Questions linger in collision that has Army physician clinging to life

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More than five weeks after being struck from behind by an SUV while riding his bicycle in Beech Island, S.C., Dr. Matthew Burke remains comatose and fighting for his life. His riding partners, four of whom were also taken down in the collision, continue to rehabilitate from their physical injuries, while it is uncertain whether the psychic wounds will ever heal.

THE COLLISION THAT put Dr. Burke in the neuro-intensive care unit at the Medical College of Georgia has provided an opportunity for some to lay blame for the crash squarely on the cyclists. That this particular incident has served as a call to arms by anti-cyclists shows an abject lack of knowledge about the incident, and has shown that many among that set have a callous disregard for the condition of Dr. Burke and his family.

Almost immediately it was established that the driver of the SUV, Daniel Johnson of Beech Island, was at fault for running down the group. According to the South Carolina Highway Patrol, the driver claimed to be distracted and did not see the pack of cyclists at the moment he slammed into the group of 15 riders. According to reports, Mr. Johnson's source of distraction has changed as his story continues to evolve.

With evidence to the contrary, it is appalling that anyone would still place blame on the bike riders. Yet, there has been no shortage of polemics in the weeks following this tragic occurrence.

A commenter on The Augusta Chronicle's website posted the following comment at the end of an article Oct. 4: "The bike riders broke the law and this poor driver is paying the price. If I was on the jury working this case I could not find him guilty. No way in hell."

It is sad that individuals are more concerned for the welfare of an at-fault driver than they are for an innocent 37-year old husband and father who may not survive his traumatic brain injury.

What seems to be lost on Mr. Johnson's defenders is that it has been clearly established that the riders were riding legally and taking the appropriate precautions as they rolled along Beech Island Avenue. The SCHP has acknowledged as much.

The section of road where the cyclists were hit is straight and offers clear visibility for more than a mile. The posted speed limit is 35 mph, and there was sufficient daylight because the sun had not yet set behind the group as they rolled along, unaware of the pending disaster. The bike riders all were wearing helmets and had flashing red taillights on their bikes, which were clearly visible to a driver following Mr. Johnson.

MARKINGS FROM the crash investigation show that Dr. Burke was just right-of-center of his lane of travel as he rode two-abreast with Scott Moore, who was riding on the white line on the right side of the road. In South Carolina, cyclists are allowed to ride two-abreast, and drivers are to give at least three feet of clearance when passing cyclists.

As Mr. Johnson collided with the group, Mr. Moore was forced off the road, while Dr. Burke absorbed the direct impact of the Dodge Durango and was catapulted approximately 40 feet. Damage to the Durango indicates that Mr. Johnson hit Dr. Burke almost center with his vehicle.

At this time, no charges have been filed against Daniel Johnson, and the crash remains under investigation by the SCHP. There is concern, however, that this incident will be considered merely an "unfortunate accident," and the driver will be undercharged. Before the investigation is completed, it is imperative that several questions be answered:

- How did Mr. Johnson not see a group of 15 cyclists when they were clearly visible to the individuals in the vehicle following the SUV?

- How fast was Mr. Johnson driving at the time of the crash? One of the cyclists heard the driver behind Mr. Johnson confess to a patrolman on the scene that he was following the Durango at approximately 50 mph right before the crash. Could the high rate of speed explain why, according to Mr. Moore, the driver did not brake until after he slammed into the group?

- Most importantly, why did some of the cyclists state that they heard the vehicle accelerating in the moments before the impact?

It should be noted that Daniel Johnson Sr., the driver's father, openly questioned why the cyclists even rode on Beech Island Avenue. And a number of anonymous comments on local websites indicate that some residents in the area feel the cyclists got what was coming to them.

As cycling continues to grow in popularity in the CSRA, the potential for incidents will continue to exist. And there is no doubt that this episode will serve as a wake-up call for area bike enthusiasts. As a lifelong cycling advocate, I think it is vitally important that cyclists respect the rules of the road, as we expect the same courtesy from drivers. But those who choose not to follow the law should not run the risk of taking their punishment by anyone other than law enforcement.

AS THE DEBATE over "sharing the road" continues, U.S. Army Maj. Matthew Patrick Burke, M.D., continues his fight for life at the Medical College of Georgia, while his wife, baby daughter, parents and siblings maintain a vigil at his bedside. It is such a waste that the talented orthopedic surgeon may not survive to see his daughter's first birthday. It is unfathomable that, after admirably surviving in Iraq, his greatest battle was caused by an incident less than 30 miles from his home.

Matt Burke was not a mailbox carelessly struck on the side of the road. He is a valued member of this community and deserves to be treated as such. He willingly supported the country during a time of need. As he continues his fight for life, we owe him the same respect.

(The writer is event manager of the Augusta Sports Council.)

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cyclingman1
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cyclingman1 11/08/10 - 12:58 pm
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In other words, TK3, just ban

In other words, TK3, just ban bicycles all together. What does one do when a 30 mph road dead ends into a 35 mph road? I've never seen a minimum posted speed on a two lane road, or for that matter on any road other than freeway. Bicyclists do not use bike paths for two main reasons. Most of them are unrideable with much debris and sharp turns. Secondly, they don't go anywhere. What should a cyclist do when the path ends? Call you? Your posting is the most ridiculous one yet. Get a life and get off the backs of cyclists.

lone02Ranger
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lone02Ranger 11/08/10 - 07:44 pm
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One side of this discussion

One side of this discussion that's missing is the terrible road design in South Carolina. South Carolina automobile drivers pay one of the highest auto insurance rates because of the state's narrow roads. We are also one of the deadliest states in the nation for cyclists, due in large part, to these same roads.

I've had several friends who have moved here from other states who have been shocked by the high insurance rates until they realized our roads lead to more accidents. One need only take a trip to Virginia or Tennessee to see the nice, wide shoulders on their state highways. Cyclists and drivers both benefit from these shoulders. If the state were to spend the extra money necessary to widen our roads, we would not only benefit by having lower insurance rates, but less deaths on our highways.

My prayers are with Dr. Burke and his family and I hope those of us who enjoy cycling and driving will contact our state legislators and demand a better standard for our roads.

cyclingman1
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cyclingman1 11/09/10 - 06:51 am
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Very good pt, Lone02Ranger. I

Very good pt, Lone02Ranger. I rode my bike in Maryland last year. I was astounded at how many roads had wide shoulders/bike lanes. Lousy infrastruture: one of the hidden costs of living in the South, which I have for most of my life.

TK3
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TK3 11/09/10 - 09:36 am
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Driving Too Slowly .S.C.

Driving Too Slowly .S.C. Drivers License Manual; "You must never drive so slowly that you will interfere with other cars or trucks that are moving at a normal speed. Many accidents are caused by persons driving too slowly. This causes traffic to “back up” behind them. Motorists in these “backed up” cars become impatient and are tempted to take dangerous chances while passing, in order to get around the slow-moving vehicle. This is why South Carolina has minimum speed laws as well as maximum speed laws."
Cyclists average speeds are far less than normal auto speeds on state roads and often imped traffic, especially long peloton/packs. Requiring an escort vehicle (auto or PU with magnetic sign and vehicle factory emergency lights on) for peloton/packs, as the proposed law would require, on two lane roads having speed limits in excess of 25/30MPH should help increase safety, NOT make an activity even more unsafe, as the last Cyclist law passed has. The public and politicians need to and will be made aware of the newest dangers between Road cyclists and the motoring public and to have the problems addressed by changing to a more common sense safety law. It won't be done overnight, but it will be done .

Missy
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Missy 11/09/10 - 12:47 pm
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I think it is awful that

I think it is awful that anyone would ever blame Dr. Burke or any of the cyclists for what happened. I lived in Germany for a while and people were able to ride their bikes on the road there. I really don't understand why it is such a huge problem here. It just requires drivers to be a little more attentive. My heart goes out to Dr. Burke, his family and the other riders.

Greg Burlingame
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Greg Burlingame 11/09/10 - 01:51 pm
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Public roads and highways are

Public roads and highways are just that, PUBLIC, especially for very productive, upstanding, taxpaying people such as U.S.Army Major Matthew Patric Burke. If a person walks across or along a highway or public road, opperators are responsible to have control of their vehicles to avoid collision, ( cars, trucks, motorcycles, 18 wheelers, horse and buggy, bicycles, dog carts, roller blades, etc. If opperators are not in control and collision happenes, the out of control opperator is at fault.
Wonder what the out come of "out of control" S.U.V. opperator against slow moving 18 wheeler, would be

cyclingman1
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cyclingman1 11/09/10 - 01:58 pm
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I have to agree, Missy. It is

I have to agree, Missy. It is inexplicable how this incident is viewed by some. There seems to be much deep-seated resentment, anger, arrogance, and the like looking for a group or person on whom to unleash it. Avoiding a cyclist in the situation described could not possibly have been difficult. But here we are talking about bad, bad cyclists, risky behavior, etc. None of this makes any sense. We humans can be a mean bunch.

Greg Burlingame
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Greg Burlingame 11/09/10 - 02:29 pm
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I was raised on a bike, road

I was raised on a bike, road all over pa. country side, 50 mph secondary road, 35mph "back road", no serious accidents in over 50 years, still haven't heard of any, in reguard to bikes vs cars, ect. And yes, we were told to "walk on the left, ride on the right. Also had dogsleds which also pulled "gigs", carts. Used to run up the "back road" with my dogs, a log truck came up behind and "had control" and slowed down till we could get off. Point is on a 35mph road NO EXCUSE FOR NO CONTROL!

Greg Burlingame
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Greg Burlingame 11/09/10 - 02:49 pm
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Yeah, by the way I messed and

Yeah, by the way I messed and used my real name, so why don't we drop the facade and use our real names and stand behind our comments? Go "toe to toe" so to speak, because I feel this is an issue that needs to be reckoned with. You see I have a nephew who is down and out right now and I am standing at his back. So ,why don't we "get real here" and use our real names and cut the guessing?

cyclingman1
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cyclingman1 11/09/10 - 05:08 pm
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One area that is terrific for

One area that is terrific for riding a bike in PA is the area west of Allentown where the Amish live. Maybe they are a calming influence on drivers or just have to be reckoned with. Whatever the reason, it is beautiful country.

Re: using real names. Unfortunately, I don't think this is a level playing field. It's hard to trust any haters that may be lurking here. If running over a cyclist is like running over a possum in the road, what are the limits to aggressive behavior?

Greg Burlingame
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Greg Burlingame 11/09/10 - 06:19 pm
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I hear you cylclingman1 and

I hear you cylclingman1 and am with you, although trying to keep the high ground is the intent. Pretty hard to do when you're dealing with this kind of mentality. Use me as bait if you want, again I say I'm fitghting for Matt.

Safe4all
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Safe4all 11/10/10 - 09:53 am
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Thanks for your support

Thanks for your support brother Greg. We are seeking justice within South Carolina law. There is simply just no way in heaven, on earth, or in hell that a person can be distracted from driving for over a half mile on a straight road with a speed 35mph speed limit with the sun at their back on a clear day and plow into a group of people without it being against the law. At a minimum it constitutes gross negligence of a degree that should prevent such a person from ever driving anything larger than a small lawn tractor. We are not looking for "a pound of flesh" or "eye for eye" justice. We simply want those responsible for brutalizing my son-in-law to be held accountable for their behavior!

TK3
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TK3 11/10/10 - 09:55 am
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Dear Missy; Who is "blaming"

Dear Missy; Who is "blaming" the cyclists for the accident in this story or responses?

Missy
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Missy 11/10/10 - 11:05 am
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TK3, "With evidence to the

TK3, "With evidence to the contrary, it is appalling that anyone would still place blame on the bike riders."

Isn't that what this whole article is about?

Missy
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Missy 11/10/10 - 11:05 am
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TK3, "With evidence to the

TK3, "With evidence to the contrary, it is appalling that anyone would still place blame on the bike riders."

Isn't that what this whole article is about?

TK3
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TK3 11/10/10 - 11:41 am
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Dear Missy; Yes but ,"WHO is

Dear Missy; Yes but ,"WHO is "blaming" the cyclists' for the accident in this story or responses?"

TK3
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TK3 11/10/10 - 11:50 am
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I can agree with Iamacyclist

I can agree with Iamacyclist in this, "Aiken County should definitely carry their investigation further; just because it is hard to prove fault with a Cycling/Auto incident doesn't mean that one should not try." That way some of the cyclists who think everyone is always' out to get them, can rest assured everything was done to ease their worries.

cyclingman1
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cyclingman1 11/10/10 - 01:54 pm
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Thankyou IamACyclist. You

Thankyou IamACyclist. You have given graphic answer to the notion that cycling is inherently dangerous. Cycling is dangerous not due to cars but to those lacking significant gray matter between the ears. If our legal system had any guts, people would be protected from these threats and worse. But no, everything is an accident.

There is a puzzling aspect of this case. In automobile accidents the car that rear ends another is invariably at fault. In this case a car rear ends a cyclist and the driver walks with no charges. Very interesting. Gutless law enforcement.

nchawk
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nchawk 11/10/10 - 03:35 pm
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@TK3 "Dear Missy; Who is

@TK3 "Dear Missy; Who is "blaming" the cyclists for the accident in this story or responses?"

You know what's funny, TK3, is that until I started reading the comments here on the Augusta Chronicle website in response to the series of articles about this crash, I didn't feel like people were blaming us or out to get us. I've encountered nothing but support, sympathy and hope for Matt's speedy and complete recovery when folks find out that I know and ride with Matt and the group.

It's only after seeing the venom directed at me and my fellow cyclists that I started to worry. And that's after I was hit by a car while riding less than a month after I moved here last fall. I never felt unsafe on my bike until I read how much people seem to hate the fact that I enjoy riding. It's one thing to know that accidents may happen (on both sides of the steering wheel OR the handlebars), but it's a bitter feeling to know that there are people like Orlandu, johnston.cliff, and dwb619 out there looking to harm us.

Luckily, they seem to be in the minority. And with extra lights, brighter clothes and a little more vigilance when we're out there, we can still ride. Yeah, that was me out on Old Jackson Hwy this morning. It was a beautiful ride and I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings.

Iamacyclist
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Iamacyclist 11/11/10 - 02:38 pm
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Enough said.

Enough said.

Greg Burlingame
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Greg Burlingame 11/10/10 - 05:16 pm
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Interesting that accusations

Interesting that accusations started out with blame against cyclists, shouldn't be on a "highspeed" road, kind of like "a good defense is a good offense". Do you suppose there's a bit of guilt pressure here. Facts are looking to be that this was no accident. Really need a reinactment of the incident.

Greg Burlingame
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Greg Burlingame 11/10/10 - 06:02 pm
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Thankyou, Iamacyclist, for

Thankyou, Iamacyclist, for your testimony, and that you can back it up. Thanks also goes to the person who said they've been hit by cyclists while running. Accidents happen, that's a given, that's what I thought untill reading some of the first comments right after the 'Incident' with Dr.Burke. The first comments that I read were directed at cyclists and that they don't belong on a highspeed road and that it was their fault and they got what they derserved. This people, is why I'm here, fighting against this mentality of possible "road rage bullying". Again i say public property is just that, for the public. To some how say you own it and that others can't use it is wrong when it is paid for by taxpayers. Yes the accusations were there in the beginning against cyclists. How I ask you can a cyclist be at fault against an automobile, in these circumstances?

Safe4all
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Safe4all 11/10/10 - 10:00 pm
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Today I drove over a fifteen

Today I drove over a fifteen mile stretch of a curvy and hilly secondary country road that I have traversed more than 2,500 times while doing my job over the last fifteen years. Speed limits range from 15mph to 55mph and there are on any given day serveral things that can slow you down which include trucks of every size, Amish buggies, old people crossing the road to their mailboxes,children playing, dogs, cats, many forms of wildlife, bicycles,scooters, motorcycles,tractors pulling one or more swaying wagons full of cabbage or pumpkins, walkers, joggers, and flaggers for road construction and tree trimming which tend to frustrate me because I usually have an appointment to keep miles away. My frustration is restrained by the reality that if I drive my one ton+ vehicle into any of the above for any reason, especially from behind, that I will be at fault, be held accountable for damages and injuries to others and myself under Pennsylvania law. I suspect that South Carolina law requires the same of its vehicle operators.

ozarkalien
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ozarkalien 11/11/10 - 04:02 pm
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has it been proven that the

has it been proven that the driver wasn't texting? Did they check his cell phone for calls or texting?

Greg Burlingame
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Greg Burlingame 11/12/10 - 08:04 am
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Straight stretch of road, 15

Straight stretch of road, 15 bikes with flashing tail lights. Texting or not should have seen the bikes.

MarkShells
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MarkShells 11/14/10 - 08:55 pm
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Some good, and bad, points

Some good, and bad, points are posted here. but lets say that the driver was distracted. Daed this mean it's ok to hurt people, any people? There is a hate process against cyclist in Beech Island, I have experienced it many times first hand. I have had bottles thrown at me, my hand broken, buzzed and chased off the road by ONCOMING traffic that had to swerve all the way accross the road to try and hit me. But lets drop that.
Let's look at how we act when we ride or drive. Some motorist have a real problem with the fact that a car can go faster than a bicycle, and because the vehicle they choose to use is bigger and faster that means it has more rights and no responsibility to the slower vehicle, only going by what I have heard from angry motorist that who had a meltdown when I "slowed them down" for a short period of time until THEY DECIDED to pass. Now, sometimes this decision was made at a proper time, in a passing zone. Many other times it was made in a no passing zone. I ride ALWAYS very close to the white line, as close as I can. I always use my rear beacon as does almost everyone I know.

When a motorist makes a decision to make a pass on one or several cyclist in a no passing zone, they were not FORCED, it was thier decision! a very poor one at that, no different if following a heavy truck or other slow moving vehicle. The only problem is that you are having to go slower than you WANT TO, wow, thats a real crime!!

I have been a cyclist for over 40 years and have ridden alll over the country, in those years I have been attacked and harrased in Baech island more than all ther other places combined. All I am Guuilty of is riding my bike, I have never hurt anyone! not a sole. You are safe from me and all other cyclist. Find a case where a motorist was killed by a crash with a bicycle. But, over 40,000 people were killed in auto crashes last year and millions were injured. Somehow some of you posting here see the bike as the danger. How? None of your family members have been harmed by us, and the crap excuse that we endanger you because you have to pass in dangerous areas is just that, crap.. You decide when to pass not us. Your poor judgement is whats going on there and nothing else.

So really the problem is only that we slow you down sometimes, wow. That is certainly a great reason to hate someone that chooses to ride a bike rather than drive a car. It's sad to realize that all it takes to kill a cyclist is to make some guy arrive home a few minutes later. sad. and some woman says I sould be ashamed? just because I think Beech Island has some of the most beautiful places to ride and we want to use it a couple times a week for some fun and fitness? That in doing so we harm absolutley no one? That having to slow down for a short time is so hard on you that you would rather defend a killer than look at the real problem, and that is you are so wound up in your own world you just cant see clear to allow someone to have a minute of your time without a meltdown.

So before the accusations start, the ones that say i think I'm Perfect, that I think I own the road, and so on. Why not just take a look at all the harm cyclist really do and then look in the mirror, trying to be honest with yourself. If you can.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 11/14/10 - 09:04 pm
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Regarding the controversy

Regarding the controversy over bike riding with traffic or against traffic, I was driving home tonight from church after dark on Berckmanns Rd. A jogger, wearing black running shorts, a dark shirt (I could not tell the color, but it was dark) with a belt that reflected headlights was running on the pavement. The thing is that he was running in the direction of traffic. Pedestrians should travel against traffic, and I think that joggers qualify as pedestrians. This dude was asking for trouble.

MarkShells
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MarkShells 11/14/10 - 09:18 pm
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To TK3: and I really hope you

To TK3: and I really hope you read this. You pointed out in your post that slow moving vehicles cause many accidents because other drivers get irritated and make decisions thay might not otherwise make.
oh, why can't you see the fault in that? If you make a poor decision it is YOUR problem. Just because you can't go the speed you want to does not give cause to do somthing illeagle or dangerous, where is it written that you will ALWAYS be able to travle the posted speed limit? no where.

Minimum speed laws are posted the same as maximum speed laws. there is no statewide minimum speed. Cyclist do no use roads where minimum speed is posted ecxcept when approved for special escorted events, these are rare.

Trying to defend people that make poor decisions to excuse dangerous behavior is rampant, especially in Beech Island. Not making it up, it's not a "Lie" as some other poster wants to claim. It's first hand experience ove rthe past 15 years.

And it's a very poor behavior that just won't seem to go away...until one of the offenders has a family member hurt. When this happens, and I really wish it would'nt, it will not be at the hand of a cyclist, it will be caused by a motorist doing the wrong thing at the wrong time.

MarkShells
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MarkShells 11/14/10 - 09:31 pm
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Face it people; Motorist are

Face it people; Motorist are always in some kind of hurry, late for work, beer is getting warm, whatever. When some one is actually doing the speed limit, thay are getting tailgated by the NON-LAW ABIDING citizens who angerly await the next opportunity to pass, whether right or wrong.

When they finally make the pass, and get back on thier merry way, they slow down and make a turn into the driveway or road they live off of, only seconds ahead of the person they were so angry at for following the laws, what a good reason for bad behavior! I finished ahead of you, i saved 10 seconds by passing you at twice the speed limit and endagering everyone around..forget the kid whose ball goes into the street, the dog or deer running into the road..who cares right?

One poster stated he would hit a cyclist before running head on into a car, I guess he feels these are his only options..how about just because that road has a 45mph limit, you use some sense and understand that it may not just be a cyclist around that blind corner, it could be a slow moving or stalled truck? or a logging truck pulling out? Your reasoning sucks as much as your excuses for just wanting to go as fast as you can.Just so you can get some where a few minutes faster? I guess you think a life is less important than your precious time.

MarkShells
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MarkShells 11/14/10 - 11:02 pm
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"Never trust a driver to do

"Never trust a driver to do the right thing", I add to that, Never expect them to own up to it. This advice came from my father over 40 years ago. I rode my bike everywhere, I used roads everywhere. I was never hurt by a car. Until I moved to South Carolina and rode my bike in Beech Island. Not a Lie, It's a fact. I lived in Ohio, Rode my bike between Erie Pa and Cleveland all the time, much more traffic than here. Difference was respect for other people. This place needs an enema.

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