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2 recent bicycle fatalities highlight responsibilities of sharing the road

One cyclist was killed in North Dakota on a state highway near Jamestown, another on Interstate 29 in South Dakota.

Two bicyclists get on their bikes outside Great Northern Bicycle Co.
Members of the Great Riders Club prepare to leave for a ride on Monday, June 20, 2022.
C.S. Hagen / The Forum
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FARGO — Two bicyclists have died in the area recently after being struck by vehicles: one while riding on a state highway near Jamestown and the other on Interstate 29 near Brookings, South Dakota.

In both cases, charges are pending against the vehicle drivers, serving as a stark reminder of the responsibilities people bear when heading out onto a roadway.

Tom Smith, owner of Great Northern Bicycle Company, said his heart sinks whenever he hears about a crash involving a cyclist.

“It’s another human being sharing that public right of way with you. … There really is a great deal of responsibility on those motorists,” Smith said.

However, it’s also up to cyclists to make good decisions about which roads they ride on, the time they choose to ride and making themselves highly visible to drivers at all times, he said.

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North Dakota Highway Patrol Capt. Bryan Niewind said all motorists need to look for smaller vehicles like motorcycles and bicycles, and slower-moving vehicles like farm implements and large trucks coming off a farm field approach.

“There are a lot of different types of vehicles that share the road in North Dakota, and we need to be prepared for that,” Niewind said.

Both bicycling fatalities happened in the middle of the day; the most recent was on Sunday, June 19.

Timothy Wayne St. John, 20, of Northbrook, Illinois, died when the bicycle he was riding was hit from behind by a pickup truck on State Highway 20 about 10 miles north of Jamestown shortly after 12:30 p.m.

James Lees, 78, of Jamestown, failed to yield to the bicycle and struck the rear tire, pushing the bicycle and rider into the ditch, the Highway Patrol said.

The patrol said Lees left the scene but returned, and St. John was declared dead after emergency personnel arrived.

The cyclist was wearing a helmet. Charges against Lees, who was not injured, are pending.

Earlier this month, a Canadian man on a fundraising ride was hit by a large truck while riding his bike on I-29 about 17 miles north of Brookings around 11:52 a.m. on June 9.

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Jean-Pierre Petit, 53, was biking from his home in Winnipeg to Hot Springs, Arkansas, in an effort to raise money for a granddaughter’s medical condition.

PetitEdit.jpg
Jean-Pierre Petit, 53, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, takes a selfie as he crosses into South Dakota on his international bicycle trip to Hot Springs in an effort to raise money for his granddaughter, who suffers from kidney disease.
Photo courtesy of Cycle4Eveline

Petit was wearing a helmet but sustained life-threatening injuries and died four days later in a Sioux Falls hospital.

Charges are pending against the truck driver, Mark Akkerman, 65, of Brandon, South Dakota, in connection to the fatal crash.

Cyclists are allowed to ride on the interstate in South Dakota and North Dakota, but the two are in the minority, as many states prohibit bicycles from interstate systems, with exceptions, due to higher speeds and traffic volumes.

Niewind said bicycle fatalities most often occur not on interstates but on county roads or state highways, where shoulders are narrower.

Under North Dakota law, bicyclists must have a white light on the front of their bike and a red reflector on the back when riding at night.

However, cyclists should do much more, even during the daytime, to make themselves safer and more visible to drivers, Smith said.

Strobing tail lights on a bike will catch the attention of any motorist from up to a mile away, Smith said, day or night, giving them ample time to react.

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Wearing a helmet is also important.

Riders can also use small, helmet-mounted mirrors to see what's coming up behind them, but using their ears also works well.

“A piece of equipment to leave at home is the headphones, because your ears are a great defense,” Smith said.

Riding in larger groups is safer, as is choosing roads with lighter traffic volume and wider shoulders, he said.

Niewind agreed that cyclists should wear reflective or bright colors to make themselves more visible, just as a construction worker would in a work zone.

However, there are no laws in North Dakota dictating that.

The cyclist who was killed near Jamestown was not wearing reflective clothing, he said.

Niewind has these additional reminders for drivers and riders: Don’t be distracted by cellphones or eating, and pay attention to what’s ahead of you a quarter mile, half mile and a mile down the road, giving time to begin defensive driving maneuvers or evasive actions.

“We do have certain times of the day, certain days of the week, where we have more traffic, and be aware of that while you're out riding,” he said.

Huebner is a 35+ year veteran of broadcast and print journalism in Fargo-Moorhead.
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