The Ghost Bike in Laguna
By Patrick Lohmann
John Anczarski, 19, was cycling across the country with three friends to raise money for breast cancer research. The University of Colorado student began his trip in Pennsylvania and was heading for San Diego. He was 10 days from his destination on June 21 when an SUV in Laguna, N.M., ran him off the road. He suffered head trauma and died the next day at UNM Hospital.
A little more than a month later, a Laguna man spotted an Albuquerque ghost bike memorial for another cyclist who'd been killed by a motorist. He didn’t know who installed it or why, but he took the idea back to his pueblo.
The man’s neighbor gave him an old, rusty bike, and on July 28, he bolted the two-wheeled memorial to a reflector near mile marker 22, just outside one of the pueblo’s entrances, and spray-painted it bright white. (The man who installed the bike prefers to remain anonymous because he says the memorial was a gift from the Laguna Pueblo, not him as an individual.)
The ghost bike is a sad reminder for some on the pueblo. Nakia Marmon, 23, witnessed the accident, as did her 15-year-old sister. “I was scared. I was speechless. I just wanted to make sure he was OK. He needed help. We stood by him until the helicopter came,” Marmon says. “It’s hard to pass by this every day, knowing that it happened on your own reservation.”
“It’s hard to pass by this every day, knowing that it happened on your own reservation.”
The ghost bike sat bolted to the reflector for almost a month until it vanished on Aug. 26. All that remained of the memorial was about 3 feet of faded white paint around the mile marker sign’s base.
When the pueblo’s gift disappeared, the man says, word spread throughout the neighborhood, and then beyond. Jennifer Buntz, president of the Duke City Wheelmen Foundation, caught wind of the situation. The nonprofit has installed six of its own ghost bikes, which it considers descansos, or roadside memorials [“Remember the Riders,” June 17-23, 2010].
Because Buntz’ organization has set up most of the state’s ghost bikes, the New Mexico Department of Transportation mistakenly sent her an e-mail to tell her the memorial in Laguna would be removed. The department said the ghost bike created a traffic hazard.
“They should’ve just left it alone, because it was community-generated,” Buntz says.
She labored for several days to get the necessary permits to re-install the ghost bike, this time on a fence post about 40 feet from where Anczarski died. Buntz had to get an event permit for a private ceremony to dedicate the memorial, as well as the insurance an event permit requires. She had to round up several Transportation Department signatures and was required to schedule a police officer to control traffic during construction.
Buntz and the Wheelmen Foundation installed the ghost bike—permanently, they hope—on Sept. 4. A spiritual leader from the Laguna Pueblo blessed the bike, and Lisa Edmonds, who grew up in the same Pennsylvania town as Anczarski and his companions, spoke of the 19-year-old’s love of life and passion for his cause.
Descansos are protected under state law as long as they don’t pose a safety risk. But Buntz says ghost bikes are removed without reason in Albuquerque and around New Mexico. The state’s Transportation Department and the city lay down a lot of red tape to prevent ghost bikes from speckling roads "even though New Mexico has a long history of descansos," she says. "When you make it look a little different, it’s a twist on a long-standing tradition."
Read more about the struggle to install ghost bikes in New Mexico
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