Days after 47-year-old Kenneth Spence of College Station was killed after authorities say a vehicle hit him while he was on his bicycle, members of the area cycling community are reflecting on best safety practices and ways for cyclists and motorists to better share Brazos County roads.

Cycles Etc. shop owner Robert Rose organized a meeting Monday for area cyclists to discuss the tragedy and to talk about cyclist safety. Rose called Spence's death the culmination of accidents involving cyclists and motorists in the region.

"There was an overriding concern at the meeting about distracted driving," Rose said. "Most of the folks there understood that from time to time accidents happen, but over the past two years and three months, I've known of at least three cyclists that have been hit on the feeder road."

Deborah Barton, a 70-year-old psychologist who began biking seriously in her mid-50s, said she has been in multiple accidents. On the morning of May 11 of last year, she went for a ride and headed south on the shoulder of a feeder road south of College Station.

"All of a sudden, I felt my bike being pushed faster, and I knew that the only cause of that was that I was getting hit by a car -- and sure enough, I was getting hit," Barton said.

The car, she said, had left the lane and rear-ended her. "I spent five days in the hospital and had seven broken bones," she said. "I had internal injuries, and I have some paralysis. I'm still recovering."

Barton said she rode alongside and knew Spence, whom she referred to as Ken.

"I feel vulnerable after Ken's death. I rode with Ken. I could have been killed by my accident, and I wasn't. I was lucky, and Ken wasn't," she said. "But in terms of recovery, I'm back out riding, because that's what I do. Fear warns you in life, but it's not always a reason to quit."

Sgt. Jimmy Morgan, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said Tuesday that the investigation into the accident that caused Spence's death was "still active." According to Sgt. Stephen Woodard with DPS, Spence was riding a bicycle northbound on the access road of Texas 6 near the intersection of the Peach Creek Cutoff around 4 p.m. on Jan. 4 when he was hit from behind by a Chevrolet Suburban. The driver of the Suburban told authorities of being blinded by the sun, according to previous reporting by The Eagle. 

Though Morgan could not expand on the particulars of the accident, he said that distracted driving -- operating a vehicle while doing something that diverts attention from the road, such as using a cellphone to text or make a phone call -- is a leading cause of automobile-related fatalities, along with impaired driving.

"When you're in a car and you're stopped at an intersection, take that second to look each way and look around. Be as aware as you can," Morgan said -- advice he repeated for cyclists.

Barton said she began cycling for both exercise and social reasons and that she has made friends "across the age spectrum," including high school and college students.

In 2014, she traveled nearly 4,000 miles from California to Virginia with three other women, including fellow Texas A&M graduates Kathy Langlotz and Stephanie West.

"It's a wonderful way to experience the countryside that you're in, meet local people and see the United States and what wonderful people are here," Barton said.

Barton described her extensive cycling attire to make her more visible -- yellow helmet, yellow triangle, flashing lights, colorful shoes -- and other cyclists said they also work hard to ensure they are visible. She also acknowledged that some cyclists do not take such measures.

Barton said that she plans to keep riding even as her recovery continues.

"If I'd been in a car accident, I wouldn't stop driving. If I had been walking and a car had hit me, I wouldn't stop walking," she said. "There are inherent risks in life, and some people are not willing to take that risk. I get so much joy from it and so much health that I'm willing to take some risk."

Brazos County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Jim Stewart has long been an avid cyclist and has been hit by a car on two different occasions while biking. He said angry motorists have thrown things at him as he rides and that some area residents, as well as people nationwide, believe that cyclists do not belong on roadways.

Stewart, who has participated in some 100-mile rides and described cycling as giving him "a sense of freedom," said it's important for members of the cycling community to follow traffic laws while riding.

"From a legal perspective, as a cyclist, we're obliged to follow the same rules," Stewart said. "If I'm on a roadway, then I'm just like a guy driving a car. There is an obligation on my part to stay to the far right of the roadway if at all possible, and we can go on any road where we're not prohibited."

Stewart added that he wants to help motorists see that many cyclists follow laws and regulations. "I want to educate these drivers one-by-one that I respect the traffic laws and that I'm just like they are."

Tripp Camp, a 21-year-old Texas A&M University junior, is an active member of Texas A&M Cycling Team. He said the team's safety practices include riding no more than two-by-two in road lanes, avoiding rush hour and school-drop-off hour rides and wearing noticeable attire.

"One thing that's helpful for us," Camp said, "is that if we don't see someone behind us and we're taking up the whole road, a light honk helps us know they're there -- I'd rather people lightly honk at me than pass me or slam on their horn."

He said the team has some set routes and also collaborates with two area cycling organizations. Popular rides include Wellborn from College Station to Millican, he said, and Rock Prairie Road, which Camp said is a useful thoroughfare to get to several other riding spots.

The team is a club sport with more than 50 members, about 25 of them particularly active, he said. Camp, an accounting major, said that what began as a gift from his dad turned into a passion for biking and racing.

"It's a lot of fun. I get to race, but a lot of guys are just looking to ride," he said. "The team serves a lot of areas."

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(1) comment

Local citizen

Nice work The Eagle on a well done piece. Important and good to hear from some in our large cycling community. I hope the investigation into Ken's death continues, that the facts come out, and appropriate responsibilities are maintained. I also hope that this serves as a turning point in this community towards safer roads for all of us. Change is needed.

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