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Family seeks answers in death of cyclist

The Boston Globe: Family seeks answers in death of cyclist

By Brock Parker
Globe Correspondent / November 15, 2009

Zeeb was training to ride his bicycle across the country. Every other day, Zeeb would ride his bicycle 60 miles in trips that took him from Newton to Concord, Sudbury, Weston, or Boston, and he was pushing himself to ride farther in preparation for his coast-to-coast ride in June.

“He figured he was going to have to go about 80 miles a day,’’ said Zeeb’s son, Noel. “It was about the act itself, for him. He wasn’t a racer.’’

But on Monday, during a ride to Arlington, Robert Zeeb crashed his bicycle along Route 2. He died from his injuries the following day.

Witnesses told State Police that Zeeb crashed along the westbound side of Route 2, east of Exit 60, at 10:22 a.m. -not far from the Alewife T station. A witness told police that it appeared as if Zeeb’s bicycle struck a hole for an electrical box in the ground and that no other vehicles were involved in the accident.

Zeeb’s family is upset the hole wasn’t covered and is looking for answers. “I’m going to need to talk to them to see why that [cover] wasn’t there,’’ Noel Zeeb said yesterday.

One witness told State Police the hole was filled with leaves and its cover was several feet away, said David Procopio, a State Police spokesman.

The area in which Zeeb crashed is a partially paved sidewalk beside Route 2. It falls under the jurisdiction of the state Highway Department, now a division of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, which responded to the scene and replaced the cover for the electrical box, Procopio said.

Adam Hurtubise, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, declined to comment yesterday because of the ongoing police investigation into the accident.

After the accident, two witnesses, whose names have not been released, were driving west along Route 2 and pulled over to try to help. Zeeb, who had been wearing a helmet, appeared to have head injuries and was taken to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Procopio said.

For now, Zeeb’s family is more focused on remembering his life than on the details of his death, Noel Zeeb said.

In addition to being an avid cyclist for most of his life, Robert Zeeb worked for 39 years for Newton public schools as coordinator for the district’s English program.

He lived in Newton with his wife, Holly, whom he’d met as an undergraduate at Harvard. The couple had two sons, Peter, 46, who lives in Arlington, and Noel, 43, of Cambridge.

Zeeb was also heavily involved with Green Decade, a nonprofit environmental group in Newton, and was an active member of First Unitarian Society of Newton.

“He was a very big part of the community in Newton,’’ Noel Zeeb said. “He was a larger-than-life type of character.’’

Edward Martin, who befriended Robert Zeeb while working with him as a teacher and later as a curriculum coordinator in the Newton school system, said Zeeb was always coming up with new teaching ideas and there was never a dull moment with him.

“Some of us are, when we get older, boring,’’ Martin said. “He never got boring.’’

Peter Smith, a board member of Green Decade, said Smith had worked on a number of environmental projects for the nonprofit over the years.

One of Zeeb’s latest efforts was Household EcoTeam, a competition that groups households into teams that support and challenge one another to make their homes more environmentally friendly.

Louise Bruyn, a former president of Green Decade, said one of the nonprofit’s main efforts has been to cut down on carbon emissions. Bruyn said Zeeb was one of many workers with Green Decade who preferred to ride a bicycle because it doesn’t pollute.

“What a horrible accident,’’ Bruyn said. “He was a very special person.’’

Noel Zeeb said his father was an “extreme extrovert’’ who loved sharing his ideas about everything from books to politics. Robert Zeeb also chaired an adult education committee at First Unitarian Society.

“He was just always engaged with the world,’’ Noel Zeeb said.

Peter Zeeb said his father was also an avid gardener who grew about 2,000 heads of garlic a year.

Noel Zeeb said his father was very careful on his bicycle and always wore a helmet. But Noel Zeeb said he doesn’t think his father saw any danger ahead on his ride Monday.

“He had no idea,’’ he said. “He didn’t do anything wrong.’’

A memorial service is scheduled for Dec. 1 at 4 p.m. in First Unitarian Society in Newton.

© Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company.