Milt Olin Memorial Ride: A call to justice
Everyone has heart. It is our soul that drives our passions to all that we hold dear.
Rationalization is the enemy. Our world is made up of entities with their own particular set of rules. They can seem impractical, inefficient and without logic, but systems get set into place that serve their own function.
The conflict is rooted when your heart believes in something true, but is unable to enact any corresponding actions, as you are countered by these irrational forces.
Milt Olin’s death is sadly a prime example. Even without having the benefit of his testimony, we know that he was riding properly and was hit by a distracted driver. It is a clear violation of the law, yet there will be no justice after the District Attorney decided against prosecuting.
If you’ve been following the cycling community, this doesn’t come as too much of a shock. While the record of conviction in these cases are poor, the absence of pressing charges raises an eyebrow.
What strikes the temperament of most was that Olin was killed by a civil servant whose purpose was to protect us. If there is no accountability at this level, what hope do we have? Cyclists are disheartened and our frustrations continue to grow beyond levels we never wished to reach.
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When the memorial ride was announced last week, I had to go. Have felt pained since the news and had no outlet to express it. At the very least, being in the presence of those working through the same emotions would be cathartic.
I rode out with my friend Maurice, another father who also enjoys the escape that cycling provides. We actually hadn’t ridden together for months. I didn’t have to ask why he came, but I knew he was compelled by the same reasons.
We arrived to a small army of news vans. Every station was represented and if you wanted to be on television, all you had to do was ask. I didn’t ask, but still wound up in front of a camera. It was important to have the message broadcast, but the media circus was somewhat of a distraction. Even helicopters did their part to interfere with everything auditory.
The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition’s (LACBC) Eric Bruins led off the memorial by revealing that they are still seeking action from the District Attorney to file charges once again. He then led us in a moment in silence and a statement was read from the Olin family.
I spoke with many different people on the ride in a casual manner as my primary purpose was to support the cause over mining material to write a story … which is why I came off as unprofessional when I approached cycling great Dave Zabriskie. Of all the different type of athletes I’ve interviewed, pro cyclists are easiest to converse with and Dave is no different.
He started the Yield to Life Foundation with his wife Randi, to help bring awareness for cyclists and bridging the adversarial gap that exists between motorists. Dave himself was a hit by an SUV back in 2003 through no fault of his own.
After surviving a career threatening injury from the crash, he felt compelled to bring safer streets through education. In today’s climate, it is an uphill battle, but one he’s willing to attack one person at a time. It takes a certain fortitude to handle the setbacks associated with being a cycling advocate, but Dave has the demeanor that can set an example for future leaders.
Next I met Robin, who lives a quarter mile away from the scene of the non-crime. He rides the nearby roads and frequently has issues with the sheriffs harassing cyclists, driving recklessly and improperly interpreting the law. Sadly, these problems are not unheard of. Recently, there have been efforts to bring all parties to an understanding, but we have yet to know of any progress.
My favorite part of the ride (and probably everyone else’s) was when I stopped talking to just enjoy being a cyclist. Riding in a large pack at a gentlemen’s pace is an experience that makes you enjoy freedom. To own the street, while ingesting all the sights and surroundings, is liberating.
For part of the ride, couldn’t help but notice all the drivers rubbernecking as a horde of cyclists pedaled past, surprised to see a large group of cyclists absorb the street. Unfortunately, an unlawful proportion of them were talking on their cell phones as we rode by. This boiled my blood, but I finally bursted when a black truck sped by to turn in front of the group only to pull into a liquor store just a few feet away. Risking our lives to get a can of beer thirty seconds earlier? It almost made me want to follow the driver inside.
We happened to reach Grand Park ahead of schedule, but there was already a group of organizers and media prepared to greet us. There, I ran into Jeri Lynch, who I met six months ago as she addressed a class at USC. In 2010, her son, Conor, was killed in a hit-and-run by a distracted driver. Much like Olin, the victim didn’t receive much justice as the unlicensed teenager received only a misdemeanor for her crime.
As a mother with strong conviction, she works to prevent other parents from experiencing the same horror. She is organizing the fourth “In Honor of Conor 5k”, a highly successful fundraiser that raises awareness against distracted driving. While this tragedy didn’t occur on a bicycle, she felt the need to be there as this problem effects pedestrians, cyclists and even other drivers.
She chose to ride to the memorial on a bike a few sizes too big. It was Conor’s. The woman wears her heart on her sleeve.
For the vigil, we formed a large semi-circle where a flame was passed down the line. The heavy wind made it impossible to keep any of the candles lit and we abandoned our lofty objective after a few attempts. Even as a writer, I didn’t look for the symbolism of the light going out. Instead, I saw the large number of people standing shoulder-to-shoulder wanting to mean something. Whether you were there seeking justice for Milt Olin, to educate others about the cause or to mourn the loss, we were there because we wanted our presence to count.
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To me, this is not all about the cops, but the culture. There are hundreds of cyclists killed every year, many from pure negligence. Cars are just as lethal as guns, yet little is done to enhance our safety.
Even with the three foot passing law and other hit-and-run measures on the horizon, it is questionable what impact they will have. California is now five years into having cell phone restrictions, yet every minute you can point our a driver texting or yammering away.
It isn’t an issue of cars vs. cyclists, but safety as a whole. There is a societal pressure to keep cars moving at premium speeds even though this can be counterproductive to flow. No matter how fast you drive, only so many cars can get through a green light.
Slowing our streets down improves safety with minimal impact on travel times. It keeps cars on the freeways instead of encouraging those to scurry off looking for shortcuts that ultimately won’t save you time.
The mentality needs to change that getting to your destination one minute faster is not of any importance. Cars are weapons when used improperly and the carnage will continue under every circumstance until we focus on saving lives. That means stricter enforcement of traffic laws, street designs that emphasize safety over speeds and making drivers accountable for their actions.
You can never eliminate all risk being out on the roads, but that’s the excuse that keeps change from moving forward. I want to feel that everything is being done to protect my right to live, not just for myself, but so families don’t have to experience the pain at this level. Our leaders need to show that progress is being made. Until then, my heart will remain unsettled.
(All photos by Zachary Rynew)
Zachary Rynew has touched Los Angeles in many ways. For years he helped visualize many of the city’s major projects (LA Live, Hollywood Blvd., Metro Rail, UCLA) and had his work featured at the Getty. He was a winner at the LA Improv Comedy Festival and ran in five LA Marathons. Now, he travels the city by bike and couples his local knowledge with his sports writing experience to bring you a different look at the blurs we normally pass by.