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

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

Dan Langenkamp expected they wouldn’t.

But in recent days, as a result of what she describes as heroic efforts by embassy staff and a Ukrainian housekeeper, boxes full of these items have started showing up at the family’s home in Maryland.

Their arrival brought relief – and pain – to the family. A relief because it means they won’t have to live out of suitcases anymore. A pain because those boxes hold so many reminders of Sarah Langenkamp, ​​who was killed in August when a flatbed truck driver hit her as she rode her bike home from an open house event at her sons’ elementary school.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Dan Langenkamp said of searching through his wife’s belongings. So many things are calling her, he said: “They’re saying ‘I need her.’ They say, ‘I need the owner of my things to be useful, and she is not here.’ “

These boxes don’t just contain yoga pants; contain her yoga pants. They don’t just include wellies; contain her boots.

“It’s winter right now and she has these beautiful winter boots that are just empty,” he said. “I had to put them in the back of the closet.

On Saturday, drivers passing through Bethesda, Md., could and DC to see a sea of ​​cyclists riding through the streets together. They followed Dan Langenkamp down the last route his wife traveled—and then drove further than she could. They drove together from her children’s elementary school to the crash site on River Road. They then continued driving until they reached the Capitol Reflecting Pool. There, they called on federal lawmakers and officials to dedicate resources and implement measures to help improve road safety 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 attended included people who loved Sarah Langenkamp, ​​including her children, and people who never met her but recognized the need for action after her death. She was an American diplomat who fled Ukraine to seek safety, only to die on a road in the Washington area.

An American diplomat left Ukraine and died on the road in the Washington area

“Deadly road design is a political choice,” said Colin Browne of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. “Tools to make streets safer for everyone—people who walk, drive, bike, ride the bus, drive—are in place and being used in cities around the world.”

Browne described Saturday’s ride as a way to protest the “plain, grim reality: hundreds of people die and thousands suffer life-changing injuries on our region’s roads every year, not because we don’t know how to prevent it, but because many of our elected officials and agency heads are still afraid to make driving and parking a little less convenient.”

In an earlier column, I told you about Sarah Langenkamp. In other columns, I also told you about other pedestrians and bicyclists who were fatally injured on the region’s roads: 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. The last four deaths occurred in the same month.

At the age of 5, she killed herself while riding a bicycle at a pedestrian crossing. Its legacy should be safer streets.

Behind each of these names is a family who has been unexpectedly thrown into grief and activists who have risen up to once again ask officials to do more to prevent future deaths.

Other drives and meetings aimed at raising awareness of the need to improve road safety were held in the region. However, most of them asked local officials to act. At Saturday’s event, attendees called on Congress to fund safe bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and the Department of Transportation to implement measures to improve truck safety. One measure would require large trucks to add structural guards to the front and side bottoms to prevent cars, bicycles or pedestrians from sliding under them.

Langenkamp said his wife might have survived if that precaution had been in place. The truck that hit her was traveling in the same direction as her as it turned right into the parking lot, according to police.

“These deaths are really violent,” Langenkamp said. “We shouldn’t cover it up. No one should be killed like this on our streets. People say she was ‘hit by a truck’ or ‘a truck’. No, she was crushed by a truck and killed instantly on the side of the road.”

His voice shook as he said this. She knows it’s not a gentle picture, but what she experienced was not gentle, and she believes people need to acknowledge that in order to fully understand what car crash victims and their families go through.

On Saturday, several people gave speeches and several high-ranking officials sent statements that were read aloud. One of them came from US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. In it, he acknowledged the importance of the event, which took place the day before the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims.

“Every year on World Road Traffic Day, we mourn those who have lost their lives in road accidents,” the statement said. “But grieving is not enough. We must all work to end this crisis on our roads and create a safer transport system so that more families do not have to share this grief.”

After his wife’s death, Langenkamp received notes from senators and other American officials. One letter came from President Biden.

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

In a letter, Attorney General Merrick Garland recounted working with Sarah, describing her as a representative of “the best of America, working tirelessly and at considerable personal risk and sacrifice for our country to pursue peace, democracy, prosperity and the rule of law.”

Dan Langenkamp worked at the State Department with his wife, but has taken a leave of absence since her death. Instead, he spent his days, he said, trying to make sure she didn’t die for nothing and learning how to raise two children on his own. Their sons were 8 and 10 years old and had just enrolled in a new school when the accident happened.

“It was really hard,” Langenkamp said. “It was super emotional going to Target the other day to buy some more winter stuff. We always went to Target together and suddenly I was the unhappy dad doing it alone. I was trying to pick out pants that would fit and Sarah knew it was cold.”

When he talks about unpacking these boxes, he vacillates between describing it as part of “untangling our lives” and “untangling our lives.”

“Sometimes,” he said, “I come home from my sons’ school and think, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to do this on my own.’ “

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