Jo Hinkel of Northeast had just finished a day's work in the office of volunteer services at the Air and Space Museum and was on her way home. It was 5:10 p.m. on Oct. 5 as she began to walk across Independence Avenue in front of the museum -- the green light in her favor, her body unmistakably inside the crosswalk. She got three steps into the street when it happened.
"I heard some people shouting, 'Look out!' " Jo recalled. "Then he ran right into me."
"He" was a bicycle messenger, of course. He was running a red light, of course. And he fled the scene without so much as asking Jo if she was all right.
Jo fractured her skull. She suffered a cut over her left eye that required 10 stitches to close ("The doctor was nice about it," said 52-year-old Jo, who somehow still has a sense of humor about the incident. "He sewed me up along my wrinkle line.") She received a mild concussion. She was still black and blue along her entire right side two weeks after the accident. She has a black left eye that looks as if it stopped a Mike Tyson punch.
But the most gruesome injury may have been to Jo's glasses. Her plastic lenses both have huge gouges in them, caused by the messenger's helmet as it bashed her right in the face.
Jo Hinkel was taken to Capitol Hill Hospital by a kind-hearted cabbie who saw the whole thing -- and who didn't charge for the ride. She missed 10 days of work. She ran up more than $1,000 in medical bills, which she must pay herself because she is a temporary employe and temporaries at the museum don't get health insurance. If you have ever wanted to meet the consummate innocent victim, ladies and gentlemen, Jo Hinkel is she.
But still I get mail from bike messengers telling me to back off my antimessenger crusade because I don't understand their problems.
Still I get calls from messengers who tell me that speed is the way they make a living, and speed means having to run red lights.
Still I get speeches from messengers who recognize me on the street and claim that my columns about them are somehow unfair.
I say unfair is what happened to Jo Hinkel.
I say cutting corners and saving time is illegal when it means ignoring red lights.
I say I understand the problems of messengers just fine. Their problem is that they think they're above the law -- and they're not.
And I say again: Get messengers off downtown streets. Get them off now.
A couple of weeks ago I told of a motorist who started to make a right turn at 20th and I streets NW. Just as she began the turn, a bike messenger tried to whip past her on the right. He had to brake very sharply to avoid an accident.
The close call was entirely the messenger's fault. But he cursed out the lady in make-a-sailor-blush language, and smacked the roof of her car with his heavy lock, causing a two-inch-deep dent. Then, being a courageous, upstanding, mature soul, like so many messengers, he took off.
At the time, I didn't know the woman's name. But I do now, because she just wrote to me. She is S. Christine Pirkle of Northeast, and she tells of a mess that went from bad to worse.
Christine had no idea how to find the messenger who had smashed her roof. So she decided to call every messenger service listed in the D.C. Yellow Pages. That would be a wild goose chase more often than not. But this time it wasn't. On the 11th call, Christine reached an agency whose phone-answerer immediately recognized the messenger from Christine's description.
The answerer said, yup, the guy who smacked your roof is the only messenger in downtown D.C. who wears an orange backpack. Best of all, the woman told Christine where to find the guy.
Christine figured the cops would be delighted to receive this information. She figured wrong.
A succession of 2nd District cops "either laughed at me or shouted at me as if I were the most stupid person in galatial history," says Christine.
You what, lady? You want us to arrest a messenger with an orange backpack? You say he's the only messenger with an orange backpack in a city of 670,000 people? No cop would so much as write down the information Christine was offering.
So Christine is out $700 for car repairs, and the cops won't do anything about it, even though Christine knows where to find the man responsible.
Somewhere around downtown, a messenger with an orange backpack is still blithely doing his thing, when he should be doing time. And the cops won't do anything about it, even though Christine can close the case for them.
A guy who is vicious once could well be vicious twice. But the cops won't do anything, even though Christine can tell them where the guy works.
The cops need to do much, much better. But the key point is the one I've made over and over again.
Get bike messengers out of downtown. Get them out now.