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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dwb619
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dwb619 11/15/10 - 08:36 pm
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Sucks does it? I WILL NOT

Sucks does it? I WILL NOT swerve into on-coming traffic to miss ANYTHING. If you have rode as much as you profess, you know EXACTLY the conditions I am speaking of on Woodlawn Road in Edgefield and McCormick county.

cyclingman1
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cyclingman1 11/16/10 - 03:47 am
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dwb619, I'm thinking you

dwb619, I'm thinking you could use brakes, slow down, and wait for a clear spot to go around anything in your path.

nchawk
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nchawk 11/16/10 - 05:38 am
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dwb619, if you are driving so

dwb619, if you are driving so fast on Woodlawn that you can't make the time and effort to slow down for a cyclist or other slower-moving vehicle, it's YOU who are acting dangerously and it's YOU who will be at fault if you strike them.

Just the other day, I was riding on exactly that road and got stuck behind a slower-moving tractor. I waited until it was safe to pass him and did so. Would you run into a tractor? Or would you rather slow down a bit, take your time and be patient so everybody involved comes out safely?

dwb619
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dwb619 11/16/10 - 09:28 am
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Posted speed or much less

Posted speed or much less when towing. What do you mean "driving so fast"? I have been using that road for 45 years. Never had an accident. What you have to acknowledge, over the past few years this area has become popular with cyclist. Some of whom will not follow the rules for safety( four wide, refusing to get single file when traffic is backing up behind them). I would never hit anything on purpose, but given the choice of a head-on or rear-ender, I'll take the rear-end collision any day. What would you do?

dwb619
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dwb619 11/16/10 - 10:09 am
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cycling man1, nchawk, How did

cycling man1, nchawk,
How did you come with the idea that my statement meant deliberate action to hit someone without taking every safe measure to avoid an accident? A lot of your community seems to think the majority of motorist are "out to get you".

nchawk
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nchawk 11/16/10 - 10:08 am
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dwb619: Why do we think

dwb619: Why do we think you're out to get us?

-Sunday, Nov. 7 3:12 PM "I will run over a cyclist before I hit another automobile head-on".

-Monday, Nov. 15 8:36 PM "I WILL NOT swerve into on-coming traffic to miss ANYTHING"

The question is, how can we NOT feel like you're out to get us?

dwb619
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dwb619 11/16/10 - 10:20 am
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If the only two choices are

If the only two choices are hitting an on-coming car head-on or hitting the cyclist from behind, I WILL make the choice to hit the cyclist. Some of you riders seem to have a major chip on your shoulder. I never said that hitting some-one from behind was a first choice, it would have to be the last choice. I have never passed on a curve or crest of hill, and don't intend to. I HAVE followed groups for quite a distance before passing in the clear. And I have had to follow four abreast riders on more than one occasion.
Plus, swerving into on-coming traffic puts another innocent person into a situation they had nothing to do with. I suppose you don't see the harm in involving an innocent by-stander in someone else's problem. All I have tried to bring to light about this road, is the terrain, and the need for the riders to get single file,when traffic is backing up ,so that there is adequate safe room to pass.

cyclingman1
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cyclingman1 11/16/10 - 12:43 pm
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Why is the choice of hitting

Why is the choice of hitting head-on traffice or striking a vehicle from behind even posed as a choice. That is ludicrous. Either the way to pull around is clear or its not. If someone pulls around slower traffic without knowing the way is clear and is then "forced" into swerving back into the slow traffic, that is simply criminal behavior, not a "choice." The only reason such a choice is posed is that it is a convenient way of indirectly demonstrating animosity.

If anyone in this discussion has a chip, it is you, "dwb619." Cyclists are cyclists. They cannot go fast compared to a car. They are not trying to irritate anyone. They would prefer that mad drivers not harm them. But I guess that is too much to ask. The haters are determined.

dwb619
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dwb619 11/16/10 - 03:04 pm
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Have you not grasp the

Have you not grasp the concept that a automobile traveling at a safe and prudent rate has an over-taking speed of two to three times that of the cyclist? It seems that only the cyclist are having some problem getting the gist of the comment.
Also, I ask again, what would you do in a similar situation?
Would you suggest that in the area of the hill and curves, that all automobile speeds be limited to that of the cyclists? That would solve the problem of a un-expected over-taking, wouldn't it? Any other vehicles that are not capable of maintaining the pace( over-size, over-weight, excessive length, convoys) are required to have escorts front and rear.

cyclingman1
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cyclingman1 11/16/10 - 05:19 pm
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No, No. Dwb619. I suggest in

No, No. Dwb619. I suggest in a 35 mph zone that if I come upon another vehicle, person, etc doing 15 mph and vehicles are coming in the other lane, that I should keep my same (how dare someone slow me down) speed and let the chips fall where they will. If that means running over said interferers with my day, so be it. Furthermore, I would not even consider using the brakes on my vehicle. What the heck are they for? When I'm in my lane in my car I have total rights to the road - period. People and possums - one and the same.

dwb619
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dwb619 11/16/10 - 05:23 pm
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Did I EVER say anything about

Did I EVER say anything about not slowing and waiting for a SAFE opportunity to pass?
Again, You haven't answered the question as to what YOU would do if un-expectedly coming upon a group, with on-coming traffic and not enough distance to stop.

nchawk
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nchawk 11/16/10 - 06:05 pm
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The point here is that if you

The point here is that if you don't have enough room to stop, you're at fault for irresponsibly operating your vehicle.

dwb619
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dwb619 11/16/10 - 06:16 pm
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Not so! How is one to know

Not so! How is one to know that just over the hill,or around the curve, there is a group traveling 30mph slower, while you are traveling at the posted speed?
Again, you failed to answer the question,"What would you do?'

nchawk
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nchawk 11/17/10 - 06:32 am
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"Again, you failed to answer

"Again, you failed to answer the question,"What would you do?'"

Evaluate the situation, hit the brakes, take evasive action to maximize safety. What else would anyone do?

That doesn't mean, however, that I'd just run straight into a slower moving vehicle in front of me as you seem so ready to do. It might be that the safest move is to get over into on-coming traffic. It may be that the best option is to hit the shoulder on my side. It all depends on the situation. However, with cars as safe as they are today, it might be that a glancing blow between oncoming cars where the occupants are safely enclosed presents a better scenario than me staying totally safe in my nice metal cocoon and running over an exposed cyclist on his 20-lb bike.

All of this is moot, though. As dwb619 says with regard to Woodlawn Rd, "I have been using that road for 45 years. Never had an accident. What you have to acknowledge, over the past few years this area has become popular with cyclist." That's great - no matter how much we want to argue about what we /would/ do, it seems like he's kept it safe and taken notice that the road has grown in popularity with cyclists. If only everybody were as vigilant as he.

Now I guarantee that there is an order of magnitude more bike traffic on Beech Island Avenue: between regular rides on Friday and Saturday, solo riders and the local triathlon community, it's a well-cycled road, and has been for many years. Additionally, it's dead straight and mostly flat where this collision occurred. Locals have taken notice that it's a popular road. Where was the cautious, conscientious driving on October 1st?

dwb619
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dwb619 11/17/10 - 11:33 am
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The road we are talking about

The road we are talking about has no shoulder, and is flanked by ravines or hills for its entire length from the old deer camp to Highway 28. That leaves out the shoulder, with only the on-coming traffic option remaining. That puts on-coming traffic into the problem.
I am in total agreement with you about the situation on Beech Island Avenue. I am very familiar with that road. My in-laws of 39 years live at the western end. I have not been far enough the road to where the incident took place. It is beyond me how something like could have happened.
You will notice that my original was not about Beech Island, but the totally different surroundings that Woodlawn Road offers.

RaeDee8
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RaeDee8 11/18/10 - 12:09 am
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My response so far: Stop

My response so far:
Stop bickering about what could/should happen between motorists and cyclists. Forget about conditions anywhere else but Beech Island Ave. on October 1.
We urgently petition the SC Highway Patrol to continue conducting a THOROUGH investigation to bring appropriate charges to the driver at fault.
Refer back to the still unanswered questions sited in the article Questions linger in collision that has Army physician clinging to life | The Augusta Chronicle
chronicle.augusta.com

- 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?

Because these must be answered. Justice must prevail. A travesty has occurred and we wait for answers.

RaeDee8
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RaeDee8 11/18/10 - 12:11 am
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To answer dwb619’s question,

To answer dwb619’s question, ‘What would you do?’ if while driving I came ‘just over the hill, or around the curve, there is a group traveling 30mph or slower, while you are traveling at the posted speed?’ My father taught me to slam on the brakes hard and avoid impact if possible, steer the way of clearest path…hit the animal if necessary, keep in your own lane, not the oncoming traffic…if it’ a slower vehicle, steer right, the path of least damage for all! . My answer is that absolutely, my reflexes would have avoided the exposed, slower moving cyclist at my own risk of injury, knowing that at least I have a sturdy frame of protection around me. How Mr. Johnson could not have attempted this, but instead steered left After impact is unbelievable. My mind will not rest until the results of a thorough investigation is made public.

MarkShells
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MarkShells 11/21/10 - 12:06 am
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Dear dwb619, What would I do?

Dear dwb619, What would I do? I would understand the constraints of my terrain. I would realize that I can't see around the next turn and would ask myself if I really need to be going this fast around a corner when I can't see whats ahead..a car pulling out that cant see me, or whatever. I think we assume too much and the "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" is the rule rather than the exception. I know you would not intentionally harm anyone and some cyclist could do better with respect to motorist. But, you have to admit, if you can be honest with yourself, way to many motorist are out of control and feel that anyone else on the road is just someone in the way.

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