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Tyler Wren Journal: A first-hand account of the Jamis hit-and-run

VeloNews rider diarist Tyler Wren recounts a frightening encounter with an Arizona driver at camp and the swift response from authorities

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TUCSON, Arizona (VN) — Most cyclists here in the States have experienced some level of aggressive behavior from motorists. It usually comes in the form of taunts about our spandex, a belch of exhaust accompanying a startling downshift, or an uncomfortably close buzz. But on Friday morning during our team training camp in Tucson, Arizona, the Jamis-Hagens Berman team experienced something much worse. A driver, who police later identified as Rodney Kinkade Jr. of Tucson, came up from behind on our large group, took aim, and used his car as a battering ram. Fortunately, none of us were gravely injured, but the incident highlighted the growing senseless friction between cyclists and motorists.

The Jamis team chose Tucson for its camp location because of its favorable weather and training terrain. Tucson is generally regarded as a bike-friendly city and indeed has long been somewhat of a domestic cycling mecca.

We departed for our ill-fated training ride on Friday at 10:00 a.m., headed out of town on Valencia Road, a common thoroughfare with a generous shoulder bounded by a white line. The 15-rider group was riding two-abreast in a long line, as far to the right as possible, in full accordance with Arizona traffic law. Our team’s strength and conditioning coach Todd Herriott and I were on the front, he on my left, closest to the passing traffic. Kinkade’s tan Oldsmobile Aurora suddenly and violently impacted Todd’s left side. He and I crashed hard on the front of the group as Mr. Kinkade sped away. My teammates also reported that Mr. Kinkade was shouting obscenities at us during the attack through his open car window.

As Todd and I lay on the ground struggling to comprehend what had happened, my unscathed teammate Ben Jacques-Maynes sprinted past us in an impressive pursuit of the fleeing car. Ben did not manage to catch the perpetrator, but he swiftly came upon our team car, which was waiting for us at our next turn and breathlessly explained the situation to our sport director, Sebastian Alexandre. Sebastian quickly resumed the pursuit along with his serendipitous passenger, John Segesta, a professional photographer in possession of a DSLR camera with a telephoto lens. John photographed numerous cars and license plates before the pair returned to the scene of the crime for the team members to positively identify the driver and vehicle.

John nailed him — crystal clear in high-definition on his camera was a shot of Kinkade’s car and Arizona license plate. Mr. Kinkade underestimated the cohesiveness and capability of the Jamis squad. Ben and various teammates spread the word and the license plate number through social media, and within a couple hours an article appeared in the cycling press.

The Tucson Police Department arrived quickly, responding with nearly a dozen officers and two detectives. Aware of the burgeoning attention towards the incident, Tucson police ran the plates and found Mr. Kinkade in his home. According to one of the detectives, Kinkade had washed his car in an apparent attempt to remove the evidence of the attack, but a large scratch remained from the collision. He admitted to yelling at us as he passed, but denied making physical contact. In spite of this denial, he was taken into custody and will appear before the Pima County Court on March 14 on charges of felony aggravated assault. In my opinion, he deserves 15 counts of this charge, as all of us in the group were endangered by his reckless criminal behavior.

In addition to damaged bikes and shredded apparel, Todd and I were among the wreckage of the attack, bruised and battered, but fortunately without any broken bones. The fall-out could have been much worse, but the unprovoked attack by Mr. Kinkade was wholly unnecessary. I understand that cyclists sometimes slow traffic, which can annoy motorists, but we share just as much right to the use of roadway, and no amount of annoyance or delay could justify an assault with a 4,000-pound weapon like his Oldsmobile.

I want to thank the Tucson Police Department for taking the attack so seriously. The city truly lived up to its bike-friendly reputation with its thorough and effective response, and I believe that this incident should not deter cyclists from visiting the city. Rodney Kinkade does not represent the general attitude of Tucson drivers towards cyclists. I am also thankful to all of my Jamis teammates for skipping some training and remaining at the scene of the crime for four hours in order to give the police their statements on the incident.

I’ll be back on my bike and doing my best in 2013, but the close call was a sobering reminder of the danger of cycling on the open roads. My hope is that some good can come of this situation if Mr. Kinkade is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, thereby raising the general awareness of the consequences of recklessly endangering cyclists.