riders.
We now have sad evidence as to why roads should be closed to vehicles during major community biking events. Letís move the discussions about bike/vehicle safety from expression of frustrations to real solutions. Our worst fears have now been realized. This simply isnít something we need to lose more lives over.