Todd Green returned to the scene of the incident — the county prosecutor will decide whether it amounted to a crime — and struggled to recall the moment Saturday afternoon when his day went dark.
“A lot of it I don’t remember,” said Green, 27, of Severna Park. “We’re not avid bicyclists, we just happened to want to go out for a bike ride. It’s something that a lot of people do. We know where it’s safe. We followed the signs that say ‘bike route.’ Then everything just kind of went black.”
He awoke briefly to a Good Samaritan covering him with a blanket and asking for his parent’s phone number. The next time he became conscious, he was in an ambulance and heard the clatter of a helicopter carrying his girlfriend to the hospital.
Police said Green and Katie Pohler, 23, were taken to Maryland Shock Trauma after a driver strayed into the bike lane just after 2 p.m. and struck them from behind. Anne Arundel County Police Chief Kevin Davis said the driver had a blood alcohol level of .15, almost twice the legal limit.
The crash was one of five in the county within three days, putting Anne Arundel County in the forefront when it comes to bike injuries and fatalities in the region. Two of the nine cyclists killed in the Washington region last year died on Anne Arundel roads. The advocacy group Street Smart Campaign said bicycle and pedestrian deaths accounted for 27 percent of the 269 traffic fatalities in the Washington region.
Data on the annual number of crashes involving regional bicyclists is partial at best, but if the national ratio of bike fatalities to non-fatal crash injuries applies here, about 605 local cyclists suffer injuries in crashes each year.
With both the region’s population and the number of cyclists increasing, there are more bikes and cars sharing the roadways. Green’s return Monday to a sight within view of where he and Pohler were struck came at the behest of county police, who spoke to reporters about their concern over the recent accidents.
In four of the five incidents, preliminary police reports found the cyclists at fault. In two cases, the cyclists were illegally riding on the sidewalk. One disregarded a stop sign, while another was said to have improperly passed a slowing vehicle. One cyclist was 13, another 12. The driver who struck Green and Pohler was found at fault.
“This crash happened the other day because a human being decided to get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle while impaired,” Davis said.
He said the Anne Arundel County state’s attorney Anne Colt Leitess would decide whether the driver would be charged.
“We’ve had a rough few days here,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of great roadways. We welcome bicyclists.”
The county’s less traveled southern roads often draw groups of cyclists from the District and Northern Virginia.
Davis said that Maryland law allows bicycling on any road with a speed limit under 50 miles per hour or that is not a controlled access highway, even if the speed limit is higher.
“We remember Trish Cunningham [who was fatally struck] last year,” he said. “When you’re behind a bicyclist, if you can safely pass that bicyclist with a three-foot buffer, you can certainly do so. But if you can’t safely do so, you cannot pass that bicyclist.”
Lieutenant T.J. Smith said police are still seeking the driver of a SUV who struck two cyclists while passing them in February. He said the most seriously hurt, Lynn Kristianson, 62, of Arlington, continues to recover from her injuries.
“This is an unsolved case. It’s up to a $10,000 reward right now,” Smith said. “This vehicle is probably somewhere in the metropolitan D.C. area and has damage to it and this person knows he hit two people.”
Based on a side-view mirror recovered at the scene on Central Avenue in Davidsonville and witnesses, police are looking for a silver or white Honda SUV driven by a white male between 50 and 60 years old with a gray mustache.
“We consider it very important when tragedies of this sort occur to try to see to it that some good comes of it,” said Jon Korin, who heads a local bike advocacy group. “There’s something to be learned for both drivers and cyclists every time something like this happens.”
He said when enforcement of traffic laws follows, “a strong message is sent to the community about behavior that’s expected.”
“A cyclist is a vehicle, and a cyclist is expected to observe all the rules of the road, stopping at red lights, stopping at stop signs and riding with the flow of traffic,” he said.
Green said that Pohler’s condition had improved from critical to stable after surgery to repair broken bones.
“She’s trying to talk. She’s getting better every day,” he said. “We’re just two young people. We do all the normal things – weekend bike rides, kayaks — all that good stuff. We’re hoping she’ll make a full recovery and we’ll get back to that as soon as we can.”