On June 7, 2016, a pickup truck crashed into a group of bicyclists in Kalamazoo County, killing five people and injuring four others. Five years later, cyclists in the area are reflecting on the aftermath of the crash.
Paul Runnels is a member of the Chain Gang Bicycle Club, and one of the four survivors. He said the crash impacted him and other survivors physically and emotionally in ways he still feels today.
"None of us who survived the crash have any real memory of the crash. The memories are really of the people who died in the crash who are no longer with us. They were great members of the community, every one of them," he said.
The five people who died were Debbie Bradley, Melissa Fevig-Hughes, Tony Nelson, Larry Paulik, and Suzanne Sippel.
Runnels said the support of the community both immediately after the crash and in the five following years has been amazing for him and other survivors.
"We've all reflected about what it's meant to us over the intervening years. We—the survivors—have all made conscious decisions to go ahead and move forward with our lives, continue bicycling, continue being active outdoors. All of us were active prior to the crash," he said.
He said that cyclists have said they have seen positive changes in how cyclists and motorists share the roads in the five years since 2016.
"As we ride around on the roads of Kalamazoo County and the surrounding area, I think one thing that we’ve noticed during our rides is that motorists do tend to be more aware of bicyclists on the road," said Runnels.
Runnels wants to emphasize Bike Friendly Kalamazoo's mission of road safety: give bicyclists on the road five feet of space when passing in a car. Bicyclists should be as visible as possible on the road, as well: lights on the front and rear of the bike and bright clothing go a long way.
"I've actually have motorists stop and thank me for being visible, so it is an important thing," he said.
The Chain Gang still meets every Tuesday evening to ride. The group will remember the five people who died during their weekly ride on Tuesday, June 8.
"Each person is certainly free to rememebr the events of that night and the people who were involved in their own ways, and we want the community to be aware that we really appreciate what all the members of the community have done, not just in the immediate post-crash time period, but also subsequently to that," he said. "Being more aware of bicyclists and pedestrians and just being a little more friendly and considerate to fellow citizens on the road."