No amount of time in prison is enough for having taken an innocent life. Certainly not 90 days.
But Daniel Johnson’s guilty plea to involuntary manslaughter, and his three months in jail followed by five years’ probation, at least puts sutures to the open wound that the death of cyclist Matthew Burke has been.
Burke, an orthopedic surgeon at Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center and an avid bicyclist, was among several of 15 bicyclists riding in a group who were plowed into by Johnson’s SUV Oct. 1, 2010, on Beech Island Avenue in South Carolina. The group of veteran cyclists made a routine of riding there on Fridays, and were riding legally according to authorities.
As cruel as the wreck was, the aftermath was just as capricious, as Maj. Burke, 38, fought for his life until Feb. 6. The night of the crash, his wife Bonnie could hardly recognize him, telling us, “The only way I knew it was him was his hands, his strong, graceful hands.”
The same hands that had cared for others, and most likely would have done so for years. His death was not only a blow to his family and the cycling community, but to his fellow man.
Ninety days will flash in an instant. Maj. Burke will be gone forever.
At least Johnson’s swerving decision to plead guilty – first he would, then he wouldn’t, then he did – is the end of this first painful chapter.
Oddly and tragically enough, his death was followed Aug. 1 by a similar fatal vehicle-bike crash that took the life of another Eisenhower Army Medical Center doctor, Daniel L. Dickinson, 57, who was riding to work when he was hit near the intersection of Belair and Asbury roads in Richmond County.
If anything good can come out of these unbridled tragedies – and something good must come out of them – let it be that cycling in the Augusta area is made safer for those who follow these two men. Efforts have begun to make that happen, thank goodness. But plenty remains to be done.
Job 1 is for motorists – who have the size and weight advantage of their vehicles – to be ultra-careful at all times, particularly around bicyclists.
No one should want to trade places with Daniel Johnson. Not even for 90 days.