Tuesday, April 21, 2009

An Unnecessary and Tragic Injustice

My intention for this post is not to be confrontational for the sake of confrontation. But in the words of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1967, "There comes a time when silence is betrayal."

I recevied the following email from the Memphis Hightailers this afternoon:

Bob Firehammer was killed while riding his bike on Hwy 64 last Wednesday. A vehicle ran off the road, hit Bob and he was apparently killed at the site. The Firehammer family are St. Francis parishioners and his son Alex went to school at Saint Benedict. Bob’s funeral was this morning at St. Francis.

Link to the online guest book

Fayette County - ROBERT LEE “Bob” FIREHAMMER, JR., 51, resident of Hickory Withe Community, recently retired Naval Captain after 26 years of active duty and husband of Debra Firehammer, died April 15, 2009.

Services at 10 a.m. Tuesday at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church at Cordova with a visitation at the church from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday.

Interment, with full military honors will be at 1 p.m. Tuesday at West Tennessee Veteran’s Cemetery. Captain Firehammer served as officer on board the USS Samuel B. Roberts when the ship struck a mine in the Persian Gulf.

He also leaves five children, his parents and three siblings. Memorials requested to the Firehammer Children’s Scholarship Fund c/o Navy Federal Credit Union. Peebles Fayette County Funeral Home—West Chapel Oakland, TN 901-465-3535

Let us be clear, when a bicyclist is killed by a car it is usually an accident. But we must be clear about the nature of an accident: if a car accidentally collides with a bicyclist for whatever reason, "accident" is indeed a reasonable explanation for what happened.

But accident is not an accurate word if a municipality cites "a fear of liablity" as cause for not making roads safer (i.e our own municipality currently refuses to create official "bike lanes" because they are afraid they could be sued if a cyclist is killed in or around the bike lane. Federal Law, in fact, exempts a city from liablity if the city designs bike lanes according to AASHTO guidelines).

If it is not up to a municipality to protect a bicyclist, whose responsibility is it?

The driver?

In the event of an accident involving a bicyclist, can a driver truly be held liable? Usually citations are written to one or the other car when two cars are involved in an accident. But even if the driver is held liable when a cyclist is hit, what are the conseqeunces for driver who kills a cyclist? A $50 fine for violating the TN 3 Foot ordinance?

Mr. Firehammer had 5 kids. He is a veteran, having fought in the Gulf War.

His death will likely be seen simply as tragic. But the real tragedy is that Mr. Firehammer's death may have been prevented. If a municipality does not do what is in its power to protect bicyclists, the words "tragic" and "accident" are in-suffcient words to describe what actually occured.

The "fear of liablity" as cited by a municipality may have in reality contributed to the death of Mr. Firehammer. A bike lane or a special facility designated for bicyclists may not have fully prevented Mr. Firehammer's death; on the other hand, it may have made the difference.

The problem is not simply that a municipality has neglected to protect bicyclists.

In fact, Tennessee State law do not provide rights and protections for cyclists killed in the roadways.

The point is this: noone should have to die needlessly. And a bicyclist should not have to fear that they may be killed for trying to do something good for their body, their community, and for our planet.

When a bicyclist is killed in a public roadway, if no protection was provided for them by a municipality, the word to describe the situation is not "accident." The word is unjust.

A municipality should take as many measures as are fiscally responsible to protect bicyclists. To do anything less is to accept that innocent people will be killed for riding their bicycle in the roadway. To accept this is to accept that which is unacceptable.


  1. I agree with you 100%

  2. Oh and just to let you know the guy who killed Robert Firehammer only got charged $50. Boy isn't that just a little unjust right there.