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Vigil for bicycle victims includes calls for safer roads

Las Vegas’ bicycling community shed tears and shared stories in Summerlin on Saturday, Dec. 12, in remembrance of five cyclists killed in a crash near Searchlight and to call on Nevadans to make the roadways safer.

“Today is about our friends and families and victims, but moving forward it’s about awareness and safety,” said bicycle shop owner Rob Hutchinson, addressing a group of mourners.

Hutchinson and other bicycle advocates spoke at about 11:30 a.m., an hour and a half into the drive-thru memorial that continued until about 6 p.m. outside the Las Vegas Cyclery parking lot, 10575 Discovery Drive. The memorial was organized by Ghost Bikes Las Vegas, Save Red Rock and Breakaway Cycling.

The memorial honored Erin Michelle Ray, 39, Gerrard Suarez Nieva, 41, Michael Todd Murray, 57, Aksoy Ahmet, 48, and Tom Trauger, 57, who were pronounced dead at the scene on southbound U.S. Highway 95 near Nelson Road after a box truck struck a group of about 20 bicyclists Dec. 10.

Pictures and dozens of flower bouquets were arranged around a statue from the Ghost Bikes volunteer group, which is kept at the Las Vegas Cyclery bicycle shop. The group promotes bicyclist safety and honors cyclists killed in crashes by placing an all-white “ghost bike” at scenes.

“Let’s just do everything in our power …” said Pat Treichel, a founder of the volunteer group, who paused while speaking at the memorial and started crying before finishing his sentence, “to not have any more ghost bikes.”

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Families grieve

Many of those who walked up to the memorial were overcome with emotion as they knelt before the statue, placed flowers and wrote messages to the five killed. Ahmet’s wife, Angela, and their 17-year-old daughter stood next to the speakers who addressed the crowd. The two wore face masks and cried as friends spoke of their losses.

Shelly White, a co-founder of Ghost Bikes, comforted Angela Ahmet and her daughter before addressing the group.

“Today there are no words,” she said. “There is no way to think about this any other way than a tragedy.”

White later said she had known all five people killed, but she was closest with Ray, whom she met about seven years ago through bicycling. The two would train together, and they shared laughs whenever Ray would beat a record White held on a bike trail.

“We would joke about her being the real queen of the mountain,” White said.

Unlike the other speakers, White publicly addressed the driver, Jordan Alexander Barson, who has since been charged with five felony counts of DUI resulting in death after methamphetamine was found in his system. She thanked him for stopping after the crash, which she said will hopefully help victims’ families find closure they wouldn’t have gotten after a hit-and-run crash.

In an afternoon speech organized by Jared Fisher, co-owner of Las Vegas Cyclery, family members of Murray and Trauger shared stories of their fathers, brothers, co-workers, husbands and friends.

David Murray, Michael Murray’s brother, cried during his brief speech in which he asked for more love in the world and thanked the cycling community for always welcoming his brother.

“There’s too much hate in the world. We need to stop,” he said, “I didn’t realize we were such a big family. He’s got thousands of people.”

Friend and mentor

Trauger was an active member of Team Every Man Jack, a men’s traveling triathlon group that he persuaded to come to Las Vegas annually for five days of biking, swimming and running. Trauger was the oldest member. Fellow EMJ member Ritch Viola said the men on the team looked up to Trauger.

“He was much more than a friend to those guys. He was a leader and a mentor,” Viola said. “He raced with pure joy and always with a smile.”

Trauger’s son, Tom Trauger Jr., stood next to his sister, Sarah Woolsey, to shed tears while thanking the community for their love of their father.

He addressed part of his speech directly to his father. “We love you and your huge smile and your contagious laugh.”

Donna Trauger, Tom Trauger’s wife, remembered when she and her husband moved from the Bay Area in California to Las Vegas five years ago to plan their retirement. Tom Trauger swam every morning in the masters class at Berkeley, and he was overjoyed when he found a similar group at the Henderson Multigenerational Center. He then started spending hours each day discovering new trails on his bike.

“I do want you to know I have read all of your heartfelt messages that you have been posting and have received and accepted many of your friend requests,” Donna Trauger said through tears. “It would mean a lot to me if you would all reach out.”

She begged those listening to consider their driving habits and be more aware of those they share the road with.

“Those cyclists out there riding are someone’s husband, son, father, sister,” she said. “Think about this when you speed by them in your car. Don’t text while driving or take your eyes off the road for even a second.”

Seeking safer roads

Fisher said he’s still reeling from the shock of the crash, and he said the Las Vegas bicycling community has “never seen anything like that before.”

Like Donna Trauger, he also called on Nevada drivers to think about the cyclists who died and to always be careful around cyclists and pedestrians. He said his biggest fear while driving is hitting a cyclist.

“So often do we head out in 5,000-pound vehicles and reach for a snack, or look at our phones, or not pay attention, and your simple mistake will end someone else’s life,” he said.

Heather Fisher, Save Red Rock president and co-owner of Las Vegas Cyclery with her husband, said the bicycling community is all too aware of the lack of protections for bicyclists.

“Something like that shouldn’t happen,” she said. “I don’t know how you don’t see a huge group in front of you. I don’t know how it happened. It’s just a horrendous shocker.”

Heather Fisher noted that there is an area near where the crash occurred that has no separated bike path.

Many of those involved in the crash frequented Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, where Save Red Rock built a bike lane on the Scenic Drive. She said she hopes to see more bike lanes on major roads in the coming years.

“We’re trying to get more bike lanes and bike paths so that hopefully this never happens again,” she said. “Those people that died, they are really good friends of riders. They wouldn’t want us to stop riding. We have to be re-energized.”

Congresswoman Susie Lee spoke during the afternoon gathering, promising safer roads and extending her condolences to the families. Heather Fisher said Lee is an avid mountain biker, though Lee didn’t mention her connection to the sport while speaking.

“These riders, our friends, our neighbors, our loved ones, have such a deep home here in Las Vegas,” she said. “I will do whatever I can to help make our roads safer.”

County Commissioner Justin Jones was introduced as an active member of the cycling community too. He said he put a ghost bike in his office a few years ago to help educate people on biker safety.

“Like many of you, we’ve been on too many of the memorial rides,” he said. “Take the time to educate so that these lives are not lost in vain.”

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter. Contact Sabrina Schnur at sschnur@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0278. Follow @sabrina_schnur on Twitter.

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