A Hit-and-Run Driver Killed 5 People on Bikes, So the Press Lectured Cyclists

The five victims of a hit-and-run driver Tuesday in Kalamazoo. Photo retrieved from Mlive.com
The five victims of hit-and-run driver Charlie Pickett. Photos: Mlive.com

A hit-and-run driver killed five people on a group bike ride in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Tuesday. Four others were seriously injured in the horrifying crash, caused when a driver hit their training group — known as “the Chain Gang” — from behind.

Charlie Pickett, whose Facebook page proclaims his love of stiff liquor, was arrested in the death of five cyclists outside Kalamazoo. Photo: Facebook
Charlie Pickett, whose Facebook page is emblazoned with a logo that says “100 Proof,” was arrested for killing five cyclists outside Kalamazoo. Photo: Facebook

Police arrested 50-year-old Charlie Pickett (right), according to Mlive.com, and charged him with five counts of second-degree murder.

The incident resembles a fatal collision that happened in the Akron area in September, when an SUV driver crashed into five cyclists on a training ride, killing two. The driver, 42-year-old Timothy Wolf, initially refused a breathalyzer and was eventually acquitted of vehicular homicide in February. (In this case the driver turned left into the group of cyclists. Wolf blamed sun glare.)

At the very least, you would expect that horrific cases like these would hammer home what an enormous responsibility drivers bear and how careful we should be when we get behind the wheel of a car. But even when the circumstances overwhelmingly point to negligence on the part of the driver, the impulse to lecture cyclists remains strong.

Following the Kalamazoo tragedy, the Grand Rapids’ ABC affiliate took the opportunity to air a segment about “bike safety,” warning cyclists to ride single file, stay close to the white line, and signal when they are turning. The piece eventually notes that there is no indication the Kalamazoo cyclists were doing anything wrong. Meanwhile, the Detroit Free Press warned cyclists to wear helmets — because helmets are magical objects that protect your whole body when a driver hits you from behind at high speed.

The same tacit victim blaming was on display after the Akron crash as well. Cleveland’s ABC affiliate also made the case for helmets, even though the people who were killed were wearing helmets.

At least the coverage never stooped to dehumanizing the victims, but I kept hoping some reporter would remind drivers to be attentive, considerate, and sober — the seemingly obvious lesson. Nobody ever did.

So until they do, we’ll do it right here: Drive carefully, because other people’s lives depend on it.

  • Alicia

    The article that you and this author are “reacting” so negative to was
    specifically a piece about bicycle safety. That was the topic

    Yes, and we are pointing out how inappropriate it is to post it, especially framed as a response to the Kalamazoo incident.

  • RichLL

    What false claim?

    And I see you are now stalking me across different sites. Not attractive. I must be effective if you dedicate yourself to stalking me.

  • RichLL

    That’s you in the photo as well, right? Following me around then as now.

  • RichLL

    Is this accident being attributed to excessive speed? I didn’t see that in the article. As far as I can see, it is being attributed to something between gross negligence and criminal intent.

  • RichLL

    The fact that there is a tiny majority of nutjobs like this driver is not a reason to assume that most drivers are like that. Nor that common sense safety precautions that cyclists can take, but often do not, are any less prudent.

  • Alicia

    If you think that responding to a case of cyclists killed by a drunk driver by finger-waving at cyclists to wear helmets is a logical, rational response, you can get lost. I’d rather not see your silly concern trolling here.

    And if you’re looking for a more polite version of my comment, scroll up and read Joe R.’s post, where he already explained in detail why it doesn’t make much a difference in collisions with automobiles anyway.

  • RichLL

    Alicia, I never mentioned helmets so I’ve no idea why you think I did.

    I did suggest some other ways that cyclists can be safer because when is a good time to consider how to be safer if not after an accident like this?

    Being in denial about some cyclist misbehaviors is not the way to become safer. It is the kind of complacency that leads to a greater probability of risk and danger.

  • Alicia

    ^ See my previous post.

  • Hey kids, be sure to wear a bulletproof vest when you visit the local gay bar, because safety is YOUR responsibility!

    (That was sarcasm.)

  • RichLL

    Alicia, so I point out an error (or worse, a lie) in your post and you double down by repeating your error or lie?

  • Alicia

    I’m repeating my basic point, which is that your attitude, like the attitude of the Detroit News writer linked in the OP, is gross and inappropriate.

    If you want to double down on concern trolling, well, it’s up to you (and the site mods)… but here’s hoping you know when to qui.

  • RichLL

    So if someone suggests ways that cyclists can be safer, you regard it as “trolling” if you happen to disagree with them, whether through ignorance, indifference or sheer obstinance?

    Is your reaction to someone offering more diverse opinions always so emotional and defensive?

    If you want to debate the issues then offer some rebuttals. Otherwise better to not engage at all if you can’t do it in a civil manner or without vague threats of censorship.

  • Frank Kotter

    Ah, so you see the comment of slowing down as being an irrelevant and misplaced approach to reporting of causation and remedy?

    You see the irony here, no?

  • Frank Kotter

    Your ‘perceptions as a motorist’ are exactly what need to change. I mean this with no disrespect. I am a very courteous rider, drive when I must, ride in group rides a few times a week and usually commute by bike.

    I am sometimes in the ‘middle of the lane’ when the necessary to protect myself, my riding mates and, yes, even the motorist behind me. How they ‘feel’ behind me if they are oblivious to this fact is not something I can change and should not try to change by engaging in unsafe riding by religiously keeping to the left.

  • Joe R.

    The suggestion to keep right is fine when there is sufficient space to do so. The example you gave that suggests it’s safe to do so with a 12 foot wide lane is at best poor advice. Maybe this is safe on a back road which doesn’t allow trucks where cars are going 20 or 25 mph at most. Consider a more typical real world situation such as a country highway where drivers routinely go 50 or 60 mph. For starters you need more than 3 feet to pass safely. 6 feet I’d say is the bare minimum in that situation. Next you need to allow for the maximum vehicle width, which would be about 10 feet if you include a truck and its mirrors. After that you allow a buffer of at least 6 feet between opposing directions of traffic. That means you’re 3 feet from the centerline. Add all those up:

    3 feet-distance from centerline
    10 feet-maximum vehicle width
    6 feet-safe buffer for passing cyclists at 50 or 60 mph
    3 feet-width of bicycle
    1 foot-distance of bicycle from right side of road

    That’s 23 feet. If the combined lane and shoulder is 23 feet or more, it’s safe for cyclists to keep right, provided the shoulder is usable. If not, expect cyclists to be taking the lane until either the lane gets wider, or they can move over to allow passing at the next intersection.

  • Serious Starsider

    It’s like describing what the rape victim was wearing.

  • Alicia


    So if someone suggests ways that cyclists can be safer,

    You are dancing around the elephant in the room: These cyclists were not riding unsafely and could not have improved their safety by changing their behavior. The driver was the one driving unsafely. All your concern trolling can’t efface that point.

    you happen to disagree with them, whether through ignorance, indifference or sheer obstinance?

    Or, you know, by using logic.

    If you want to debate the issues then offer some rebuttals.

    I want to debate the issue with people who are debating in good faith, not with tone-deaf, illogical concern trolls.

  • Kenji Yamada

    Rich, in CA it’s not correct that pulling over is required in general when there are 5 or more cars behind you. That applies to two-lane roads only.

    Two understandings of the law that you’ve expressed on this thread are commonly believed, but are not what the Vehicle Code says: that bicyclists are required to stay to the right at all times (they are explicitly permitted to move left under numerous circumstances), and that pulling over when there are 5 or more vehicles waiting behind is required on all roads and not just two-lane roads.

    Please take a look at the Vehicle Code on the subject of bicycles. I don’t mean this condescendingly, but misunderstandings like the ones you’ve expressed here are a source of a lot of unjustified hostility towards people on bicycles.

  • Alex Brideau III

    It would seem that it’s really not an “accident” after all, as it could have been reasonably prevented had the suspect not engaged in drinking-and-driving behavior.

  • I appreciate the attempt on fixing victim blaming and I wish someone like streetsblog would take it a step forward and EDUCATE the media instead of simply calling them out on it. Is this writing any better than the original article? Be proactive, should media talk about better laws, or drivers education, or something else?

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

A Cyclist by Any Other Name

|
If you are a person who rides a bicycle, how do you refer to yourself? As a cyclist? A biker? A bicyclist? Or simply as…a person? Who rides a bicycle? As riding a bicycle for transportation has become more common around the country, the question comes up more and more often. The word "cyclist," in […]

Colorado Authorities Cite Driver for Cyclist Harassment

|
Despite the number of two-wheeled cop patrols around some cities, police aren’t always the most bike-minded bunch. When there’s a conflict between motorists and cyclists, they’re often inclined to take the motorist’s side. As Streetsblog has reported, police in New York City care more about drunk pedestrians than unsafe drivers, despite the fact that most fatalities are caused by […]

The Great Bicyclist Responsibility Debate Continues

|
Searching for clarity when road users conflict. (Photo: squacco via Flickr) Today on the Streetsblog Network, Boston Biker takes issue with a recent column in the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine about how people on bicycles need to "earn" respect on the road. In the view of the Globe’s Doug Most, it’s essentially the responsibility of […]

Catching Hit-and-Run Drivers With Amber Alerts

|
A Portland woman whose son was killed by a drunk hit-and-run driver has proposed a new method to apprehend motorists who flee the scene of a deadly collision. She hopes to bring an Amber Alert-like notification system to Portland to help nab the bad guys. The proposal is based on a system that’s already up […]