Three bicyclists have been killed by vehicles in Anchorage this year. The most recent was Fifty-one-year-old Jeff Dusenbury, who was hit by a pickup truck in South Anchorage Saturday. Fellow cyclists are mourning his death and waiting for the outcome of the District Attorney’s investigation.
Three men sit on a grassy knoll above a pile of flowers marking the spot where their friend was killed just two days before. They chat about Jeff Dusenbury’s kindness – he was always willing to fix a kids bike. They talk about his passion for the sport.
“I got a call today from a friend of Jeff’s who said he was worried that no one’s going to want to ride with him anymore because Jeff was always the one who would call him and want to go for the ride,” said Peter Van Tuyn.
As he speaks, three boys bike past. “They’re just having fun on a summer afternoon biking three miles an hour down this road. You know, Jeff was the safest cyclist – is it fair to say guys? – that we knew. He was always safety conscious, helmet, aware. And these kids are just doing what kids do. And if the same thing had happened here, you’re talking three kids. There’s no distinction between Jeff and that. It’s a tough thing.”
On Saturday morning Dusenbury was biking to meet Van Tuyn for a long ride. Decked out in his bright pink and blue gear and his helmet, he pedaled toward a short dirt path at the dead end of 84th Avenue. At the same time, a 17-year-old girl backed a pick up truck down the street, struck Dusenbury and fled the scene.
Police are still investigating the incident and say it could take up to six more weeks while they wait for toxicology reports and collect evidence. Then it’s up to the District Attorney’s office to decide if the driver will be charged.
Clint Campion with Anchorage DA says fatalities from bicycle-vehicle collisions are investigated in the same way as other traffic collisions. They collect information on how the vehicle was moving, if the people involved were impaired, and their histories.
“Normally we’re analyzing whether someone acted recklessly or with criminal negligence,” he explains. And if we believe that they did, then that’s going to rise to the level of a criminal offense. If someone was simply negligent and it doesn’t rise to the level of a criminal offense, then we may not charge them.”
Campion can’t talk about the inquiry into Dusenbury’s death. But he says sometimes investigations take months, which can be very hard on people who are grieving. The death of another cyclist, killed on Northern Lights in January, is still under investigation. Campion says it’s too soon to say if charges will be brought in either case.
Back at the memorial site, Darren Marin reflects on the lessons of his friend’s death for both cyclists and drivers. “Everybody needs to just slow down. Just slow down and don’t be in a rush and be aware of what you’re doing.”
But Mike Vania says, the tragedy won’t stop them from biking. “You gotta get on that bike and keep pedaling because we know Jeff would. If it happened to one of us, he’d be torn up, but we know he would ride. And we would want us to keep riding.”
“Oh, absolutely,” chimes in Marin.
About 700 cyclists die in vehicle collisions each year in the United States. That’s about 2 percent of vehicle related fatalities.