Bicycles are strange. And the people who ride them, even stranger. Fiercely communal, and fiercely maternal - almost to a fault. But the strangeness of the bicycle is more than a way of life; rather an extension of self-expression and freedom. And when our means to access the manifestations of those expressions are compromised - our bicycles are stolen, or our friends injured by a larger vehicular inhabitant of the roads we do our best to share, those strange instincts are provoked.
One month ago today, someone named Brynn Barton was riding her bicycle here in downtown Salt Lake and exercising her freedoms to be young and inspiring, when she was hit by a car. The driver fled.
Brynn was killed.
I never personally knew Brynn, but like much of the cycling community here, I was not left unscathed by the tragedy of the story. It's also of little comfort knowing the driver and their damaged vehicle still remain at-large somewhere in the valley. So tonight, I had a chance to join the family for their second memorial/awareness ride around Liberty Park, and to and from the ghost bike at the intersection where she died. After the brief, and somber ride, I met Jeff - her father, for the first time. A strong, practical, and reassuringly matter-of-fact kind of a man. A man whose smile struggled to belie the pain behind his eyes - pain from not having been allowed to see his daughter's body at the gruesome crash scene. Pain from the senselessness of her death. Pain from knowing his life, and the lives of his family would never again be the same. "I've driven past that intersection so many times now, and every time, I am embarrassed to be a human," he admits regretfully. "I mean, we stop even if we hit a dog." He pauses, then flatly adds "it's just what you do." He's right - any mentally competent motorist would stop after hitting damn near anything, which is what leads investigators and the community to suspect either a driver too drunk to recognize the occurrence of an accident, or more ominously still - a driver with a malicious vendetta.
He went on to tell me that he'd come to acceptance that finding and incarcerating the driver (now a felon) wouldn't bring Brynn back, nor would it bring closure to his family. Whether or not he's made peace, or ever will, what surprised me most about his re-telling, was how he was as sympathetic as he was grateful. Sympathetic to his daughter's killer - a cowardly human being who must now learn to sleep, knowing they'd ended a promising young life. And grateful for the good that had come from the tragedy - learning of the hundreds she'd impacted, and their outpouring of support at the massive memorial ride on the 17th.
It is not fair that life inspires tragedy, and conversely tragedy inspires life. The injustice of Brynn's story broke the collective hearts of the cycling community here, and is quickly becoming a figurehead for the unrest between cyclist and vehicle rights on the road. And hearing her father faithfully struggle to discover, and rationalize the value of senselessness in the universe of his family, absolutely kills me. Silver linings are not my forte, nor do I believe they should be. But if there's one thing about the bicycle, is that the self-discovery it inspires, reveals a soldier in all of us. Our means and our causes are as different as the motives and activism we pursue, but we soldier all the same.
Vehicle description, Salt Lake Police contact information, and reward details can all be found here. Also enclosed is a template for a handbill that can be printed and posted, handed out, or stuck behind the wipers on the windshields of parked cars. And if it's a late-model Volkswagon Passat, that handbill could be worth six thousand Mormon dollars.
Let's get this asshole.