This is a true story.
By Charlie Matthews
It was a perfect summer evening. The sun was high in an almost cloudless
sky. Just a hint of wind. A wide road with a wide, paved shoulder. I could
not have hoped for better conditions for our club time trial. Traffic had
been very light, only one or two cars had passed in either direction.
Sixteen riders were up the road with three waiting to start. As I chatted
with the rider being staged, I thought about how nice it was to have such a
safe place for these races.
We noticed a blue truck approaching from the opposite direction at a very
high rate of speed. I asked our flagger to slow the truck down. As he waved
the slow sign, the truck screeched to a stop. I put my best smile on,
expecting to get some guff from a commuter who may have been slowed in his
rush to get home. What I heard instead was something every Official dreads:
"A rider has been hit by a car" . My mind raced, Who? How bad? Not tonight,
traffic was too light, the sun was too bright. As I stood there in shock,
the next rider up, a Doctor, jumped in the truck and they sped back up the
road to the accident site.
I knew we had two other doctors and two ER nurses up the road. There was
little I could do. I dialed 911 on my cell phone, but the operator told me
the accident had already been reported. An instant later, the paramedics
raced by. Those of us still at the start area stood quietly. Hoping, praying
that the accident was not bad. I think we all knew it was bad. Which of our
friends had been hurt?
I saw some riders slowly heading my way, no one was hammering so I knew
the rider down was one of the early starters - One of our less experienced
riders. I prayed it would not be our lone junior rider. But somehow I knew
..... it had to be Cooper.
We all loved Cooper. Honor student, Eagle Scout, genuine good kid. Always
had a smile. He came to one of our meetings after the 1996 Olympics with his
Mother. He was 14 and had a goal to ride in the 2004 Olympics. We had heard
a lot of kids say that. He was a little gangly and awkward at first, so we
took him under our wings. If he was dropped on a ride, 2 or 3 riders would
immediately drop back to ferry him, to protect him. We wanted him to meet
his goal. In club races someone always rode with him encouraging him and
offering advice. He listened to all of us. Never lost that smile, even on
the toughest rides or no matter how far he was off the back.
He improved a lot the first year, saved his money, and bought a good
bike. We all had some components to give him. In his second year he was much
better. We began to believe his goal was not too much. After all, he had
always reached his goals. As that year progressed his goal became our goal
When the riders reached me, I saw they were crying. I asked, "Who?" They
said, "Cooper." I went deeper into shock. I asked, "How bad?" They replied,
"Very bad, he may not make it." I walked slowly back to the cars and started
filling out the forms. I had been officiating for 3 years and had never had
to deal with anything worse than road rash. What would I tell his parents?
What could I tell his parents? I thought about my instructions to the riders
before the race. Did I say everything? Did I make all of the safety items
clear? Did we have enough marshals? Was the course marked adequately?
More and more riders rolled in and the details became a little more
clear. Cooper had been hit by an elderly driver, whose vision and driving
skills were not good. The driver ran over Cooper and panicked. Just sat
there with Cooper trapped under the car. He was hit so squarely and hard
that his helmet did no good. The best efforts of the paramedics and doctors
were of no avail. At the hospital, we held a vigil, reading cycling stories
and talking to him so he would know we were with him. Greg LeMond even sent
a letter and a signed jersey. It didn't help. Cooper never regained
consciousness. He died eight days later.
The driver was eventually fined $270. That's what a bike rider's life is
worth in this state. The state did not even demand that the driver be
re-tested. Cooper's parents were marvelous. They fought hard and within a
year, had pushed a law named for Cooper, through the legislature. This law
requires an aged driver be re-tested after any accident. It also added
bicycle safety information to all Driver's Tests.
Our club has re-named our spring race after Cooper, The Cooper Jones Tour
of the Frozen Flatlands. Our Tuesday night club series also carries his
name, The Cooper Jones Twilight Series.
I still think about the night Cooper was hit. I dream about it. I play it
over and over in my mind. I have a knot in my stomach every time I officiate
a race, even at closed courses. I don't know what I would do if something
like this happens again. Would I, could I continue Officiating? I think
about it whenever I read of another rider who has died chasing a dream. I
wonder how that Official is dealing with his or her grief. And I dream about
that evening again.