Cyclists reflect on loss more than a year after deadly Arizona crash

Jan 4, 2023, 5:00 PM
This Saturday, June 19, 221, photo released by the Timber Mesa Fire and Medical District shows emer...

This Saturday, June 19, 221, photo released by the Timber Mesa Fire and Medical District shows emergency personnel at the scene of a mass casualty incident near Downtown 9 in Show Low, Ariz., Saturday, June 19, 2021. Police say a driver in a pickup truck has plowed into bicyclists competing in a community road race in Arizona, critically injuring several riders. Authorities say officers then chased down the driver and shot him outside a nearby hardware store. Police say six cyclists have been taken to a hospital in critical condition after the crash in the mountain town, northeast of Phoenix. The 35-year-old suspect also has been hospitalized in critical condition. (Timber Mesa Fire and Medical District via AP)

(Timber Mesa Fire and Medical District via AP)

PHOENIX (AP) — Brian Lemke tries to be a positive person, and view even doing the most mundane task as a success — such as stringing holiday lights on his Phoenix home.

“This year I was putting up Christmas lights and using an extension ladder. Last year, I dropped the ladder. I didn’t have the strength I used to have,” Lemke said. Handling it “really made me feel good.”

The avid cyclist has made a tremendous recovery in the year and a half since he was severely injured when a truck plowed through a crowd at a race in eastern Arizona. The horrific crash in June 2021 killed Jeremy Barrett, a 36-year-old fellow cyclist. Several others were injured, with some riders flying left and right, according to witnesses.

The driver, Shawn Michael Chock, 37, was quietly sentenced on Nov. 9, according to Navajo County Superior Court records. Under a plea agreement, Chock will serve 26-1/2 years in total. He received 16 years for one count of second-degree murder and 10-1/2 years for felony aggravated assault. His sentences for eight other counts of aggravated assault will be served concurrently.

In victim impact statements, several survivors talked of not being able to work, go cycling or or retain short-term memory.

“I think he should be put away forever. Hopefully, this will be close to that,” Lemke said. “I think as long as he doesn’t get out and injure someone else, I guess it seems like a fair outcome.”

Kathryn Bertine, a Tucson cyclist and author who was friends with Barrett for 15 years, said she is happy Chock pleaded guilty.

“I hope he understands the enormity of his actions,” Bertine said. “We need to move away from the term quote-unquote ‘accident’ being used when a cyclist is killed. It’s not an accident. It’s negligence.”

Bruce Griffen, the attorney representing Chock at the time of his sentencing, declined to comment when contacted Wednesday.

Bertine hopes this sentence will lead to better laws to enforce accountability for those who disregard cyclist safety. She pointed to the death of her friend Gwen Inglis, a celebrated cyclist champion in Colorado, just a month before the Arizona crash. Inglis, 46, was struck and killed on a training ride by a driver suspected of being intoxicated.

The driver was sentenced to eight years. The family then went after the driver in a civil trial. A jury last month awarded Inglis’ family $353 million.

While cyclists understand there is an “inherent risk,” it doesn’t give permission for drivers to be reckless, Bertine said.

“I would like to see state and federal legislation implement a mandatory sentence for drivers when a cyclist is killed.” she said.

In the Arizona crash, cyclists had gathered on a Saturday morning in the mountain town of Show Low for the annual 58-mile (93-kilometer) Bike the Bluff competition. The state championship road race, which determines Arizona’s champion for the year in categories like professionals, men, women and teens, had drawn hundreds of participants.

Just before 7:30 a.m., authorities say Chock’s truck came barreling through. The pickup then hit a telephone pole. Cyclists started pounding on the windows, screaming for the driver to get out, according to witnesses. Chock drove away with police in pursuit. He was shot by officers outside a hardware store. He has since recovered.

Online court records in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, show someone matching Chock’s name and age has a history of arrests for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and assault.

Lemke said he only remembers “looking into the windshield … I remember I didn’t even see a face.” Then he saw nothing but sky as some friends had turned him on his back before paramedics got to him.

He had fractured ribs on his left side, a punctured lung, fractured vertebrae, a large contusion on his hip and other injuries. For two months, he could only sleep upright because lying down hurt too much.

Today, Lemke still gets sore at times. He carries sadness for the loss of Barrett, and for his cyclist friends who were injured and likely will never be able to get back on a bike. At the same time, he is grateful to be riding again whether it’s for a race or just with his wife.

“It’s still scary every time we ride on the road. We know we’re taking a risk,” Lemke said. “For now we enjoy it so much, the risk hopefully is worth it for the long term.”

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Cyclists reflect on loss more than a year after deadly Arizona crash