Eugene Bicyclist

ON BIKE CULTURE IN EUGENE | Fine blogging since 2010 (with periodic long breaks)

We may never know what happened: Rest in peace, Aaron Daywitt

We learned some more about the cycling fatality yesterday. Police released the man’s name: James Daywitt, who apparently went by his middle name, Aaron.

Aaron Daywitt

He was 49 years old. He was married and had twin 4-year-old girls. He worked as a mortgage adviser at a company called Alpine Mortgage Planning, which is by Valley River Center, I think in one of those black, glass, upside-down pyramid buildings. He was a regular bike commuter.

I am so sorry for his family and friends. And my heart breaks for his kids. Jesus.

I’ll be candid. When I hear about this sort of thing, I first think perhaps the person was a transient. Homeless. Perhaps drunk. Or suicidal. Not to say the loss of that life would be any less tragic, but as details came out yesterday, they didn’t jibe with my preconceptions.

Our minds, I think, naturally try to form some explanation when something unexplainable happens.

And in the police press release yesterday, as they told us Aaron Daywitt’s name, they included this:

“Initial indications are that Daywitt may have been utilizing headphones at the time of the crash. He was reportedly wearing a helmet.”

This was picked up in the news coverage, by TV stations and by the Register-Guard’s Karen McCowan in a story in today’s paper:

“… an initial probe indicted that Daywitt was wearing a helmet and may have been using headphones when he bicycled southbound into the crossing at Hilyard Street just as an eastbound Amtrak train reached the intersection, police said.”

At the end of the R-G story, there’s a line saying, “people appear to underestimate the muffling effect of music device earphones” that is attributed to an Amtrak spokeswoman named Vernae Graham (this is a paraphrase by McCowan, not a direct quote from Graham).

It’s human nature to speculate. It’s also human nature to let our biases and previously held opinions inform that speculation.

Was it the headphones? Presumably he wasn’t wearing a blindfold, as well.

Was it a momentary lapse of attention, a little mind wandering, that happened at the worst possible moment?

Was it a fatal error in judgment — thinking he had more time to cross than he did. A wrong decision. A split second. Dammit.

I understand these things. They’ve happened to me. But I’ve been lucky.

I do think that crossing is poorly designed, too — the crossing gates don’t block the path, just the street. But you can’t blame this on that.

In the end, we will probably never know why this happened. But the thought that will linger in the public mind, I suppose, will be the headphones.

Personally, that explanation is a stretch for me. I can hear train whistles from my house, which is a mile from the tracks. It’s hard to believe headphones would prevent you from hearing a train whistle at close range. But in this case, who can know?

I’m not a fan of riding with headphones or earbuds. I’ve done it, but I don’t prefer it. Not because I think it’s terribly unsafe, but because for me it just distracts from the whole experience of riding a bike in the first place. Yes, I think it does reduce your awareness. But a train whistle?

I want to say my thoughts are with his wife and his kids. If I were a praying man, I’d pray for them. But I’m not, so I’m just hoping they have the help and support they need.

If you are interested, KEZI has a couple of stories about Daywitt and the crossing at Eighth and Hilyard. And KMTR’s Chris McKee also has a story. He reports that Daywitt’s employer has set up a fund to help his family: Call them at 541-342-7572 if you would like to contribute.

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8 comments on “We may never know what happened: Rest in peace, Aaron Daywitt

  1. Brrr
    September 22, 2012

    While it’s certainly possible, I have a hard time believing that headphones were really a factor. I ride with earbuds in at all times specifically because they help me hear traffic sounds better by blocking out wind noise. Even with music turned quite loud, I can still hear tires rolling, engines revving, and even train whistles much better with the earbuds in than with them out.

  2. Kevin
    September 22, 2012

    I often ride with headphones in and nothing playing, so that I can answer my phone…secure in the knowledge that should anything bad happen to me, the headphones will be blamed.

  3. Roosterblocker
    September 23, 2012

    This intersection needs some thinking. Forcing path users to cross the tracks to continue west on Hilyard is pretty silly. Not blocking the path with the crossing arms where pedestrian crossings outnumber cars is a major oversight.

  4. Human Safety First
    September 29, 2012

    The city once again prioritizing speeding cars over human beings was a major and predictable contributor to the crash. The city prioritized building an unneeded, dangerous, car-centric, freeway-like expressway through the area a few years ago with $5 million plus that could have been spent on a bike/ped RR underpass from Alder that humans on bikes and feet have begged for, to no avail, for decades. The lack of pedestrian gates at this and other crossings has also been long neglected. Either of these would have saved a human life, but the city was more interested in saving a few seconds for motorists with its bypass. How about a city council motion to immediately use the city’s urban renewal funds and/or fat facility reserve to build the Aaron Daywitt memorial Alder safety underpass?

  5. Blaming the Victim
    September 29, 2012

    Do the police ever report whether a driver had his helmet on, windows up and stereo on after a crash?

  6. Paul
    October 9, 2012

    I was on the train getting some vacation video when this tragedy happened. As you can see http://youtu.be/U1OVA2Pl_k0?hd=1 we were going slow and the horn sounded real loud ahead of the stop. It’s hard to believe that Aaron couldn’t here the horn even with headphones. Our hearts go out to his family.

  7. Skinner City Cyclist
    October 11, 2012

    Regardless of the circumstances of this crash, I consider it insane to ride with headphones or earbuds. If you think you can hear well enough for safety with those things on, consider all the times you pass some nitwit pedestrian boogying down the bikepath creating a hazard as you vainly shout yourself hoarse with your “on your left.” Asking for trouble.

    And Human Safety First has it right. Cycling remains an afterthought in this town, and all the slippery green stripes and pointless sharrows reveal what it is all about: clueless pandering to drivers to provide the illusion of safety. With people like Gleich driving around (and he will be again someday without a doubt), there is no safety.

  8. Mindful
    October 12, 2012

    How often do any of us drive, ride or run instinctiively, make left hand turns and only look to the right? Not look in our rear view mirror when backing out of the driveway because we assume we know where the risk is coming from. When I told my young daughter my friend aaron was hit by a train while riding his bike the first thing she said was “he didnt look both ways?” The train hit him from the right.

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This entry was posted on September 22, 2012 by in Real news/events.

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