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Cyclists' sudden death on quiet country highway

The Daytina Beach News-Journal: Cyclists' sudden death on quiet country highway

BY MARK LANE, FOOTNOTE

May 4, 2012

One of the more difficult parts of a reporter's job is telephoning people after a family member dies unexpectedly.

Last week, I found myself on the phone with a man whose brother died in a roadside accident. Mark Metts of Osteen had lost his younger brother, Todd, but he was open to talking with a stranger. He wanted people to know about his brother.

His brother ran a lawn service but his passion was bicycling. Not a lap or two around the trail but big, makes-you-sore-just-thinking-about-them distances. Interstate distances.

He said on most Monday afternoons Todd would hop on his bike, hit the trails in Seminole and Orange counties, and pedal 100 miles.

Mark said he's not in such great shape himself, "so I never thought I'd be the one burying Todd. There's nothing fair about it."

Todd was on an interstate bike ride with two friends last week. They started in Washington, D.C., and planned to ride all the way back to Osteen. In the process, they'd raise money for Beautiful Feet Ministries.

"They got a picture of themselves in front of the White House when they started out," Mark recalled.

For some reason, north of Darien, Ga., the cyclists decided to push ahead instead of stopping at a hotel as planned. There was another hotel down U.S. Highway 17.

It was late, after 9 p.m., but these guys were ready for night driving. They had reflective orange safety vests. They had flashing LED lights on the back of their bikes. They had flashers on the back of their helmets. And in front of their bikes they had lights, too.

"Like a car light," said Mark, who had seen the light on his brother's bike. "You could use that light to hunt coons.

"I don't know how he could not see him," he said.

What happened next was the kind of collision cyclists have nightmares about. The kind you can't see coming.

A van traveling in the same direction hit all three cyclists. The rider in the back of the single-file line, Jeffrey Dunn, and Todd, riding in the middle, died at the scene. The cyclist in front, Kenny Hunt, was badly injured and airlifted to a hospital.

The accident is still being investigated, according to a Georgia State Patrol spokesman. No charges have been filed against the driver.

U.S. 17 is nondescript county road. Tall pines punctuated by the occasional leaning mailbox. Not much of a shoulder, but it's straight and you can see up the road for miles. And not an odd place for a bicycle to be.

"U.S. 17 is included as part of U.S. Bike Route 1 from Key West to Bar Harbor, Maine, and Georgia Bike Route 95 from South Carolina to Florida. As such, it is frequently traveled by cyclists touring up and down the East Coast," wrote Ron Fisher, a back-roads cyclist who describes himself as the "sole avid cyclist living in Astor" and a survivor of a come-from-behind car hit.

"I myself intend on riding this road someday," he said.

It's easy to think of country roads as safe, a relief from the dangers of city riding, but in 2010, 28 percent of cyclist deaths were in rural areas, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. And two-thirds of fatal crashes happen away from intersections.

Sometimes it's the clear, straight, undemanding roads that can be the most dangerous. Especially for walkers, runners and riders.