published Sunday, March 9th, 2014

Cook: The patron saint of bikes (with video)

Fresh flowers rest on a "ghost bike" memorial for David Meek, who was killed after being struck by a truck while riding to work on Ashland Terrace on March 6, 2009.
five years ago today.
Fresh flowers rest on a "ghost bike" memorial for David Meek, who was killed after being struck by a truck while riding to work on Ashland Terrace on March 6, 2009. five years ago today.
Photo by Dan Henry.
  • photo
    David Meek, 51, was killed five years ago in a cycling crash on Ashland Terrace.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Five years ago, David Meek died while riding his bike.

It was near sunrise on March 6. Meek was commuting to work down Ashland Terrace. As one friend said, he was lit up like a Christmas tree: reflectors and flashing lights on his helmet and bike.

From behind, a truck came too close.

The truck snagged Meek's pannier bag, jerking him off his bike and under the truck's back wheels.

Meek was 51. He was married. He was a father.

And as the truck ran over him, all that was taken away.

Three weeks later, a grand jury failed to indict the driver of the truck -- who told police he did not see Meek -- of any crime.

"My husband was doing nothing wrong," said Suzanne Meek. "And someone took his life and got away with it."

Doing nothing ... wrong.

When you're driving down the road and see a cyclist, do you treat them as if they belong

-- fully, freely -- on the same road as you and your car? Do you pass by them with caution and patience, giving them three feet of space, as required by law?

Or do you believe that cyclists don't belong? That they shouldn't be on the road? That cyclists are out of place, like illegal immigrants on wheels? That cyclists are doing something ... wrong?

When no prosecution is brought against the man who killed Meek, then the message comes that Meek was the one at fault. If the truck driver is not guilty, then, by default, it must be the cyclist who is.

It's not unlike rape myth: Look at what she was wearing. Look at how she acted. She deserved it.

"Like if you're on a bike, then you're asking for it," said Jim Farmer, a well-known member in our outdoor community.

Farmer knew and loved Meek. They biked together, raced together, talked two wheels together.

"He was true. He was pure," Farmer said. "He had this moral compass about him. He was obviously a good athlete, a great family man and businessman. Just what you would want in a person and friend."

Meek built bikes. He was the president of the Chattanooga bike club. He loved commuting. On group rides, Meek, ego-lessly, would often intentionally ride in the back, praising and encouraging the slower riders.

"We had over 1,000 people show up at the funeral home," said Suzanne.

Ambassadors like Meek are one of two ways that our roads are made safer.

The other comes when the three-foot law is enforced.

Want to guess how many three-foot-law violations have been written since 2009 by Chattanooga police officers?

"One," a court clerk in Chattanooga said.

Since 2009, Hamilton County officers have written five violations, according to the county clerk's office, and at least two have been dismissed, including one incident in which the driver struck a female cyclist as she rode north on Hixson Pike at 10:30 in the morning.

"He did not see the bicyclist," the police report reads.

"Not guilty," the court document reads.

An unenforced law is barely a law at all. The three-foot law -- passed in 2007 in honor of two Tennessee cyclists killed by trucks -- becomes an illusion, what cycling attorney Bob Mionske calls "false protection."

The traffic investigator who reported on Meek's death even stated that the truck driver "could have seen the bike, but it is not likely that he should have seen the bike."

Such excused blindness dooms more cyclists toward injury or death on our streets. Until their lives and their presence on the roads are as valued and protected as those of us in our cars, there will remain a get-out-of-jail-free attitude that liberates drivers from any blame or fault while displacing it onto cyclists.

(It's why so many were watching the story of Anders Swanson, the local cyclist who was assaulted while riding on Raccoon Mountain. The teens charged for the crime are scheduled to appear in court this week. One faces a violation of the three-foot law.)

"My husband was doing what he loved," Suzanne said. "There is no way he would ever want what happened to him to affect someone else to give up what they love."

It is quintessential Meek: the belief in the joyful goodness of biking. There is something universal about riding a bike, something poetic and long-lasting. Bikes seem to whisper to cars: We will outlast you. We will inherit the earth, not SUVs.

Just ask his son.

The night before his death, Meek was with Suzanne, his daughter Holley (who's now a kindergarten teacher) and son Mitchell. It was his 17th birthday.

Now, Mitchell's in college, majoring in mechanical engineering at Tennessee Tech.

And he's president of the college bike club.

"It reminds me of everything he stood for and everything he taught me as a person and a man," Mitchell said.

All of it good, none of it wrong.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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Carl said...

Why does anyone have to be guilty? There can be fault on both sides, only 2 people were present and witnessed the accident. We all err and to assume one acted perfectly is unfair, don't you think the driver bears enough burden without being publicly chastised and re-tried in the paper? This air of bicyclists always being the victim is equally unfair. Sometimes it is impossible to give 3 feet but how often have you seen one pull over to let traffic by? Groups riding 3 wide in a lane, riding on through stop signs, bypassing stopped traffic,etc... The actions if many bicyclists are unpredictable. Some courtesy on both sides is needed.

March 9, 2014 at 10:47 a.m.
jesse said...

^^^^^^ EXACTLY!!!

I v'e seen that bunch that rides on Mocc.Bend road ride 3 and 4 abreast and refuse to give a foot! act like they OWN the road!!

March 9, 2014 at 11:40 a.m.
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