Cyclists who were riding with Matthew Burke the night he was fatally struck say their pastime has lost its innocence.
“There’s a fear in me now when I ride,” said German Chavarria, who has cut back his cycling after the wreck on Oct. 1, 2010, on Beech Island Avenue in Aiken County.
Burke was one of about 15 cyclists who set out for a weekly ride from Outspokin Bicycles on that Friday night. He was riding in the rear of the group with several other cyclists when a Dodge Durango driven by Daniel Johnson struck the group from behind, sending Burke sailing through the air and injuring four other cyclists.
The image of a bloody, injured Burke lying on the ground is one Chavarria still thinks about at least once a week.
“It was so horrific,” he said.
Burke was rushed to Medical College of Georgia Hospital, where he survived the night through emergency surgery. He never awoke from his coma, however, and died Feb. 6 at Eisenhower Army Medical Center.
Johnson was arrested two days after Burke’s death on a charge of reckless homicide. He has pleaded not guilty and is out on bond. A trial date has not been set.
Johnson’s attorney, Jim Huff, declined an interview about his client for ethical reasons. He said the public shouldn’t judge the situation unless they are jurors sitting in trial listening to all the facts and statements.
“Daniel is innocent unless proven guilty,” Huff said.
Johnson’s father, Daniel Johnson Sr., also declined to comment about the incident.
Jeff Tilden, another cyclist on the October 2010 ride, echoed Chavarria’s statements about feelings of fear and paranoia.
He never rides alone anymore and tries to be as visible as possible.
“I’m a little more wary of what’s coming; I’m constantly looking back,” he said.
In spite of fear, the cyclists press on.
“We have to, for Matt’s sake. He was an avid rider, and that makes me keep going and going,” Chavarria said.