A Ride For Remembering

As It Honors One Of Its Own, Cycling Community Hopes To Underscore Need To Share The Road

November 09, 2009|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,laura.vozzella@baltsun.com

About 80 bicyclists pedaled through North Baltimore on Sunday, claiming a bit of the roadway and remembering an avid cyclist who died last summer doing the same.

The second annual Tour De Greater Homewood was also known this year as the Jack Yates Memorial Ride.

John R. "Jack" Yates, 67, died cycling in August. He'd been riding south on Maryland Avenue when a truck turned right onto Lafayette Avenue in front of him. Yates sustained fatal injuries when his bike got entangled in the truck's rear wheels.

"The cycling community really took this to heart," said Karen Stokes, executive director of the Greater Homewood Community Corp., which organized the ride. Yates was one of the group's board members.

Organizers hoped the event would raise awareness about bicycle safety. Seven people have died in bicycle accidents every year in Maryland from 2005 through 2008, according to State Highway Administration figures.

"There's so many more cyclists now," Stokes said. "The more people ride, the better cars will understand" how to share the road.

Some also hoped the tour would draw attention to Yates' accident, which remains under investigation. Police have not identified the truck's driver, who police believe was not aware of the collision before leaving the scene. The commander of the Police Department's traffic section has said that surveillance video indicated that Yates was at fault, but a lawyer representing Yates' family has said the video shows the tanker truck did not signal that it was making the turn.

"We want to bring awareness," said Lisa Hurka Covington, one of Yates' close friends. "We don't even know who hit Mr. Yates. We know nothing. It's been very difficult for the family and friends."

Yates died a few blocks from where the ride started, at the University of Baltimore's Gordon Plaza. He'd been on his way to UB, making sure his registration was in order as he prepared to begin work toward another master's degree. (It would have been his third. After many years counseling inner-city schoolchildren, he wanted to become an alcohol and substance abuse counselor.)

The bike tour was two rides, one 14.5 miles, the other about 5 miles. Both passed by a white "ghost bike" memorial erected to Yates near the scene of the crash.

The mood at the event was, nonetheless, upbeat, in part because the day was sunny and unusually warm.

"I think Jack got this weather for us," said Yates' widow, Ellen Yates. "I've had my fingers crossed ever since I heard about it. I knew a great day would make for a really great turnout. I'm so happy everyone's here."

Among those who rode were two of Yates' adult grandchildren.

Three of his cousins, in their 50s and 60s, came from Virginia, West Virginia and Ohio with their bikes. Their father - Yates' uncle - was a cyclist and got them into it in the 1950s, as a Boy Scout activity. When the uncle died in 1985, Yates accompanied his cousins on a bike ride in his honor, scattering his ashes along the way.

"This is sort of returning the favor," said one of the cousins, Bane McCracken, 65, of West Virginia.

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