Opinion: Thirty-five years ago, it was a traumatic summer of fatal bicycle accidents

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God looked away for just a second. The teenage male driver took his eyes off the road and turned his attention to the girl in the back seat. That is when the car made contact with several of the teenagers standing on their bikes still in their assigned cycling formation. Two girls died instantly. Bodies and bicycles became missiles distributing a host of traumatic injuries to other children not directly hit by the car. That would lead to the third death, a coma, the compound fracture and send four other teenagers to the hospital.

The summer traffic backup was instantaneous and it was quite a while before the bike store owner pulled abreast the mayhem. The covered bodies left an indelible impression and he never again rode a bicycle on the road.

The distracted driver was only two years older than the oldest victim, Diane Hill. The Young Offenders Act protected his identity. The justice system dithered while families agonized and were told to wait week after week to see if justice would prevail.

By the end of the summer of 1985 — velo annus horribilis — the total was five dead cyclists, eight hospitalizations, numerous non-admissions injuries in the Calgary area. The mental anguish and post-traumatic stress disorder were never quantified. That PTSD can be described as lasting forever or never-ending.

Gary Beaton is the executive director of the Calgary Tour de Nuit Society for bicyclists.



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