A face behind the statistics
To start, I want to thank all of you who responded to my request last week for news and personal stories about car/bicycle incidents and how police, prosecutors and the courts responded to both the criminal and civil consequences of those. As I mentioned, my former criminal law professor and I have discussed writing an article on the subject and many of those stories have been quite helpful in giving us some perspective on the problem we riders encounter on a regular basis.
Anecdotes alone can’t be the sole basis of any serious work on the subject. We need to spend some time quantifying the problem and diving into the details of how such incidents are treated by varying jurisdictions around the country and, perhaps, comparing the treatment of American cyclists to those in countries where the laws may be more “bike friendly.” I appreciate the help and, hopefully, we can get the work started soon.
However, a big risk of attempting to view the issue only in terms of the data is that one tends to forget that there are real human beings, with real friends and real families, behind those numbers. I think that point got driven home to me last week, when I spent some more time on the phone with Jo Morrison, whose friend, partner and housemate, Kevin Flock, died after being hit by a van driven by a National Guard recruiter in Virginia. It’s a story we’ve touched on before in this column.
Flock died riding alone on Sunday, May 31. Earlier this month, the man responsible for his death — Virginia National Guard Sergeant Aaron “Trey” Stapleton — was found guilty of “improper driving” and fined $500. Case over. That’s it.
At 26, Stapleton will probably go on to enjoy a long life, maybe share time with friends and family and experience dreams both broken and fulfilled.
Kevin Flock won’t have that opportunity. His friends and his family are left to sort through the memories of a man whose own life was just reaching its prime.
Who was Kevin Flock?
Aside from the tragic connection to this column, Kevin Flock’s wasn’t one of those names you’d generally see in the pages of VeloNews or any other cycling magazine. He was just another guy like most of us, who had a job, friends and a family and who loved bikes for most of his 35 years.
Flock’s mother, Janice, recalled that her son taught himself to ride at the age of 6 and a new bike was a priority for Christmas that year.
“Of course ‘Santa’ had stayed up late assembling this first bike,” Janice Flock said in an email. “Kevin hadn’t been riding it very long when he told his dad that it wasn’t put together correctly. He insisted that something on it was backward. I think it was the piece that joins the handlebars to the frame. His dad, equally insistent, said it was Kevin’s imagination. Well, it turned out Kevin was right. He knew bikes even at the age of 6. And we had quite a time explaining Santa’s error!”
Like of many of us, Flock caught the racing bug at an early age, when someone offered him the chance to try the sport.
“When he was 15, one of his teachers started up a cycling club at his high school. Kevin decided to participate, but was riding his ‘English racer,’ while wearing tennis shoes and no helmet,” his mother recalled. “After doing this for a few weeks, the teacher approached me and said that Kevin had promise, but that there was no way he could continue with the bike he was riding. I was shocked to find out that an entry-level competitive bike would cost about $500 (this was back in 1988 or ’89), but we headed to our local Schwinn store anyway and got the bike, the shoes, the strange helmet and the funny shorts. Little did we know then he would be doing this for 20 more years. He still has that first Schwinn racing bike hanging in his shed.”
While cycling was a big part of Kevin Flock’s life, it wasn’t the only thing. Along the way, he graduated from the University of Southwestern Louisiana with a degree in fine art in 1996 and from Auburn University in 1999 with a master’s of fine arts.
“He was special; intelligent, relentless in exploring and questioning, re-examining all that life presented to him. Kevin made every moment a challenge,” said Allan Jones, one of his painting instructors in college. “Our class critiques were fun, wide-open donnybrooks, thanks to Kevin.”
Although a trained and avid painter, Flock’s career took him in a different direction . He worked as a computer tech, a position he held in Birmingham, Alabama, where he met and fell in love with New Zealander Jo Morrison.
“He was fun, and funny,” said Morrison. “He had such a quirky sense of humor, and I have a weird sense of humor, too, so we were well-matched. We called ourselves `Team Mock-Florrison.’”
Flock spent a lot of time working with his hands and was a regular volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.
“He could fix just about anything: computers, toys, homes, cars,” his sister Denise said. “My kids would always pile up broken toys for Uncle Kevin to fix on his next visit.”
Denise Flock said that her brother was the sort who constantly thought of others’ needs.
“In 1998, a terrible flood hit New Orleans,” she recounted. “I got stuck driving home from work in rising water and the skies were getting darker by the minute. My father drove Kevin as close as he could get him to where I was and Kevin walked the rest of the way to rescue me. That is the kind of brother he was.”
When Morrison took a job at a small college in Virginia, Flock joined her and the two bought a house together.
“When we bought this house we bought it with the intention of remodeling and creating a warm, welcoming space for our friends and family,” she said. “We wanted to create a space where people could come and relax and be welcome. We had exactly the same goals for our home. We’d done some projects together in Birmingham and we worked really well together and I was so looking forward to working on our house with him.”
“He could fix or build anything and everything,” said Morrison. “He’d found a group in Richmond to help out with and recently spent a weekend in April helping to fix up the house of an older couple.”
Flock landed a job as a database administrator nearby and was planning to resume painting as soon as he completed the final round of professional certifications in his field.
“He explored space and the interaction of objects with space and was excited to start painting again,” Morrison said. “He’d taken an upstairs bedroom in our house for his studio. He was so happy he finally wasn’t in a shed, basement, or garage.”
Over the Memorial Day weekend — a week before he died — Flock thought it wise not to ride, largely because of the increased risk he might face from drivers who had too much to drink over the three-day weekend.
Instead, Flock spent the time building trails through the woods at the back of their property.
“It was hot and sunny and I could hear the crappy old ride-on mower starting and stopping in the woods and the chunks of wood being cut,” Morrison recalled. “Then he rode the lawnmower out of the woods … and he had this huge, silly grin on his face. He was so happy, he was sweaty, soaked through, covered in bites and scratches, and just giddy with all the trails he had built.
“He pulled me out to walk his trails with him and they were impressive. There’s a creek/swamp at the back of our property and he’d built trails right up to it, almost got the mower stuck, and we talked about putting a gazebo on the islands so we could have picnics in the woods. He was so happy, like a kid, but playing with cool toys.”
The following weekend, Flock took advantage of free time, the presumably safer roads and good weather to go for a ride. It was a clear Sunday afternoon and, like most of us, he saw it as a perfect time to put in a few miles and maybe enjoy a bit of solitude on quiet country roads.
Riding to right of the white line on a divided four-lane road, he was struck from behind by the van operated by Stapleton. At trial, a driver whose cruise control was set at 62mph, testified that the government-licensed van had passed him half a mile before. Nonetheless, Nottoway Commonwealth Attorney Mayo Gravatt told jurors that even at that speed an attentive driver would have seen Flock for at least 45 seconds from the time he first came into view until the time he was struck and killed.
The driver, whom Stapleton had passed, saw Flock as he was struck and estimated that his body was thrown 100 feet into the air before landing on the side of the road. Kevin Flock was dead before rescuers arrived.
“I only hope that he didn’t realize what was happening,” Morrison said.
“As a family, we are trying to make sense of this tragedy,” said Denise Flock. “For his birthday, we created brochures and put them on windshields reminding drivers to be respectful of cyclists. As a grant writer, I am trying to link with organizations to help make this world a little safer for cyclists and pedestrians.”
It’s been more than six months since Kevin Flock died. Morrison still lives at the home she bought with Flock, the one in which they had hoped to start their life together. The trails he cut over Memorial Day weekend have already started to grow over again.
“It was us against the world and I miss him so much that words don’t do it justice,” Morrison said. “Our whole future is gone, changed into something I don’t want because my future was supposed to be with Kevin and that is so very hard to deal with.”
Email Charles Pelkey