Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

18 July 2016

A Moment Of Tragedy: Cyclists Run Down In Brooklyn And Indiana

One of my favorite films is Night On Earth.  I won't argue that it's a great film or that Jim Jarmusch is America's answer to Fellini or Truffaut.  It's not the sort of film that will teach you any great lessons or makes any grand artistic statements.  Rather, it reveals people without judging them, which is--to me--one of the best things an artist can do. 

What all of the characters share is the kinship of the night and the confines of taxicabs.  The film shows us what happens inside cabs on a particular night in five different cities:  Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome and Helsinki.  Some of the actions and interactions are very, very funny--especially in the New York sequence.  But all of them reveal hopes, vulnerabilities, resentments and so much more.

I've often thought that if I were a filmmaker, I'd want to do something similar with cyclists.  Perhaps I could show a messenger in New York or London or San Francisco, for example, and, say, someone riding to or from work (or to shop) in Paris or Amsterdam and other kinds of cyclists in other places.  Of course, the point of such a film--if indeed there was one--would be to show what it means to be a member of the family of two wheels, if you will.

But there would be a terrible flip-side to such a narrative:  Cyclists who are on the losing end of encounters with motorists, or who are involved in some other kind of mishap.  I was reminded of this when I learned of two tragedies that occurred at around the same time, in two different parts of the United States.

One unfolded in my own backyard, more or less.  Thomas Groarke--suspected of driving drunk--ran down 17-year-old cyclist Sean Ryan near Marine Park, at the far southern end of Brooklyn.  Ryan was pedaling along Gerritsen Avenue, where I have ridden many times.  As the street is long and flat, and the streets that feed into it see little traffic--and even less from people who don't live in the neighborhood--some drivers seem to see it as a local version of the Daytona Speedway.  And, because the area is relatively remote, on the edge of Jamaica Bay, it is not as well-patrolled as some more central areas of Brooklyn.

The impact of the crash severed the bicycle in half.  I shudder to think of what it did to Sean Ryan's body!

Police investigate a motor vehicle accident that killed a man riding a bicycle on Gerritsen Ave. in Brooklyn on Sunday.
Police investigate the scene where Sean Ryan was run  down.

A few hours after that tragedy unfolded on the East Coast, in the middle of Indiana, 36-year-old Theresa Corey Burris was riding to work, on US 40, just east of Hancock County Road 250W.  An 18-wheeler driven carrying an oversize load--a huge concrete slab that protruded onto the shoulder of the road--struck her.  Its driver, 55-year-old Reed Thompson, apparently was unaware he'd run her over until police stopped him half a mile from the scene.  

At the scene where Theresa Corey Burris was run down

Sean Ryan and Theresa Corey Burris were both riding at around the same time.  That unites them; so, unfortunately, is the way they met their endings.  I would prefer that we, as cyclists, share different bonds and that our fates are not similarly bound in a tragic moment.


  1. As a cyclist you are totally aware your surroundings and especially the road conditions.

    In a motor vehicle you are quite isolated from the world and as time has moved on made almost invulnerable. It has been said that airbags and seatbelts should be replaced by a spike in the centre of the steering wheel as the only way to increase driver awareness, instead they can smoke, set the climate control to soporific and like as not play with their "phones". Add in a total disrespect for anyone who slows them down and life on the road is at best a gamble...

    The British Tour de France coverage has been disrupted by Chris Boardman leaving to be with his mother, a lifelong cyclist, who died after being in a collision with a car, no details.

    Velo Orange has been asking when was the best time to be on the road. Here the roads have hardly changed in over forty years while the cars have increased more than fourfold and the speeds increased at least by half while drivers have no longer spent time on the roads as cyclists and have almost no idea how to deal with us!

  2. It seems that there has been a nation wide upswing in the number of fatalities this year. Not sure if it's merely a case of increased reporting, though. There's currently a thread at TheChainlink.org on the subject of "Another cyclist fatality." It makes grim reading especially as it seems to get updated every few hours.

  3. Coline--I heard about Chris Boardman's mother. You make great points about how the relation between cyclists and motorists has changed. I think that one of the problems here in the US is that we still have a lot of drivers who never were cyclists. Or, if they were, they seemed to have forgotten as soon as they got their drivers' licences!

    Mike--That's a good question. It parallels what we hear about other crimes, such as rape: Is it really more frequent, or just more reported? Whatever the answer, there are too many!

  4. Theresa Corey Burris' killer is this guy: http://www.indystar.com/story/news/local/johnson-county/2014/03/31/johnson-county-man-arrested-shot-fired-struggle-wife/7115379/