On October 1, a driver struck Dr. Matthew Burke while he was bicycling with a group in Augusta, South Carolina. After months in a coma, Burke died Sunday.
The circumstances of his death were both tragic and disturbing. The group ride was a regular Friday night social that departed from Outspokin’ Bicycles in Augusta. At 6:40 p.m. that October evening, a driver collided with a pack of 15 cyclists. Some of the riders reported hearing the motorist rev his engine before the crash, which sent Burke to the hospital with severe head injuries.
Burke (pictured) was a model citizen. An Army major, he had been home from Iraq for less than a year. Stateside, he worked as an orthopedic surgeon at the Dwight D Eisenhower Army Medical Center at Fort Gordon. He had a wife, Bonnie, and 11-month old daughter, Anna. This week, they will say goodbye to the husband, father and cyclist during a funeral at St. Mary on the Hill Catholic Church. Burke was 38 years old.
On Tuesday, the man alleged to have crashed into the group of cyclists was charged with reckless homicide, which brings a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a mandatory five-year revocation of his driver’s license. During the investigation, Daniel Johnson suggested he didn’t see the bicyclists because he was reaching down for something in his car.
After months of working with law enforcement and Peter Wilborn of mybikelaw.com, the advocates at the Palmetto Cycling Coalition commended the charge. “Although we are terribly saddened by the loss of such an honorable individual, husband, father, soldier, doctor and friend to many, we are hopeful for what the charge will mean for bicycle safety in South Carolina,” Rachael Kefalos, PCC’s executive director, wrote on the group’s blog yesterday.
“The charge of reckless homicide is a correct choice for this case, and the Palmetto Cycling Coalition is grateful for the work that the Department of Public Safety and Solicitor Strom Thurmond Jr. have done to ensure Dr. Burke’s family sees justice,” Kefalos explained in the group’s press release. “It is a tragedy to lose someone so young and with so much potential to offer the world.”
Hopefully, though, this tragedy will be a touchstone for a mutually respectful environment for both motorists and cyclists on South Carolina’s roads, Kefalos added. “As a state, we have some of the best bike laws in the country,” she said, “and we need to uphold these laws and continue to ride our bicycles for all the good that they bring.”
Peter Wilborn also took heart that law enforcement acted diligently. “We work for the day South Carolina roads are truly safe for cyclists,” Wilborn said. “The hard work of the South Carolina Highway Patrol in this case is getting us closer to reaching that goal. Cycling’s time has come, and South Carolina will be a wonderful place to ride.”
“Please join us in keeping Dr. Burke's family close to your hearts and in your thoughts, and stand resolute alongside other bicycle advocates as we all strive for a safer and more bicycle friendly South Carolina,” Kefalos wrote on the PCC blog. “Bicycling is indeed good for ourselves, for our communities, for our businesses and for our government. Lets keep that in mind and, of course, keep on riding.”
Read more from the PCC.