Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Killed By Driver

I didn't know Mark HinkelWhen I heard that a Lexington cyclist had been killed by a drunk driver during the 2015 Horsey Hundred I worried that it was someone I did know.  I know too many Lexington cyclists.  Someone from the bike shop?  The BPAC?  People we've met on other rides; that I've worked with?  We're were pretty sure Jeaph and Casey hadn't gone to the Horsey,  but Jeaph could be considered a Lexington cyclist.

I didn't know Mark Hinkel, but I've been in Mark Hinkel's cycling shoes before: so close to the end of a ride I could taste the post-ride food, ready to gorge on anything I could get my hands on, wanting out of my crusty cycling kit, but wearing a face-splitting grin because the sky is blue, the weather is fine, and I've just spent most of the day riding my bike.

And then some jackass guns it in their truck and almost hits me.

And then some jackass...

In all of my years of riding I've had a lot of close calls from inattentive, oblivious, antagonistic, and sometimes downright hostile motorists.  I can think of exactly one time when the close call was my own fault.  I tried to beat a red light making a left turn on a busy street in Dayton and the car I thought I could get the jump on had more horsepower than I did.  I learned my lesson.

I've spent the past twenty years being hyper-vigilant on the bike.  And despite my lifelong love of bikes, riding for fun and for utility in four different big cities, and despite care in prolonging my own life on the bike...I've been hit by motorists twice.  Both instances were minor, but mindshaking to me.  The close calls were even more traumatic.  There have been times I was certain the motorist blaring their horn, speeding past mere millimeters from me, disregarding my humanity...intended unreasonable harm to me simply because I was riding my bike.

I often say that most people don't take driving seriously enough.  I really mean that.  I know a lot of good, honest people who deceive themselves about their driving skills.  The more you think and defend that you're a good driver the less likely I am to believe you.  And believe you me, the cultural standards for responsible driving are pretty grim.

So as a cyclist I have adopted the mentality that every motorists is either a) drunk, b) texting or high or both, or c) a psychopathic killer out to get ME.  It's not a realistic state of mind to exist in.  But its the survival tactic that will keep you on two wheels in an unforgiving environment.  Until some random piece of space junk crashes into your satellite.

The odds of getting hit by a motorist while out riding your bike is relative to the probability of some hunk of metal in HEO crashing into some other functional or non- hunk of metal.  The window is narrower.  Whatever.

The worst thing about all this is that the perception of an unsafe environment (not some exaggerated reality of physics) is an honest-to-God barrier for most people to ride bikes more.  To be perfectly honest, that perception has been a barrier for me of late.  It's kept me from running or riding on the road.  It crept in and took up building a web in some dark corner of my mind.  Now that entire corner if full of cobwebs and I'm loathe to touch them to begin the sweeping change in my mind I need to get back on that two-wheeled horse.

Mark Hinkel didn't deserve to die for riding a bike.  No one does. 

I don't understand the absurdly elevated status of any old slob behind the wheel of a car.  Why any of us think our drive to the grocery store is somehow more important than the lives of our friends and neighbors  is baffling to me.  And how can someone look at a human being on a bicycle and think that its okay to menace and endanger them so selfishly.

It sounds like Hinkel's killer was drunk.  So maybe there was no ill intent.  A witness commented online that the driver was impatient and passed on a double yellow line while the news outlets have been reporting that he was drunk, dropped of the right side of the road, overcorrected, and struck Hinkel.

It would be easy to loathe Mr. Paz-Salvador.  He made bad choices.  His poor judgment ended a man's life.  My anger is directed more at the cultural disregard we harbor toward our destructive dependence on the automobile.  I'm not absolving the drunk driver of his personal responsibility, but the environment that allowed such crass ambivalence toward the easy power of the internal combustion engine is toxic and we have to stop denying its destructiveness.

I hope Hinkel's family and friends can find peace.  I'm thankful it wasn't a close friend that was killed during the Horsey, but that's really small consolation.  He was a cyclist and someone I likely have more in common with than just any random stranger on the street.  While I didn't know Mark Hinkel before his passing has affected my life, my thinking, and my outlook going forward as each event like this in my life has.

As much as I hate to say it I'm getting more sober as I get older.  I'm letting the misconceptions of others creep in and influence my judgment.  I don't want to fear living my life.  And so I need to maintain control over my thinking and segregate myself to a place where I know truth from unreality.


  1. I just read an article recently about motorist viewing other motorists as objects. That while in an automobile, we don't view other autos as having people in them and that if we all started to look at those cars as people, perhaps we wouldn't have so much rage in our cars. I thought it was an interesting take, but I'm not sure I can agree when people have such disdain and anger toward cyclists - who are very obviously people.

    There was a cyclist shot on the road here in Windsor just days ago and it has shaken local cyclists for sure. It's difficult to not have some fear on the roads when you know there's an unknown assailant on the loose. No one seems to know if there was an altercation or if it was random. Either way, it's entirely scary that someone would just take aim and shoot at someone who is defenseless. I try very hard to not live my life in fear of what could happen, but when we see these things and they seem so pointless, it's difficult to not let it creep in and affect us.

    1. Wow, I hadn't heard about that. That would definitely give you pause.

      I had heard something long ago about the dehumanizing effects of the automobile. I'm as guilty as anyone of seeing other's as objects from behind the wheel of the car. I actually wrote something along those lines in my journal when I was but a wee lad of seventeen after a high school classmate nearly ran me off the road...that I felt no animosity toward her in the hallways, but that I felt a burning rage any time I saw her car.

      the car screws with our minds

  2. I agree with everything you said. I sometimes question myself if I should be on the roads.

  3. I am sorry to hear about that. My condolences to Hinkel family. And it’s true: some drivers discriminate against cyclist. Bikers are defenseless against drivers with bigger vehicles, thus bicycle incidents have been increasing at an alarming rate. Thank you for sharing this story and your thoughts about the matter.

    Leticia Holt @ KHunter Law