A cyclist dies, and a motorist drives on

December 03, 2010

This is a confession and, well, something else. Years ago I was driving my big old van through the streets of Pigtown on a terribly windy day. Trash was everywhere, including the streets. Tired of dodging all the trash bags, I drove over one. As I did, I had the unmistakable impression of having run over flesh. I can't say how it felt different from a rear wheel running over anything else, but I know my gut reacted and a tremor passed through me. The next moments are hazy — pulling over, seeing the dog lying motionless but for short gasps, calling 911. People gathered, asking questions, and I answered without looking at their faces. A dog-owner myself, I knew the heartbreak of what I had done. Rather cowardly, I agreed with the animal control agent to put the dog down. No one could locate the owners. My apologies went to the dying dog and the people gathered round. I don't think I've ever described this incident to anyone before. Now I can't stop thinking about it.

This week the Yates family settled out of court with a truck driver who ran over Jack Yates and his bicycle last year, killing him ("Family of cyclist killed in crash settles with truck driver, employer," Dec. 1). The truck drove off after the accident and was later found by police. Several months ago, Natasha Pettigrew, the Green Party candidate for Maryland's U.S. Senate seat was hit by an SUV while on her bicycle. The woman who hit her drove home, with the bicycle lodged under the car. In both cases, the authorities evidently felt that the drivers would not have known they ran over a human being, much less a human being and a large piece of metal. Neither person was charged with a hit-and-run or with failure to render aid.

Life today is not quite as simple as in the days when the parable of the Good Samaritan was first told. But today's societal constructs do not require us to relinquish our capacity to care. Everyone can make a mistake — I am personally aware of that — nevertheless, we can still hold fast to our humanity amid the fears of legal proceedings and rising insurance rates and what-will-the-neighbors-think. And for the authorities? Shameful as it is that rendering aid must be legislated, it is made more so when authorities aren't conscientious about holding people accountable to it. Drivers are getting more aggressive and impatient, and turning a blind eye to hit-and-runs cannot but embolden them.

This is a cautionary letter for all drivers and the authorities who guide them: We are entering a month of busy lives packed with work, shopping, parties and visits, all crammed in and tied together by the roadways. A cyclist recently told me she didn't want to ride alone, not because she was afraid of being hit — she was afraid of being the victim of a hit-and-run, of being left to suffer alone on the roadside. And that shouldn't happen to a dog.

Penny Troutner, Baltimore

The writer is the owner of Light Street Cycles.

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