I am saddened to report the first fatal bike crash of 2012. Yesterday Tammy Gass, another well-known member of our bicycling community was killed while riding on Highway KK near Mosinee. I spoke with the Marathon County Sheriff’s Department, and they said the driver of the car, Tracy A. Kruzicki, 42, was arrested on the charge of driving with a suspended license. She has since been released from custody.
What makes this story all the more tragic is that the Tammy’s former husband Gregg Bednorski, 41, died in 2008 on the same road when he hit a parked truck. Gass only recently remarried. According to a report from relatives in the Wausau Daily Herald, she was married to Tim Gass in January and had plans to leave for their honeymoon next Tuesday. Tammy had four children between her first and recent marriage.
Despite the charges filed against the driver in this case, we cannot be quick to judge or assign blame. What we can do however, is be ever more vigilant when riding and driving. We can take extra care to follow all the rules of the road, no matter what vehicle we are piloting. That means paying full attention to our driving and no texting, no calling, no monkeying with the radio, etc. It also means obeying stop signs, traffic signals and riding in a predictable manner.
One of the first people I spoke with about this tragedy was John Nowaczyk, the owner of Sprocketz Bike Shop in Weston, WI. I called him after I got this in an email,
“I am contacting you in a somber mood. A friend, customer and cycling enthusiast in our area just lost her life while riding yesterday. Ironically, her 1st husband lost his life on the same road 3 ½ years ago while riding. I want to push the Share & Be Aware initiative in our area. I don’t know where to start. This is 4 people in the last 4 years that have died on a bike in our area. Any help would be appreciated.”
By the time I spoke with John, I had already spoken with Larry Corsi from the WisDOT Bureau of Transportation Safety and the Marathon County Sheriff’s Dept. The Sheriff could not provide any more details about the crash than was reported in the Wausau Daily Herald, but Larry told me that Highway KK has five foot shoulders in the area where the crash occurred.
John had this to say, right off the bat, “I only recently got to know Tammy when she became a customer and started taking our indoor cycling classes in the winter. She was an excellent cyclist and a former Cat 1 racer.” John went on to say that even though the results of the crash investigation are not out, it was clear to him that we need to do something different since four people have died in crashes around Wausau in recent years.
“I’m not one of those people who always blames cars for everything, but we need to do much more to raise awareness. We need to teach kids how to ride safely. Every road that is a bike route should have share the road signs on it. If we managed to raise nearly half a million dollars to revitalize a park in Wausau, surely we can raise the money needed to put up some Share & Be Aware billboards in the area.”
I assured John that the Bike Fed was on this and through our Share & Be Aware program, we would immediately begin evaluating how to increase awareness and improve traffic safety in his area. We have a Bike Fed Ambassador in the area, funded in large part from our WisDOT Share & Be Aware grant. We might also be able to send Milwaukee staff up to Wausau for a meeting to develop a Share & Be Aware traffic safety action plan targeting issues specific to Marathon County.
Given the two related fatal bicycle crashes, this is an especially tragic loss. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Tammy’s family and friends. I cannot imagine the grief they are experiencing right now. I can however promise that the staff at the Bike Fed will work with the local community to improve awareness and traffic safety in the area. This is the first fatal bike crash in Wisconsin this year, but 12 people died in crashes last year and the first one did not occur until July of 2011.
As the Sheriff’s office releases more details from the crash study and as our safety efforts in Marathon County progress, I will report them here. Until then, everyone please ride safely, obey the laws, and let’s try to make this the last person killed on a bike this year.