John Bennett is executive director of the Savannah Bicycle Campaign.
"DID YOU HEAR? There were two more this week."
If you live in Savannah and overheard this, you know what there were two more of, right?
The seemingly relentless reports of gun violence on Savannah’s streets have many citizens wondering how much worse it can get, especially when multiple murders happen in short succession.
Separate instances of a different sort of violence claimed the lives of two people in Chatham County on Jan. 4 and 5. Less than 12 hours separated their deaths.
Peter J. Meyer, 72, was killed by a hit-and-run driver on Abercorn Street near Twelve Oaks Shopping Center on the evening of Jan. 4.
Early the next morning, a person was killed while riding a bike on Highway 21 in Port Wentworth. The driver who hit him did not stop.
In Meyer’s case, his family is offering a $10,000 reward and police are looking for a 1999 or 2000 Chevrolet Silverado, Tahoe or Suburban with a damaged front right side. Anyone with information on the vehicle should call Crime Stoppers at 912-234-2020 or text CRIMES (274637) using the keyword CSTOP2020.
The victim of the hit-and-run on Highway 21, who has not been publicly identified, was also a man in his 70s, according to WTOC-TV. But the response to his death has been much different.
To my knowledge, no reward is being offered, no vehicles are being sought, and there has been no call for witnesses to step forward or contact Crime Stoppers.
An unidentified state trooper quoted by WTOC theorized the other vehicle was a large truck and the “driver didn’t see and probably doesn’t even know that he’s been involved in any kind of incident.”
Some WTOC viewers used the TV station’s Facebook page as a forum for the kind of victim blaming that usually follows after a person on a bike or on foot is struck by a person driving a car. One commenter accused people on bikes of swerving into the path of cars and trucks in hopes of securing post-crash settlements.
I’m certainly no expert on insurance scams, but I have to believe there are easier ways to “get paid,” as the personal injury attorney television commercials promise, than waking up before dawn on a Monday and purposely pedaling into the path of a tractor-trailer.
Others just couldn’t understand why someone would choose to ride a bike in the dark on a busy highway. The error is assuming that it was a choice.
People who depend on bicycles for transportation often don’t have the luxury of selecting when and where they ride. Their routes are often dictated by the locations of their homes and workplaces, their times of travel by their work schedules.
The tendency to assign responsibility to the most vulnerable people on our roadways can also lead to some colossally bad public policy. For an example, recall the misguided crackdown on jaywalking launched by police in 2009 after a man was killed by a driver while using an Oglethorpe Avenue crosswalk.
We don’t know critical details about how Chatham County’s first two hit-and-run victims of 2015 died. This is not unusual. A report released last year by the League of American Bicyclists examined 628 fatal traffic crashes involving bicyclists and pedestrians and found a startling lack of information on not just the causes, but also details on outcomes, such as determination of fault and resulting charges, if any.
Without this type of data, putting the problem in perspective and developing effective measures to prevent future tragedies is difficult.
Unfortunately, initial reports are often the only news the general public receives about these terrible events. In addition to being thin on specifics, they can also contain details that may skew our perceptions.
For instance, it’s commonplace for the media to note whether a person was in a crosswalk when hit. But what if the nearest crosswalk was half a mile away?
What if skid mark measurements and other roadway evidence eventually reveal the driver was speeding? By then our collective attention will be focused elsewhere.
I’m not blaming reporters at the scene. By the time investigations are concluded, they’ve had to move on to other stories, too.
Last week in his column, the editor of this publication announced that Connect Savannah will track instances of gun violence to provide perspective on these awful incidents.
Inspired by his example, I pledge to do the same by following up on crashes that kill and injure people who walk and ride bikes. My goal is to provide more context and additional details, instead of letting those early, incomplete, and sometimes misleading reports fade from our memories and Facebook feeds.