We Are Not Roadkill

08 Feb

I was a little nervous this morning when I pedaled to the Hall of Justice from the San Jose Caltrain station. The case of the People vs Schiro was finally going to trial nearly three years after a hit-and-run collision left Ashleigh Nelson bleeding and convulsing on the side of the road. I was nervous because I’d never been in a courtroom and didn’t know the protocol–who would have guessed that helmets aren’t allowed? But I was mostly nervous about how I would react to Ashleigh being cross-examined by Schiro’s attorney.

I had heard details of the collision through my network of cyclists and through the local news media, including how her boyfriend Dave and the cycling community rallied to find Schiro’s car, how a woman who worked for Schiro was appalled by his behavior and helped with a sting operation, and how Schiro and his attorney had tried various creative strategies to keep the convicted drunk driver out of jail.

Still, I felt like I had walked into a suspense movie an hour late. Why was Schiro’s attorney asking Ashleigh what position she usually keeps her hands on the handlebars? Why was he pressing her to calculate the exact date a photo was taken? Ashleigh got emotional on the stand: “I can’t answer these questions. My brain doesn’t work the way it used to.” She teared up and the judge called a recess.

I needed the recess too. It was painful for me and I wasn’t on the stand. The sad fact of being the victim of a traumatic head injury is that you probably won’t remember much. That makes it really hard to defend yourself, much less help in the conviction of your assailant. And as a cyclist, I couldn’t help but put myself in her position. It could have happened to me. I’ve ridden that road many times before and I ride similar ones every week.

I would say it could have happened to my husband, except that it actually did. In 1972 my husband was riding with his girlfriend on Uvas Road, headed home to Gilroy from a camping trip. He remembers hearing the car’s screeching tires long before it careened past them. Further down the road, they saw the car was pulled over on the shoulder. As they passed, the middle-aged driver scolded Dick, “You were in the middle of the road. You scared my wife.” Dick responded with a flat “I was on the shoulder.” As he rode away, the man yelled, “You do that again and I’ll run you off the road!”

It was no idle threat. Minutes later, the man drove past Dick’s girlfriend and swerved onto the shoulder and hit Dick, breaking both bones in his lower left leg and sending him flying. Dick landed on his head and spent a month in the hospital for the massive head injury. He came close to losing his leg and losing his life.

His girlfriend gave a description of the car and the driver to the police. But without a license plate number, they had no interest in investigating. No case was opened, no one was interviewed, no one was detained, no one was tried, and no one was convicted. It probably didn’t help that Dick had long hair and muttonchop sideburns.

So it’s no surprise that I take road violence seriously, as do most cyclists. Schiro’s attorney accused the cycling community of being a “lynch mob”, but a lynch mob wouldn’t have waited three years for justice. We are tired of cyclists being run down and left to die on the side of the road with little success in getting killers convicted. Until the legal system can protect us without our help, we will stand up for our rights and will work to help victims get justice. We are not roadkill. We are people.

Have you been subjected to road violence on your bike? Have you been verbally threatened, had something thrown at you, or worse? How did you react?

One more thing: Do you find today’s Pearls Before Swine as inappropriate as I do?


Posted by on February 8, 2012 in Backroads, Issues & Infrastructure


26 responses to “We Are Not Roadkill

  1. ktschoeben

    February 8, 2012 at 11:01 pm

    Holy shit. That comic is ridiculous. WTF.

    Nice article Janet. I hope justice is served in this case and that the stress isn’t too unbearable for Ashleigh.

    Damn right we are NOT roadkill.

    • ladyfleur

      February 9, 2012 at 7:28 am

      It is ridiculous, and worse inflammatory. There are so many drivers who feel like we don’t truly belong on the road. The last thing I want is for someone, even in jest, to encourage them to be violent.

  2. Will Goldsmith

    February 9, 2012 at 4:07 am

    wow, i remember you talking about bike safety and how to watch out for bad drivers, but this is almost unreal. Great article; horrible situation; ugly comic.

    • ladyfleur

      February 9, 2012 at 7:42 am

      I wish it weren’t real. Fortunately, very few drivers are gunning for cyclists. Many are impaired, and most are breaking a traffic law (speeding, not stopping on red, etc).

      In Ashleigh’s case, the suspect was known to have alcohol abuse problems that didn’t stop him from driving on a suspended license. He was likely driving drunk again at the time of the collision. Dick suspects his driver was drunk too and angry at his wife for telling him he was driving badly. Another friend was hit-and-run by a man who was so old and out of it that he didn’t even realize he hit her. He was obviously impaired.

      Dick’s case was the only one that involved intentional violence. But to a middle-aged man in ’72, a young man with long hair as symbol of defiance and “everything that was going wrong in America.” I’m sure there would have been jury members in ’72 who would have sympathized with that sentiment.

  3. Rachel Unger

    February 9, 2012 at 7:38 am

    I wish I had something pithy to say, but all I can come up with is how upsetting this is. The comic is awful, the trial is awful. Good on you for going.
    I love my bike, I love riding, but… things like this make me want to stay home. It really does.

    • ladyfleur

      February 9, 2012 at 8:29 am

      Rachel, don’t let the fear drive you off the road (pun intended). Would knowing that someone was killed in their car by a drunk driver on Hwy 101 keep you from driving the freeway? Probably not. It probably wouldn’t even keep you from making discretionary trips.

      Plus, the more people out there riding, the more drivers will look out for us. And the more it will be seen as a normal activity, not some crazy activity for risk-takers with a death wish.

  4. Amy

    March 14, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    Wow. Sensitive much? The comic is a harmless joke and should be taken that way. I ride my bike all the time and I laughed my head off at it, you know people wouldn’t even make those jokes if it wasn’t half true. Get over it.

    • ladyfleur

      March 14, 2012 at 10:31 pm

      Wow. Insensitive much? I relate personal stories of how my husband was intentionally run over and nearly died and how a friend was left for dead by a hit-and-run driver who hid the evidence and bragged to co-workers that he did it. Then you criticize me for not thinking that a joke about intentionally running over cyclists is funny?

      Go ahead and laugh if you think it’s funny. That’s your business. But don’t expect me or anyone else who’s personally experienced car-on-bike road violence to laugh with you.

    • Rachel Unger

      March 15, 2012 at 12:12 pm

      Some of us ride our bikes all the time and think it’s not funny at all. Not all cyclists are the same. Not all of us are like the cyclist in the comic. Not all of us are like you. Not all of us are like me. But I think that the majority don’t want to be the victim of the driver in the comic – who, to be fair, not all drivers are like.

  5. Amy

    March 15, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    Perhaps I was unclear, the story is awful and yeah none of that is funny, but do you really think the comic was meant that way? It’s a stupid joke and I’m sick of people making a big deal out of stuff like that. Just make the point and leave an innocent cartoon out of it. Jeez.

  6. Amy

    March 15, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    Plus, you don’t even know the comic! That character is meant to be cynical and horrible and out to get everyone. It has NOTHING to do with how the author feels. I just wish you people would reasurch before you judge…

  7. ladyfleur

    March 15, 2012 at 10:51 pm

    Amy, Amy, Amy, I know the rat is an obnoxious little critter and the cartoonist didn’t intend any harm. That wasn’t my point. The rat’s comment hit too close to home and the timing was really bad, which is why I found it offensive. If you can’t understand that then perhaps YOU should just get over it.

  8. Amy

    March 16, 2012 at 9:09 am

    More like the timings really bad in your life. Probably others as well. Everyone’s perspective is different. Look I don’t ever comment on stuff like this, I just wanted to say that the article was really good and unveils an ugly subject, but you need to leave the funnies out of it. Their only “appropriate” place is in the comics section, where they should stay. So ladyfluer, I will not get over something that I’m not even upset about and you should realise my comments weren’t to you, but people who keep bashing a stupid cartoon because that’s getting quite annoying. So with that I have nothing more to say on the subject and will not be returning to this pointless argument that shouldn’t even be one. By the way, my uncles leg got broken by one of these crazy drivers and he laughed at this too. Sometimes you just have to let it go, laugh, and move on.

    • jillycube

      January 17, 2014 at 10:15 am

      Comics aren’t given a scott free card from criticism if they are socially problematic and ableist. This is her blog and she has every right as well her readers to have their feelings expressed on the matter. You already expressed how you don’t like it getting bashed and you can have that opinion as yours alone but that should be the end of it.

  9. Cynthia

    March 16, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    I’d have to agree with Amy on this one, I found this quite good, but throwing the comic strip at in at the end and calling it “inappropriate” just make you think “oh, so it’s THOSE type of people”. Next time just make the point and move on

  10. Jasmine james

    March 16, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    Finally! Someone is sticking up for the cartoons! Forgive and forget ya know;)
    On another note great article Janet, this is important to talk about but personally i liked the cartoon:)

  11. Sarah

    December 30, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    I am not familiar with this court case but reading your description left a lump in my throat. 5 years ago 2 of my uncles were ran off the road (on motorcycles not bicycles but still a vulnerable class.) there was no alcohol involved or malice, just a young driver in a hurry, sped up to pass a semi and cream the two bikers in front. My Uncles were left by the side of the road, bleeding, such that it took several skin grafts to replace the skin in the areas where their biker chaps didn’t cover. One Uncle was broken, but repairable, the other, my handsome, sharp as a tack, witty uncle was not fixable. Unfortunately no helmet in the world can compete with a ton of steel and his type of brain damage is irreparable.
    I am afraid that the fight we have transcends the courthouses to encompass the crisis in consciousness that has turned getting from point A to point B into a battlefield. Keep fighting.

    • ladyfleur

      January 3, 2013 at 1:21 pm

      I’m sorry to hear that your uncles were victimized by a clueless, impatient driver. I really wish the public would get beyond the beliefs that “roads are for cars” and “oops, accidents are accidents” and “the bigger vehicle wins.”

  12. Sean

    January 9, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    Jeeze WHY do you have to ruin the article with the stab a pearls before swine? Just like cyclists have fought for road rights, comics fight for freedom of speech. Just like your allowed to bike on the road, comic strips can state how annoying and rude some of those cyclists can be. I agree with Amy and Cynthia.

    • ladyfleur

      January 9, 2013 at 2:53 pm

      I never questioned the author’s right to write what he wrote. I found it offensive and exercised MY right to free speech to say so, especially since there are drivers who have intentionally run over cyclists. I don’t think I’m out of line there, considering one such driver nearly killed my husband and I’ve been yelled at and had a drink thrown at me for riding my bike legally in the road.

      • Sean

        January 10, 2013 at 7:40 pm

        Well I am sorry I did not mean to say that you did not have the right to say so. But you have to know that bashing certain stuff like comic strips and art hits a lot of people close to home as well, such as Amy and Cynthia. It makes people mad, and takes away from the main point

      • jillycube

        January 17, 2014 at 10:40 am

        To Sean, I’m an artist as well as a cyclist and have dealt with all sorts of criticism on my work. Even artists in the art circle world will call out on each other if the imagery is problematic (I see a lot more aggressive discussions over comics and illustration on Tumblr and Deviantart). It does brings out discussions like this to light though and it gets people talking. I’m sure this comic artist doesn’t need coddling and the criticism is nothing new to them.

  13. Amy

    January 10, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    Man people are still talking about what I said? Well anyway I would just like to say that I never intended to upset you ladyfluer, I know how scary it is to almost lose a loved one and I am sorry that happens to people. But I still stand by my point that comic strips are art, and should be only taken as such. It makes for weak writing to put down stuff like that and just makes people mad. I hope everything turns out well for you, and Sean/Cynthia thanks for standing up for me. Means a lot to me and events from my personal life, bad stuff happens to all of us, drivers and bikers.

    • ashley nelson

      November 13, 2013 at 9:25 pm

      As the victim in the case she is talking about, I also laughed at the comic. I don’t think she was bad mouthing the comic, I think she is just pointing out the irony like “oh jeez ha ha.” Don’t be so black and white, sometimes there’s more meaning to what’s said, is there color in your world Amy?? But what do I know? I have a massive traumatic brain injury!?

    • Andrea

      January 17, 2014 at 9:03 am

      The comic character says “and that’s why I try to run them over”.

      Besides the inconsistency that it is a little mouse saying that (rather than a huge ugly TRex), the author clearly sympathises with that sentiment; that is an incitement to kill and it is illegal.

      What if the mouse was a KKK figure saying, “and that’s why I try to hang them”. Would that be allowed?

  14. ashley nelson

    November 13, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    Thanks for posting this. I noticed the comic strip that day and knew Schiro would go to prison, eventually it was only a matter if time.

    And the attorney was asking possition because the way schiros car had to of hit me and the injuries on my body. It’s thought that he blew past me and his mirror ripped through my body from my hip (where I had a giant gash and bruise and a spinal disc messed up), my ribs (6 were broke), a shattered clavical, and a lower brain injury (where the mirror would of broke off after hitting my head just under the helmet.) His defense was going to be that the mirror was made to break away so no way it would of caused this damage to me and what the defense (a noncyclist) doesn’t know is, my body can be low even if my hand are on my bars, hoods or in the drops. He was just fishing.


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