On Dec 31st, I stopped into Light Street Cycles. Penny Troutner asked if I was going on the New Year’s Day memorial ride for Tom Palermo. I winced a bit. I had read that the popular local cyclist had been killed after being struck from behind by a small SUV driven by a newly-minted Episcopal Bishop. I commute by bike to work, but I hardly know anyone in the Baltimore recreational cycling community. I was noncommittal, but the feeling that I should go began gnawing at me.
Police are continuing to investigate the 2:40 p.m. Dec. 27 crash on the 5700 block of Roland Ave. Episcopal officials have identified the driver of the car as Bishop Suffragan Heather Elizabeth Cook, the second-ranking official in the Diocese of Maryland. Cook initially drove away from the scene but returned a short time later, according to the diocese and witnesses at the scene. Another bicyclist followed her to a gated apartment complex. No charges have been filed.
Even though cold, Jan 1st was a perfect day for a ride. And the meetup site was only five miles away. As the time approached I dragged out my summer bike, pumped up the tires, and found my new bike shoes. Tired of dragging toe clips, I broke down and bought cleated bike shoes last summer, but I am still not at all good at getting both cleats and pedals locked together. I passed a crowd assembling at Joe’s Bike Shop. After climbing Bellemore Road, I joined the tail end of twenty or thirty cyclists headed down University. A lot of guys wore green jerseys reading, ‘Kelly’.
The group grew larger and larger, and when we got to the Episcopal Diocese I figured that I wouldn’t be finding Penny or Bernie in the crowd. 724 people had RSVP’d on facebook, and even more showed up. I walked the bike up on the grass and checked out the spandex. There was another group wearing team jerseys, but most guys wore a yellow or red or blue jacket with black gloves and leggings. I saw one other guy with a Bern helmet. My folding commuter bike would have stuck out among all the 26″ and 700c wheelers.
I chatted with a young woman holding a maroon bike, and we traded the bits we had heard about the crash. Neither of us cared that the woman had used pot or alcohol, unless she was using it while driving that day. She heard the driver had been rushing to a wedding. I wondered if she only came back because a cyclist had tailed her to her house. She was dismayed that the first woman bishop in this area had failed her first pastoral challenge by leaving the scene.
At some point everybody started North on Roland Avenue to the crash site. We filled all three lanes as well as the non-separated bike lane. I didn’t see it, but I read later that we passed by the ghost bike of Nathan Krasnopoler, who was also killed in a bike lane. My wife is always worried about me being hit by a car, but I was more worried about being knocked over in the crowd of cyclists. Most people rode carefully but some hotshots were darting in and out so they could catch up to the lead group that had made the green light. I saw police watching us, but we didn’t have an escort.
When we got there, I found an open spot behind a retaining wall sign. I was lucky because Nate Evans of BikeMaryland, Jed Weeks of Bikemore and Palermo’s brother-in-law Jeff Hulting decided to stand just in front of that wall to speak, and I could actually hear them. I considered suggesting the people’s microphone, but it didn’t seem like an Occupy crowd. Evans and Weeks spoke briefly about being patient with authorities and riding safely, but wanted the day to be about Tom. Hulting expressed hope:
“Last Saturday was a beautiful day and Rachel, realizing how busy they had been, suggested to Tom that he do what he loved and and go out for a ride.” … “As tragic as this accident was and the grief that our family feels, it is our hope that the awareness caused by this horrible event will ultimately result in the saving tens, if not hundreds, of cyclists’ lives in the future.”