A grieving father leads a sea of ​​cyclists on his wife’s last route

Remark

When the day came to leave Ukraine, Sarah and Dan Langenkamp didn’t have time to pack their house. They had to leave behind their furniture, their clothes and their children’s toys, not knowing if they would ever see them again.

Dan Langenkamp had expected them not to.

But in recent days, as a result of what he describes as the heroic efforts of embassy officials and a Ukrainian housekeeper, boxes full of those belongings began showing up at the family’s Maryland home.

Their arrival has brought relief and pain to the family. Relief because it means they no longer have to live out of suitcases. Pain because those boxes hold so many memories of Sarah Langenkamp, ​​who was killed in August when a flatbed truck driver hit her as she was riding her bike from an open house at her sons’ elementary school.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Dan Langenkamp said of the search of his wife’s belongings. There are so many items calling out to her, he said, “They say, ‘I need her.’ They say, “I need the owner of my stuff to be useful, and she’s not here.” ”

Those boxes don’t just contain yoga pants; they contain hair yoga pants. They don’t just include boots; they contain hair boots.

“Right now it’s cold and she’s got this beautiful pair of winter boots that’s just run out,” he said. “I had to put them in the back of the closet.”

On Saturday, drivers traveling through Bethesda, Md. and DC riding might see a sea of ​​cyclists riding the streets together. They followed Dan Langenkamp along the last route his wife had traveled – and then they drove further than she could handle. Together they drove from her children’s primary school to the scene of the accident on River Road. Then they drove on until they reached the Capitol Reflecting Pool. There, they called on federal lawmakers and officials to free up resources and take measures that would make roads safer across the country.

More than 1,500 people were expected to participate in the “Ride for Your Life” event, which was promoted by Trek, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, Families for Safe Streets and others. Those who took part included people who loved Sarah Langenkamp, ​​including her children, and people who had never met her but saw in her death the need for action. She was an American diplomat who fled Ukraine to seek safety, but died on a road near Washington.

An American diplomat left Ukraine but died on a road near Washington

“Lethal road design is a policy choice,” says Colin Browne of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. “The tools to make streets safer for everyone — people walking, rolling, biking, taking the bus, driving — exist and are being used in cities around the world.”

Browne described Saturday’s drive as a way of protesting “a simple, stark reality: hundreds of people die and thousands sustain life-changing injuries on the roads of our region every year, not because we don’t know how to prevent it, but because too many of our elected officials and bureau chiefs are still afraid to make driving and parking a little less convenient.

In an earlier column I told about Sarah Langenkamp. I’ve also told you in other columns about other pedestrians and cyclists who have been fatally injured on roads in the region: 32-year-old Brett Badin, 5-year-old Allison Hart, 70-year-old Michael Hawkins Randall, 64-year-old Charles Jackson, 65-year-old Michael Gordon and 40-year-old Shawn O’Donnell. Those last four deaths occurred within the same month.

At the age of 5, she was killed while riding her bicycle in a crosswalk. Her legacy should be safer streets.

Behind each of those names is a family unexpectedly plunged into mourning and activists who stood up to once again ask officials to do more to prevent future deaths.

There have been other drives and meetings in the region to raise awareness of the need to improve road safety. But most of them have demanded that local officials take action. At Saturday’s event, attendees called on Congress to fund safe cycling and pedestrian infrastructure and the Transportation Department to take steps to improve truck safety. One measure would require large trucks to add structural guards to the front and bottom sides to prevent cars, bicycles or pedestrians from sliding underneath.

Langenkamp said his wife could have survived if that measure had been in place. According to police, the truck that hit her was traveling in the same direction as she turned right into a parking lot.

“These deaths are really violent,” Langenkamp said. “We should not obscure that. No one should be killed in our streets like this. People say she was “hit by a truck” or “hit by a truck.” No, she was crushed by a truck and died instantly on the side of the road.”

His voice trembled when he said that. He knows that’s not a gentle picture, but what she experienced was not gentle, and he believes people need to recognize that in order to fully understand what road victims and their families are experiencing.

On Saturday, several people gave speeches and some senior officials sent statements that were read aloud. One came from US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. In it, he acknowledges the importance of the event that takes place on the day before the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims.

“Each year, on the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, we mourn those who have died in road accidents,” the statement said. “But mourning is not enough. We must all work to end this crisis on our roads and create a safer transportation system so that no more families have to share this grief.”

After his wife’s death, Langenkamp received notes from senators and other U.S. officials. A letter arrived from President Biden.

“Sarah will always be remembered for her unwavering dedication to our nation,” Biden’s letter reads. “She was an exceptional diplomat dedicated to delivering on America’s promise to its citizens and the world. We are especially grateful to your family for both you and Sarah’s courageous service in Ukraine.”

In a letter, Attorney General Merrick Garland spoke of her partnership with Sarah, describing her as representing “the best of America, working tirelessly and at considerable personal risk and sacrifice on behalf of our country to promote peace, democracy, prosperity and the rule of law. ”

Dan Langenkamp worked with his wife at the State Department, but he has taken a leave of absence since her death. Instead, he said he spent his days making sure she didn’t die in vain and learning how to raise two kids on his own. Their sons were 8 and 10 and had just enrolled in a new school when the accident happened

“It has been very difficult,” said Langenkamp. “It was super emotional going to Target recently to buy some extra winter gear. We used to go to Target together, and suddenly I was this unhappy dad going it alone. I tried to choose pants that fit, and Sarah knew that stuff cold.

When he talks about unpacking those boxes, he hesitates between describing them as part of the “unraveling of our lives” and the “unraveling of our lives.”

“Sometimes,” he said, “I walk back from my son’s school and think, I don’t know how to do this alone.” ”

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