Last Saturday, near Houston, a Texas man named Michael Weaver, 66, was driving an SUV (what else), “failed to maintain his speed” (according to the police) and struck a group of cyclists who were making their annual cross-country ride from California to Florida. Weaver killed 51-year-old Kent Joshua Wosepka from South Hamilton, Massachusetts. Weaver also sent two other riders to the hospital with serious injuries, 59-year-old Barbara Anne Ferrell of Santa Rosa, California, and 54-year-old Elizabeth Anne O’Brien of South Hamilton, Massachusetts. Wosepka was a father of three.
The police noted that Weaver was driving without adequately maintaining his speed, noted that he killed a cyclist and hospitalized two others, and then released him without so much as issuing a citation.
“It was a horrendous explosion of people and bicycle parts,” described Ferrell from a Texas hospital where she underwent surgery for a collapsed lung and broken vertebrae.
This was the second time in two months a Texas driver drove his vehicle into a group of cyclists (both in the greater Houston area), sending some to the hospital with life threatening—and changing—injuries, and then was released from the scene with no citation or charges.
In September, a Texas teenager driving a large pickup taunted cyclists by “rolling coal” — purposely venting unburnt diesel exhaust directly into the riders (rolling coal is often done by installing special switches simply for the purpose of emitting a bunch of black, diesel-rich smoke into the air as a kind of aesthetic modification — it serves no other purpose). Then he drove his truck directly into the group from behind.
Charges may be filed against the teenaged driver in the coming days. This is after the local police department was flooded with angry complaints, especially when it was learned the driver has connections to local county authorities. There has been plenty of back and forth among the Waller County DA, the local police chief, and cyclists in the area about why there have yet to be charges, and mistakes that were made in handling the case. The police who arrived after the driver hit the cyclists did not investigate the area as a crime scene, for instance.
The truck driver’s actions caused “broken vertebrae, cervical and lumbar spinal injuries, broken collarbones, hands, and wrists—many of which require surgical intervention—as well as multiple traumatic brain injuries, lacerations, soft tissue damage, road rash, and extensive bruising.”
Back when I was in high school, in the 1990s, in my small, rural coastal California town, some friends and I spent a Friday afternoon after school horsing around with a cap gun in a friend’s front yard. A couple hours later, driving around town, a phalanx of sheriff cruisers screeched to a halt around our car, officers leaping from the car with shotguns drawn. Each of us was pressed to the pavement, handcuffed, and put in the back of a cruiser. Turns out, a neighbor kid called his dad, a deputy, and said we had some kind of gun in the yard. My friend who had the cap gun in his car was charged at the scene with “brandishing a replica firearm.” He served six months of house arrest and probation.
A few years later, same town, during a college summer break, I had a brand new telescope and invited the same crew to come check out Saturn with me. We headed to a city park, set up the scope and some lawn chairs, and looked at planets and the Andromeda galaxy. After an hour or so, two police cars pulled up. The officers demanded that I produce a receipt for the telescope, which of course I didn’t have on me, threatened to arrest me for stealing it, then wrote me a citation for being in a muni park after sunset — about $200. I was 19 at the time, so that $200 was roughly equivalent to 90% of my entire savings.
Two entirely harmless events, both of which were treated as crimes by the police, both of which carried real repercussions. For my friend, a misdemeanor charge carried on his record, a sizable fine, and probation (he bought the cap gun at a local department store, by the way). For me, an expensive ticket for the crime of being outside at night and using a telescope.
The man who killed a cyclist with his SUV and the teenage driver who taunted cyclists then drove into them with his pickup truck received no citation, were not handcuffed, and, at this point, have not been charged with any wrongdoing, despite witnesses saying the teenager taunted the cyclists, and the 66-year-old driver lost control of his speed.
There’s a lesson here, and I’m frankly unsure of what it is. That riding a bike on roads invites death or serious bodily harm from motorists who in many cases will face no consequences for their actions. That riding a bike is viewed by some small town judges as a suspect activity. That roads are simply for cars, and anything impeding the sacred automobile is a mere insect to be scraped from the grill of an oversized SUV.
It’s not a new problem, but to be reminded of this with two tragic acts of vehicular assault twice in two months brings it into sharp relief.
Ride safe out there, folks. But more importantly—drive safe.