New details on two recent fatal crashes

Brittany Barnstable, 15, of new Berlin.

We now have some additional facts about the circumstances of the crash that killed 47-year-old Stephen Rader in last Friday in Madison and the crash involving 15-year-old Brittany Barnstable on May 18 in New Berlin. In both cases Rader and Barnstable were riding in bicycle facilities, but the crashes are still under investigation to determine cause.

According to Tom Held’s blog The Active Pursuit, Madison police report Rader was riding eastbound in the bike lane on Mineral Point Road near the West Town Mall when a westbound tow truck turned left to go south on S. Yellowstone Dr. when the truck collided with Rader. You can see the layout of the intersection in this Google Streetview


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In the case of the Barnstable crash, The Bike Fed was able to get a copy of the MV4000e Crash Report filled out by the police. The report shows that the 15-year-old Whitnall High School freshman was riding on the New Berlin Recreational Trail at 4:30 pm when she was  hit by a 52-year-old woman driving an SUV southbound on Sunnyslope Road. Stop signs are posted on the trail at the road crossing, and caution signs warn motorists to watch for trail users at that location. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Jan Uebelherr wrote a touching story about Brittany  and that her life spirit lives on through the organs she donated to others. You can see a Google Streetview of the intersection below:


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There were witnesses to both crashes and you can watch for more information here and on Tom Held’s his blog The Active Pursuit . As soon as we have a better understanding of how these crashes happened, we will report it. At this point while the crashes are under investigation, it is unfair to cast blame.

That said, I do think it is important that both these people were killed while riding bicycles in well-marked bicycle facilities. Certainly we cannot hold the drivers of the motor vehicles automatically responsible, but we can all remember that when we get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, we must be extra vigilant around more vulnerable users of the road. Even if we might not be at fault, nobody wants to be involved in the death of a person walking or riding a bicycle. Bike paths like the New Berlin Recreational Trail are built to create safe places for people of all ages and abilities to walk, run, bike, and skate. When we approach an intersection with a trail, we should slow and look for small children, dogs or even careless adults.

Driving a car in a populated area is akin to hunting in a populated area. I have hunted on public land in state forests as well as on a friend’s farm in hundreds of acres of forest in Ashland County. While I am cautious and follow hunter safety guidelines in both areas, when I am in a state forest, I am extra vigilant. Even in gun season for deer, there might be a family dog, or hiker in the forest not wearing blaze orange who crosses my shooting lane. Driving a car near a marked bike lane or trail is like a firing gun in a public forest, both are capable of causing serious injury and death to innocents if not used with the greatest caution.

Most everyone who reads this probably also rides a bicycle, but we can all be more careful. Even if you are “innocent,” nobody want to have any part in the  death of another road user. Let’s all take this opportunity to keep the family and friends of Rader and Barnstable in our thoughts and prayers. Let us also pledge to ride our bicycles cautiously and according to the rules of the road and to be extra careful when we are behind the wheel near more vulnerable road users.

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.

7 thoughts on “New details on two recent fatal crashes

  1. I am very concerned about the potential of hitting a biker since I live next to a sidewalk where the bikers illegally ride 25 miles an hour against the traffic so I don’t see them when looking at the traffic while I am pulling out of the driveway. It would help if bikers obeyed the laws, not going through red lights, weaving in and out of traffic, wearing lights at night, etc. many are excellent riders but many have told me in no uncertain terms that they have the right to ride however they want and will not use the biker lanes or drive with the traffic flow.

    • Peggy,

      Thanks for being a cautious and concerned person when you drive a car. As I mentioned in the blog post, nobody wants to be involved in a crash that kills another person, even if the victim is the cause of the crash. That is why we must be extra careful around bike trails and bike lanes.

      That said, no office, but maybe you need to hang out with some different friends who ride bikes. They are giving you an incorrect impression of who breaks laws more frequently. In fact, you may be relieved to know that traffic studies show that people are actually more likely to break the laws while driving a car than when they are riding bicycles. I quote a number of those studies in this blog post:

      As for the small minority of people who consciously break the law while riding bicycles, I wrote a blog post about that to address that issue. Read this and it may give you some perspective to share with your law breaking friends:

      But remember, the facts show that a higher percentage of people speed while driving and fail to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks than the percentage of people on bicycles who ride the wrong way or run red lights. As for sidewalk riding, that is legal in many municipalities, and in fact some, like Waukesha county, put in side paths that function both as a sidewalk and a bike path. Also, the percentage of people who can ride a bicycle 25mph for more than half a block on a level road or sidewalk is less than 5%, so you must hang out with some fast scofflaws. If you are disappointed in the scofflaw behavior of the people you know who ride bicycles, perhaps you should do what my 5th grade teacher told me once when I was getting in trouble, hang out with a different crowd.

      Depending on where you live, there are many bike clubs like Bella Donnas, the Wausau Wheelers, Bay View Bicycle Club or Spring City Spinners, etc., where they expect lawful riding on their organized rides and even teach classes on safe, legal cycling.

      Thanks for reading, writing and riding a bike! You make the world a better place when you do any of those three 🙂

  2. Dave, thank you for the important service of covering these awful events when they occur. I happened to be driving at the site of the Madison crash shortly after it, and I could tell something bad had happened, because police had closed off the site to traffic, and they appeared to be doing crash analysis with a damaged bike. Thanks again.

    • You are welcome. It is certainly not one of the more pleasant responsibilities of my job. Luckily, riding a bike remains a really safe, healthy, thing to do, so most of what I do is upbeat.

  3. Excellent point, that driving a car in a populated area is like hunting with a gun in a populated area. I can only wish more people thought that way. It is a great way to attempt to give people perspective, though. Driving is dangerous for everyone, especially drivers, but not many motorists perceive it that way.

  4. I am so sorry to hear of the Barnstable crash. I had been across that intersection 2 hours before the accident and frequently travel that route. There is an opportunity here, the bicycle route is a several mile long straight with only a few road crossings (4 I believe). It would make sense to me to add a yield sign to Sunny Slope in this location as there is also an uncontrolled railroad crossing about 50 feet away that captures motor vehicle operators attention more than the multi-use trail crossing. A yield sign would give drivers a moment to take in both intersections before proceeding and minimize the potential for another tragedy.

  5. Thanks for an even-handed report of the facts known at this time, without any speculating and/or sensationalizing.

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