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At The Scene Of Horrific Accident: Two Heroes, Their Inspiration, And A Ghost Bike [Video]

At the corner of Boston Post Road and Neck Road Sunday morning, Colleen Kelly Alexander, along with family, friends, and supporters, makes a statement "in support of cyclists' rights to travel safely."

 

When Ken Krayeske and Tony Cherolis contacted Colleen Kelly Alexander to see if she would be willing to let them place a Ghost Bike memorial at the corner of Boston Post Road and Neck Road, she hesitated.

She is when she was run over by a truck at that corner, while biking home from work. After flatlining twice following the accident, and being revived, and then going through a series of extremely painful and arduous operations to repair and reconstruct the parts of her body that were demolished, Colleen is not yet able to work. She has been dedicating what spare time and energy she has to raising money for the organizations that helped save her life and raising awareness about bike safety.

She wondered what it would be like to visit the scene of the accident again and look at the spot where it all happened. She did not know if she was ready for that.

And then she says yes

And then, as she so often does when she thinks that something good might come out of an action, she said yes.

And so about a dozen people gathered 9 a.m. Sunday at the corner of Neck Road and Boston Post Road for a Ghost Bike ceremony, one of hundreds around the world intended to memorialize those who have been killed or hit while riding, the Ghost Bike website says:

Ghost Bikes are small and somber memorials for bicyclists who are killed or hit on the street. A bicycle is painted all white and locked to a street sign near the crash site, accompanied by a small plaque. They serve as reminders of the tragedy that took place on an otherwise anonymous street corner, and as quiet statements in support of cyclists' right to safe travel.

Lindsay Cummings, of the Madison Ambulance Association, who drove the ambulance that October day, safe and fast enough to get to Yale-New Haven Hospital so that Colleen could be revived twice when she flatlined, was there at the ceremony. So was Amanda Bernier from Madison Ambulance Association, who not only helped administer life-saving medical support, but also held her hand over Colleen's heart to comfort her en route to the hospital. They were one of several emergency medical responders from , and the all-volunteer who were among the team of medical experts, on the scene and at Yale-New Haven hospital, who helped save Colleen that October day.

Two heroes and their inspiration

On Sunday, Colleen gave Lindsay a long hug, and then another to Amanda. Colleen told Lindsay and Amanda that they, along with the other emergency responders, were her heroes.

"It's so good to see her here, able to do this," Lindsay said. "She is our inspiration."

"She is an inspiration, and courageous," Amanda said. "She is the definition of the word."

"And you are my life savers," Colleen responded. They talked quietly just before the ceremony as Colleen slipped out of her cute short skirt and t-shirt to reveal her biking outfit underneath. The black bike top and shorts proclaim Colleen's identity as a member of an elite group of bikers who have finished 600-mile marathon rides and triathlons, which she has. The outfit also reveals deep and profound scars, which are a testimony to Colleen's status as the survivor she is.

A memorable incident and emergency responders who are well prepared, thanks to their training, and their volunteer work with NMVFC

When Lindsay and Amanda were asked whether they thought Colleen would make it that day of the accident, they looked puzzled at the question. "That's not how we think of our patients," Amanda said, shaking her head gently and smiling. Rather, she and Lindsay said, they just think about what it's going to take to deliver their patients safely to the next set of life-saving hands at the hospital.

Amanda says the incident was memorable for a variety of reasons, including that it was her first major trauma incident after going through training. While that may be the case, she was no beginner when it came to dealing with emergencies and people in major distress. Prior to joining Madison Ambulance Association, both she and Lindsay were volunteers with the North Madison Volunteer Fire Co., which is made up of "neighbors helping neighbors."

"I asked her to put her hand on my heart," Colleen said of Amanda. That was something her husband often did to comfort her, Colleen said. Colleen says that simple act, along with the expert medical care she received, and the "bat out of hell" driving by Lindsay, helped save her life.

Quiet contemplation, tears, incredulity

Colleen and her husband, Sean Alexander, spent a moment before the Ghost Bike ceremony Sunday in quiet contemplation next to the yellow marks on the road that still mark where Colleen laid after the accident. Then, after Ken and Tony wheeled the sparkling white Ghost Bike over to a telephone pole near the accident site, she helped affix signs that explained what happened.

Several of the participants said they hope the memorial will serve as a reminder to people so they will drive safely in the presence of cyclists and as a reminder to take that complicated corner slowly so as to not cause another accident. Many bikers flew by on their bikes Sunday morning during the ceremony, including some without helmets. Several of the participants expressed amazement at that basic lack of protection on the part of so many adults. Colleen's helmet helped save her life and

Several participants also expressed incredulity that, other than the yellow marks on the road, nothing much appears to have changed at the intersection since the accident. The town's traffic commission requested a review by the state of the intersection, since Boston Post Road is a state road, and

A memorial for those who have died, and for those who have died and were brought back to life

There still is no line on the road that would tell drivers where exactly to stop on Neck Road before turning on to Boston Post Road, and the stop sign is so far back that anyone stopping by the sign itself would have an obstructed view going both ways. That neither the town nor state has taken the simple step of clarifying what motorists are supposed to do at the intersection was a source of anger for some of those attending the ceremony, a group that included Colleen's family, friends, neighbors, and other supporters.

And the primary focus of the ceremony was on memorializing those who have died in bike accidents and those who have been hit or run over, and died, but like Colleen, were revived to bike again some day. Colleen--known for her steadfast positive attitude, her frequent smile and cheerful demeanor-- said she is angry about the accident and its aftermath. She added, quoting Noble Laureate Jody Williams, that "anger without action is irrelevant."

"May none of these deaths be in vain," Colleen said at the conclusion of the ceremony, wiping tears from her eyes. Many of those with her at the ceremony did the same.

Mike Atkins July 15, 2012 at 11:08 PM
Really? Are you kidding?
Mike E. July 16, 2012 at 02:12 AM
It i so amazing that this incident had a happy ending. Great job to Amanda and Lindsay!
James R. Pella July 16, 2012 at 07:44 AM
Great save by the public service ambulance crew. Ridiculous idea of littering up the environment with ghost bike eye pollution. If that's allowed on public property, everybody will want to post signs and other paraphernalia on our street and highways. Doesn't this currently have to be approved by D.O.T. regarding private citizens attaching things to state sign poles? If this memorial sign is on private property with the property owners permission, no problem.
Nancy Butler July 16, 2012 at 08:22 AM
Just common sense: All the clutter of symbols attached to public street signs along with potted plants on the ground with people stopping to look at this is a distraction to motorists and more dangerous / counter-productive to bicyclists in that area. If you want to make the area safer, remove anything that could possibly be a distraction to motorists and anything interfering with line of sight. Efforts to promote street realignment and traffic control devices would serve the cause better.
Katharine Walker July 16, 2012 at 12:14 PM
This was such a moving video, and my heart goes out to Colleen who is the true hero of the story with all the courage, strength of character, and persistence she demonstrated not only when the accident itself occurred, but during her long recovery. I wish I could read her comments in full as that was the best and most interesting part of the story. What a good writer she is! I also wonder whatever happened to the truck driver, and why hasn't the town of Madison done anything about the confusing signs at that intersection???
Pem McNerney (Editor) July 16, 2012 at 12:32 PM
KW ... I think she has a blog, that is what she was reading from ... I'll get the link ...
Ken Krayeske July 16, 2012 at 01:04 PM
To James R. Pella and Nancy Butler - Littering the environment with clutter? I am sure you do not argue about the commercial signs along Route 1 that do as much, if not more, to distract drivers. Sometimes the only way to get CONNDOT to move is through acts of protest like this. Check out this week's New Haven Advocate. The road diet for Burnside Avenue in East Hartford is a direct result of ghost bike activism. I want to take your words seriously. But after a decade-plus of being a bicycle advocate, I have found that hosting rides, throwing dinner party fundraisers, maintaining a big organization to lobby for change - none of that has changed road widths or evoked a response from CONNDOT in the way that ghostbikes have moved CONNDOT. Maybe I'm wrong. Yet pointing out in a graphic, vivid way how people die on our streets, and memorializing that, that has moved CONNDOT. Cyclists are second class citizens. We need an infrastructure to support cycling. And we will fight for it. And when I hear your words of critique for what was such a moving ceremony that I wept listening to Colleen's words of survival, I can only think of the haters who kept the civil rights movement in check - you need to have patience. You need to wait. There is no time to lose in the race to make bicyclists equal on the streets. Regards, Ken Krayeske
ROGER SCULLY July 16, 2012 at 02:22 PM
AS A SUMMER RESIDENT OF MADISON FOR THE PAST 30 PLUS YEARS, i AM CONTINOUSLY AMAZED BY THE FAILURE OF CYCLISTS TO USE COMMON SENSE MUCH LESS PAY ATTENTION TO THE RULES OF THE ROAD. i AM FRANKLY SURPRISED MORE ACCIDENTS DON'T OCCUR. ONE NIGHT RECENTLY I CAME UPON A MAN WEARING DARK CLOTHES RIDING AN UNLIGHTED BIKE. HE WAS PRACTICALLY INVISIBLE. wHY IT IS ACCEPTABLE FOR CYCLISTS TO IGNORE TRAFFIC SIGNALS, TO RIDE DOWN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD IN PACKS AND TO GENERALLY IGNOE VEHICULAR TRAFFIC IS BEYOND ME. PERHAPS IF THE MADISON POLICE DEPARTMENT TIGHTENED UP ITS ENFORCEMENT OF THE TRAFFIC LAWS, THE ACCIDENT DESCRIBED IN THE ARTICLE WOULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED.
Pem McNerney (Editor) July 16, 2012 at 02:26 PM
After having read the comments, I went to take another look at the bike. It's no more distracting than the sign that goes out front of the church across the street that announces the sermons each week. Maybe even less so. The truth is that people drive way too fast on the BPR and blow through those stop signs constantly at that intersection. That is what makes it dangerous, not white bikes by the side of the road and messages about God's word. If the bike makes people slow down to something approaching the speed limit or something coming close to a full stop at the stop sign, then that's a good thing. But it's basically a beautiful white bike in the middle of a bunch of overgrown bushes and weeds by the side of the road. It's a lovely memorial, but not hugely distracting. Still, people on the BPR need to SLOW DOWN. If people are in a hurry, take the highway. And people coming up from Neck Road need to come to a FULL STOP at the stop signs ... if they can figure out exactly where to do that, since there are no lines on the street to guide the drivers and the signs are too far back to make stopping there practical. Ugh ... I hate that intersection.
Pem McNerney (Editor) July 16, 2012 at 02:44 PM
It's important for _both_ bikers and drivers to use common sense and follow the rules of the road. Cars are bigger than bikes and people walking, so drivers have the bigger responsibility there. Still, yes, everyone using the road needs to use common sense. As someone who bikes and drives, I am constantly amazed by the number of drivers who fail to slow down for just a minute or two to give bikers and walkers adequate space. Roads are for people, not just for cars. There are not enough police in our police department to pull over all the stupid people rushing around driving too fast and blowing through stop signs. So, yes, bikers need to follow the rules and it sure is stupid to wear black while riding a bike at night, but the biggest problem I see is people driving on the BPR driving too fast and people all over town doing a quick roll and go at stop signs rather than coming to a full stop.
Colleen Kelly Alexander July 16, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Cyclists can be ignorant. Just like vehicle motorists can. I agree, some cyclists are irresponsible and feel entitled. I was responsible and an unfortunate thing happened. As a cyclist I'm trying to get the others to wake up, pay attention, be educated, and responsible while cycling. Cyclingforpeace.wordpress.com - Colleen
Pem McNerney (Editor) July 16, 2012 at 02:49 PM
KW, here you go: http://cyclingforpeace.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/heroes/
Steve July 16, 2012 at 05:19 PM
Colleen, what a great story. Thanks for sharing it with us. Your comments were very powerful and showed how our lives can change in an instant. Several years ago, our six-year old was hit by a car while riding his bike in front of our house. I can remember the screech, the slam and the screams like it was yesterday. When I ran out to the street, our boy’s eyes were twitching and his breath was shallow. We almost lost him. EMS was fantastic and he wouldn’t be with us without them. Our son suffered a TBI and after weeks in the hospital and months in rehab, he re-learned how to walk and talk. I am happy to say that he is now a healthy teenager and we even yell at him on occasion but I guess that’s a good thing. The accident has definitely changed the way we look at things and a day doesn’t go by when we don’t think about what happened. I remember reading about your accident and feeling so upset about it. We prayed for your recovery and it is so good to see that you are back on your feet. I am sure that you have some difficult days but I can tell you that the anger will eventually subside. I admire your courage and your effort to raise awareness about sharing the road with cyclists. We cannot expect the DOT or legislation to keep us safe. It is ultimately up to us as motorists and cyclists to drive and ride responsibly and to keep each other safe.
Liz July 16, 2012 at 05:40 PM
I live off of Neck as a disclaimer. I walk and ride Neck Road practically every day and do that intersection maybe twice a week or so. I'm a little afraid that with the position of the ghost bike, drivers will be trying to read the sign as they are making the right hand turn. As you may know, walkers come towards the intersection blind there. I just think that might spell trouble. Maybe it could be moved? I don't know who owns that brush there but it needs to go! It is blind and someone is going to get hurt again. It is also nearly impossible to cross the post road safely there especially with my bike trailer. I have to stop and wait in a spot where there is almost no shoulder and then try to sprint across the street. I can't believe they said we didn't need a stoplight.
Lindsay July 16, 2012 at 05:45 PM
If you have a complaint about how the Madison Police Department handles traffic violations in the town during the summer then perhaps you should file a complaint or purchase a summer home elsewhere. Posting it on this article is inappropriate, just as is the implication that this accident was the fault of the cyclist and not the driver of the motor vehicle.
Sue Bartlett July 17, 2012 at 01:00 AM
Everyone's opinion is correct on this topic because they are entitled to their own opinion. Everyone agrees that this cyclists crash was tragic and the First Responders were hero's. I think the point being made is we need to avoid the temptation of turning the site of tragic occurrences into memorials. We don't want Madison to end up like many other towns and cities where once it starts it hard to control all the makeshift memorials, crosses, potted flowers, photos and assorted items placed at will. If the Ghost Riders organization is allowed to attach their stuff to state sign poles than every other organization should also have the same right to promote whatever they are all about. Right angle junction realignment, flashing traffic control; signals, better painted markings and D.O.T. signs etc would be a better way to help prevent future occurrences. Not in this case by this experienced and educated rider but I do agree with some of the other comments. Some cyclist appear to ride as if they own the whole road and intentionally ride out in the vehicle travel lane, sometimes side by side, when there is plenty of room for them to to ride safely to the right of the white painted line along the right side of the road. It also appears that the vehicle operator is usually held accountable in a car vs bicycle crash because you don't often see any bicycle laws being enforced by the police anywhere. Maybe law enforcement needs some remedial bicycle law enforcement training.
John Davis July 17, 2012 at 01:40 AM
This is what's coming and sorry, we really don't want it. According to the Ghost Bikes web site: Ghost Bikes are small and somber memorials for bicyclists who are killed or hit on the street. A bicycle is painted all white and locked to a street sign near the crash site, accompanied by a small plaque. They serve as reminders of the tragedy that took place on an otherwise anonymous street corner, and as quiet statements in support of cyclists' right to safe travel.We try to salvage as much material as possible, paying only for paint, a lock, and a chain, with a total cost of about $20 per memorial. We usually get free “junk” bikes from bike repair shops or friends’ basements. We strip each bike of non-essential parts (cables, grips, brakes) and recycle them; this makes it easier to paint and also less attractive to thieves. Would you do the same for deadly motorcycle accidents by painting a junk motorcycle white and then chaining it to a public street sign? I think not.
Pem McNerney (Editor) July 17, 2012 at 01:41 AM
If Madison ends up like other towns with makeshift memorials, crosses, and potted flowers where people have died, or almost died on our streets, we'll have bigger problems to worry about than the memorials.
John Davis July 17, 2012 at 01:46 AM
Good point. I think it comes and goes but a fatal accident or 2 a year could be a normal average for Madison and any other similar town. That's 10-20 additional memorials around town every 10 years. It adds up quickly.
Tony Salvatore July 17, 2012 at 03:14 PM
Where is the photo of whatever they installed in Madison?
Pem McNerney (Editor) July 17, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Tony, that's a great question ... the only pictures I have of it right now are with people around it ... I don't have any that show the bike installed, in context, .... basically it looks like a white bike chained to a pole. I'll take some and upload them and let you know when it's up.
colleenkalexander@gmail.com July 20, 2012 at 07:39 PM
http://www.kenkrayeske.com/2012/07/18/i-want-to-be-a-bike-lane-for-cyclists-on-the-highway/
genea barnes July 28, 2012 at 07:01 PM
I wanted to reach out to the bicycle community and let them know about a kickstarter that I am launching to fund a month long road trip to finish the shooting for my ghost bike project. Hopefully, you forward and repost this link and maybe even become a backer (every dollar helps). I greatly appreciate you taking the time to look at this link and pass it along. Check out the project here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1004330446/the-ghost-bike-project Thank you!! Genea
Malinda Moore August 26, 2012 at 06:22 AM
5-67-103. Attaching signs to utility poles or living plants. (a)(1) It is unlawful for any person, firm, corporation, or association to nail, staple, or otherwise attach or cause to be nailed, stapled, or otherwise attached any sign, poster, or billboard to any public utility pole or to any living tree, shrub, or other plant located upon the rights-of-way of any public road, highway, or street in this state. (2) However, this prohibition does not apply to a warning, safety, or identification sign attached to a public utility pole by a utility company or cooperative. (b)(1) Any person, firm, corporation, or association violating a provision of this section is guilty of a violation and upon conviction shall be fined not less than fifty dollars ($50.00) nor more than five hundred dollars ($500). (2) Each day that any violation under subdivision (b)(1) of this section continues constitutes a separate offense.

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