Update on Fatal Crash in Minocqua (UPDATED)

Update: I was away from my computer for the last couple days, so I want to thank Tom Held for his excellent reporting and for telling me that Lynch had not been charged with any felony, including homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle. In a search of the Wisconsin Circuit System Circuit Court Access records, Tom noticed that Lynch has only been charged with Inattentive Driving, 346.89(1), and was released after paying a 187.90 bond. I checked the WCSCCA before I wrote my post, but no charges were listed at the time other than his previous minor traffic violation. I based my story below on the early media reports, which claimed he was arrested for that and homicide by negligent operation of vehicle, 940.10. It is possible that those charges might still be pending an investigation of the crash and review by the Oneida County District Attorney, but at this time, we have no reason to believe that other than the early media reports. I have received the crash report, but it is extremely limited in details and offers no new information. We will have to wait for the results of the investigation and an update from the Minocqua Police or the Oneida County District Attorney. We will of course keep you updated as we get more information.

In an incredibly tragic story, 55-year-old Robin Kuzel, well-known as a year-round bicycle commuter in Minocqua, was killed Thursday morning at 3AM after he was hit by a truck while riding home from work on Highway 51. The driver of the truck, 28-year-old Adam B. Lynch of Delevan, was arrested for Homicide by Negligent Operation of a Vehicle, Reckless Driving – causing great bodily harm and Inattentive Driving. This is the fourth fatal bicycle crash this year, compared to 9 at this time in 2013.

This morning I had the unfortunate duty of breaking the news to Jeff Lauder, an employee at Chequamegon Adventure Companywhere Kuzel was a frequent customer. Jeff  told me he knew Kuzel well.

“He was just one of those people who almost lived on his bicycle. He is an avid bicycle commuter who worked at the Burger King. He couldn’t afford a car. We just sold him a (KHS 29er) 620 because of a kind of sad story. He had this old bike that we had maintained and he needed the money for something so he sold his bike to a pawn shop to get a loan. Then after he saved up enough money to get his bike back, the pawn shop had sold the bike. He got a crummy thrift store bike to get him by, but when he came in with it to get it fixed, we worked with instead to get him on a new bike.”

I asked Lauder how Kuzel could afford a new bike, he told me they allowed Kuzel to put down a deposit and they gave him store credit for the balance and let him take the new KHS. “He came monthly and give us another hundred or what he had, Lauder said. “He didn’t have a lot of money and we wanted to help him out.”

You can see by the photo that there is a whide paved shoulder on Highway 51 south of Minocqua where Kuzel was hit and killed. Photograph by Sasha Case

Most days I think I have the best job in the world, but reporting on fatal crashes is also part of my responsibilities to our members. We report on these crashes to honor the victims, but more importantly to review the circumstances and see if there is anything we can do to prevent a future crash. To that end, I have requested the MV4000e crash report from the Minocqua Police Department, but the crash remains under investigation by the State Highway Patrol Crash Reconstruction Team. I have also requested the officer on the scene call me to share any other details he can at this time.

All we can tell at this time is what I can glean from the report in the Lakeland Times. Based on that story and the accompanying photo, the crash apparently happened Thursday morning on Highway 51, which has a wide, paved shoulder. After I get more information I will share it here.

Until then, please have Kuzel and his family and friends in your thoughts and prayers. We can also all do our part to pay full attention to the job of driving when we are behind the wheel of a motor vehicle and do our best to ride according to the rules of the road when on our bicycles.

The number of crashes has been on the decline for years, even as the number of people commuting by bicycle increases. The fatal crash numbers are so small, that the variations from year to year are probably statistically insignificant. Of course our goal is to make that number zero.

And remember that despite rare tragic fatal crashes like this one, bicycling remains a very safe, healthy and fun way to get around. If you look at the statistics for the Wisconsin DOT, the crash rate in Wisconsin has been declining for years. In fact, if you factor in the health benefits and the extremely low chance of being involved in a fatal crash, bicycling is more likely to add years to your life than end it.

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

13 thoughts on “Update on Fatal Crash in Minocqua (UPDATED)

  1. Along with keeping the victim and his family in our thoughts and prayers I would bet the driver could use a few prayers too. This is almost certainly a mistake on his part and I hope I never have to know how it feels to be the cause of death for someone else.

    • Remember the driver has been charged with homicide. He is of course innocent until proven guilty, but felony homicide charges are not made without probable cause. I think by definition a homicide is a not a mistake. Perhaps a series of mistakes can lead up to a person committing a homicide, but the act is one that implies guilt (when proven). The best of us can forgive even those who kill, but when someone is killed, my first thoughts are with the victim and his family and friends. I think it is also appropriate to allow some time for initial anger and outrage. The Kubler Ross stages can follow after that.

      • I agree, Dave. Homicide by Negligent Operation of a Vehicle requires criminal negligence, meaning it was negligence and not a mistake that caused the crash. For example, this is the charge normally filed when someone kills a person while texting and driving. Paying attention to a cell phone instead of the road when you are controlling thousands of pounds of steel is not a mistake, it is a choice. Similarly, the investigating authorities must have determined that the truck driver was criminally negligent in his operation of the truck. Whether he was paying attention to something else, or so tired that he couldn’t keep his eyes open while driving, or some other circumstance entirely, won’t be known until the report is released. Whatever the circumstance, criminal negligence is a willful act stipulating that a reasonable person would know that their actions in that circumstance would pose a significant threat of death or great bodily injury and that the person chose to act in that manner regardless. My heart goes out to those close to Robin, and I pray that Adam, those close to him, and all who read this article come to realize that sometimes making a bad choice can have serious consequences that affect people other than the person making the choice.

        • Exactly, I couldn’t have put it better. That the authorities saw fit to issue charges is telling, given they don’t in most fatal crashes. The other caveat is we will need to wait not only for the crash report to consider possible counter measures, but also for the result of the court case before we pronounce the driver guilty.

  2. Nearly every bicyclist death you’ve reported on, has happened on the highway. No law would’ve prevented this from happening either.
    It is time to do the right thing, and prohibit bicycles on highways.
    I also often wonder what is going through a bicyclists mind when they decide to ride their bicycle on a highway.
    I myself would ride where I don’t have vehicles going 35 mph or more going by. My first rule of riding a bicycle, ALWAYS look out for #1 ( yourself ) #2 Is use common sense, and #3 don’t ride where vehicles are going by at high speeds. #4 Don’t depend on others to watch out for you
    Any other questions, refer to #1 #2 and always assume #4

    Keep in mind this is what I go by, and is friendly advice. Pedestrians, and others can also use some of these rules, even a motorist can apply these rules.

    • Based on my conversation with the bike shop employee who knew him, the man killed was probably riding to or from work on the only reasonable route available. While any fatal crash is tragic, they are statistically very rare. Even though most (not all) fatal crashes happen on highways with higher speed differentials, riding a bike on highways is safer than driving a car on them if you factor in the health benefits. If your reasoning is we should ban what is dangerous, then we should ban cars on highways in which case they would be safe to bike and walk on. Banning bikes or banning cars is because of a relatively tiny risk factor is not a reasonable suggestion when there is no other alternative. In the case of this crash, we do not yet know the circumstances or why the driver was charged with homicide, so we cannot yet know if a law, or better enforced law, could have prevented the crash. I will wait for the crash report and supplemental reports before I make any recommendations. That said, you should certainly only ride where you feel safe or enjoy riding. Everyone has different tolerance for traffic, but please don’t confuse that with the relative risks and draw general conclusions without specific facts.

      • That is exactly what I thought, always a straw man with you people.
        It really comes off like you don’t actually want to prevent bicycle tragedies, it seems you want to take advantage of these tragedies, to actually ban cars. Again, this is the way I see it, just because it isn’t officially admitted anywhere, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

        A bicycle, and a motor vehicle are two different things, and need to be properly separated apart, or else these tragedies will unfortunately continue to happen, this can only be fixed if special interest groups aren’t involved.

        I also never mentioned banning anything in my OP, I said prohibit. Prohibit, and ban have different meanings.

        • This can only be solved if special interest aren’t involved. Um? What’s the special interest? Burger King employees who are so poor they commute to work via bicycle are killed and internet fascists think there’s a special interest getting in the way of progress.

        • The Bike Fed’s position has always been clear that on roads with higher speeds and/or high traffic volumes, greater separation is preferred if we want to get more people riding bicycles. That is why we advocate for trails, separated bike lanes and wider shoulders. While we will continue to advocate for more trails and protected bike lanes, we have to live with what we have now and make reasonable recommendations that allow people like Robin Kuzel to get around safely by bicycle. Until we have the crash report, it is impossible to suggest reasonable counter measures that may have prevented this crash. Once we get that crash report and learn more about the circumstances and possible cause of the crash, we can suggest possible countermeasures. When we get that information, we can debate countermeasures. Until then, I will not speculate on the crash or what was going through the mind of a person riding home from work on the only road available to him, and I insist that comments here be respectful of the tragic loss.

          Perhaps you see a big difference between your suggestion to prohibit bicycles on highways and banning them from highways, but based on the definition of both words, I see no difference.
          Prohibit: formally forbid (something) by law, rule, or other authority.
          Ban: To prohibit, especially by official decree.

          • I remember discussing bicycling on highways once here way back when before. From what I understand, is that you pretty much spun it as safe, and anything I had to say was illogical.

            As for the words, ban, and prohibit, people that use the word ban are over dramatizing something that doesn’t need to be.
            The issue with the words, is that bicyclists instantly get a defensive attitude when either of the words are used. When something is prohibited, it is for a good reason.

          • Statistics and studies prove riding a bicycle is relatively safe compared to driving, and actually increases life expectancy because the greater health benefits outweigh increased risk from crashes and breathing pollution. While that is true, we understand that crash studies show that although they happen very infrequently compared to other crash types, the crashes on higher speed roads, even those with paved shoulders, are more likely to be fatal. What I wrote in the previous post still stands, that if we want more people to ride, we need to give them facilities on which they FEEL safe and comfortable. We can end this thread on a point where we seem to agree, that we should continue to advocate for bikeways that are safe, convenient and appeal to people like yourself who do not feel safe riding next to higher speed or high volume motor vehicle traffic.

    • I am familiar with the location where the cyclist was killed. This is not a high speed section of road as stated above. I believe it has a 35 mile per hour limit.The real problem is that people are distracted and do not pay attention to the task at hand- driving. This truck river was supposedly a professional, so yes I would hold him to a much higher standard. I also have seen the cyclist who was killed commuting on his bike. It would be pretty hard to miss him given his clothing and lights. I am fed up with motorist ass backwards negative and irresponsible attitude towards cyclist and pedestrians. Going forward our justice system needs to align itself with the severity of the infraction. That said stiff fines and jail time for any motorist who behaves irresponsibly around vulnerable users, even if the pedestrian or cyclists isn’t injured. I regularly see motorists driving around blind corners in the bike lane on county road J near Minocqua which is a well marked road with wide bike lanes on both sides. I know what the outcome of such behavior will eventually yield. I do not tolerate and make my opinions made to those motorists if at all possible. I also call their plate numbers into the police, but usually get a lackluster response.

      • Thanks for the information about the crash location on 51 Patrick. I have not gotten a crash report, so I don’t yet know exactly where it happened. I will say that in this case, the driver has been charged with a serious felony. We have to wait for proof of guilt, but the justice system seems aligned with the results of the violation in this case. That said, I too was a bit disappointed to find the first two comments about a tragic story with some personal insights and a redemptive thread about kindness at a local bike shop, were to blame the victim, ban bicycles and forgive the killer. Let us all give the family and friends time to grieve, wait for the crash report and then look for ways to help ensure another similar crash does not happen. Thanks for reading, writing and riding.

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