Old Route 66 through Tijeras Canyon runs straight at mile marker 5. There are plenty of inherently dangerous places to ride a bicycle around Albuquerque. This isn’t one of them.
But here, on the guardrail, a hand-written sign has been left in memory of a cyclist killed Sept. 13, 2007.
James Quinn and his wife, Ashley, were riding the shoulder, a designated bike route. The signs begin back in the city at the Smith’s on Tramway. Many people ride this route every day, most for recreation, some commuting from homes in the East Mountains.
James Quinn was a law student and, according to the sign left by his sister, he died doing what he loved.
I pedaled out to the spot of this tragedy with Jon Knudsen, one of Albuquerque’s oracles of cycling, known to readers of local blogs as “Johnny Mango.” We wanted to see if there was any obvious explanation for the accident. We didn’t find it.
Visibility is unobstructed. Drivers can clearly see the frequent cyclists using the shoulder. This is not a place where a driver would come suddenly upon a cyclist or be confronted with oncoming vehicles quickly cresting a hill or rounding a curve. You can see for nearly half a mile on this straightaway.
What we saw didn’t fit the explanation offered by the driver involved in the accident, or the from-the-hip pronouncements of the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO).
According to BCSO spokesperson Erin Kinnard Thompsom, the driver was passing a group of cyclists going up a hill. “Then the driver saw oncoming traffic and had no choice but to swerve back—I’m not sure I would even call it a swerve—and that’s when the cyclists were hit.” She said it did not appear the driver was at fault. Responding to complaints that BCSO was not taking this accident seriously, she said, “We consider this accident a tragedy, and we will do a complete and thorough investigation.”
If she meant what she said about “a complete and thorough investigation,” Thompson should not have instantly absolved the driver of responsibility for killing someone. Thompson might also want to take a closer look at the roadway before firing off quick opinions. Passing is not permitted on the hills through the two-lane stretch in this area. If the driver had been passing on a hill, she was passing illegally. Thompson also has some explaining to do on how and why the driver put herself into a situation where she had “no choice” but to kill someone.
BCSO has yet to release the accident report. The name of the driver who chose to drive into James and Ashley Quinn remains undisclosed. Johnny Mango smelled cover-up and conspiracy. His anger over the killing of another cyclist plugged the gaps in our information. I told him it might be a good sign the Sheriff was taking time with the report, hopefully getting it right so it couldn’t be ripped to shreds by a defense lawyer.
We stopped for coffee at the Just Imagine Gallery in Tijeras. Johnny knew the owner. (I believe he knows everyone around Burque.) We mentioned the accident. She remembered a man asking directions, then breaking into tears. It was James Quinn’s father, come to see where his son had lost his life.
In Seattle, they stencil “A cyclist died here” on roadways where people are killed by cars and trucks. Across the globe, in 20 countries and 70 cities, World Naked Bike Ride protests by exposing bare, vulnerable human bodies to the traffic that kills cyclists.
Here, we have named the south loop of the Bosque Trail after Chris Chavez, a firefighter killed biking to work on June 30, 1999. We have named a race in Torrance County after Pamela Lee Higgins, killed last year in broad daylight riding a designated bike lane in Albuquerque.
But we don’t honor all the cyclists killed in our community. Like James Warden, killed June 12, 2007, while riding on the shoulder along U.S. 550, or Ron Martinez, killed May 21, 2007, on the I-25 frontage road near Comanche.
Sheriff Darren White is taking the death of James Quinn much more seriously than some of his people. At a recent meeting with cycling activists he shared that he, too, had been hit while cycling. He has pledged a genuinely thorough investigation. In addition, sheriff’s deputies will escort a memorial ride past the site where Quinn died. On Oct. 13, cyclists wearing black mourners’ armbands will leave from UNM Law School and head to the Smith’s at Tramway and Central. From there, at 9 a.m., the ride will proceed in silence, in memory of James Quinn and all those who have been killed doing what they love.