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We just wanna ride

By Charles Pelkey

Dear readers,
As the last few weeks have shown, perhaps the biggest problem we cyclists encounter is finding a place to just ride.

Ever since my “Whose bike path is it anyway?” column two weeks ago, our Mailbag has been filled with letters from readers weighing in on issues of trail access, path etiquette and even horse manure.

This is all coming at a time when a doctor (of all people) is on trial, facing charges of assaulting – some might argue that he was trying to kill – two cyclists on a narrow canyon road near Los Angeles.

In last week’s column, I mentioned the case of Kevin Flock, who was killed while riding on a relatively empty four-lane divided highway on a Sunday afternoon in May.

A 26-year-old National Guard recruiter, Aaron “Trey” Stapleton, was indicted on charges of involuntary manslaughter by a Nottoway County, Virginia, grand jury in July. According to the Blackstone Courier Record, Stapleton had been driving a government mini-van on a return trip to his home, after spending time at Virginia’s Fort Pickett.

The paper quotes Nottoway Commonwealth Attorney Mayo Gravatt as saying that the indictment was unusual as such automobile-related involuntary manslaughter charges generally involve evidence of speeding or drunk driving, neither of which was in evidence in this case. Gravatt noted, however, that while the defendant in the case had said he hadn’t been able to react in time after seeing Flock, the crash scene suggests that he should have seen the orange-clad cyclist.

“It was broad daylight, clear sight distance, with no obstructions,” Gravatt told the Courier Record.

The grand jury agreed, noting that Stapleton’s actions showed “such gross, wanton, and culpable negligence as to show a reckless disregard of human life.”

As we noted last week, Stapleton’s attorneys sought dismissal of the charges, on grounds that Title 44 of the Virginia Code – The Military Laws of Virginia – bars members of the National Guard from being prosecuted in the course of carrying out their lawful duties. Representing the state, Gravatt argued that the motion misinterpreted the intent of the statute and pointed to another provision of the Military Laws of Virginia that acknowledges that members of the Guard might face charges in civilian courts for their actions.

On Monday, the judge in the case rejected Stapleton’s motion to dismiss and, as things stand now, he will be facing trial on the original involuntary manslaughter charge. The prosecutor in this case should be applauded for taking an aggressive stance. As many of us are aware, that’s not always the case. In some jurisdictions, drivers are often charged with minor offenses, as if cyclists had no business being on the road in the first place.

While we might take some satisfaction in that small victory, Flock’s family and his girlfriend are still dealing with the loss of a talented 35-year-old man who was just out doing the thing we all love to do … riding our bikes.

I’ve mentioned before and I insist on mentioning again, that cyclists and other non-motorized travelers need to make sure their voices are heard. We ride and we vote. Whether it’s a question of access or holding public officials accountable and supporting those who pursue cases.

Perhaps the first step is to work with advocacy groups either locally or those, like Bikes Belong, which operate on a national level and lobby Congress on critical access and funding issues.

It’s important to get involved and stay involved. I realize that activism related to the one thing that brings you a bit of peace, some relaxation and a whole lot of contentment can be a real pain in the ass at times. Riding should be fun. It shouldn’t require going to meetings, writing letters and dishing out dough to organizations. Unfortunately, it does.

Now, after three weeks of access and safety questions, I would like to get back to our regular programming. I encourage you to send in comments, complaints and especially questions that might make for a good subject of future columns.

I’ll try to answer some of those questions by email and use a few in future Explainer columns. I’ll be on vacation next week, however, so it will be a couple of weeks before we post another edition.

Above all, be safe out there.

Email Charles Pelkey

“The Explainer” is a regular feature on VeloNews.com. If you have a question related to the sport of cycling that our editors might be able to answer, feel free to send your query to WebLetters@CompetitorGroup.com and we’ll take a stab at answering. Not all letters will be published and some questions may be combined with those of other readers. Please include your full name and hometown.

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