On Thursday, Dan Langenkamp marked 12 weeks since his spouse, Sarah, was killed.
To honor her, Dan and his two younger sons do what they do on daily basis at round 4:05 p.m., the time Sarah died: They drop no matter they’re engaged on, collect collectively, maintain arms and discuss to her, sharing particulars about their day. They inform her they love her, they miss her, and so they hope she’s pleased with them.
Sarah Debbink Langenkamp was killed August 25 whereas driving her bike on a Bethesda, Maryland, street. She was touring on the biker’s lane when the motive force of a flatbed truck alongside her made a proper flip right into a car parking zone and ran over the 42-year-old, police mentioned. She was pronounced useless on the scene.
“I’ve tried to make sense of what happened to Sarah, and since I started looking into it, I’ve realized this is not a freakish accident,” Dan Langenkamp mentioned. “What happened to her is part of a huge, worsening trend in America of people getting killed in traffic crashes. There’s an epidemic of traffic violence against people walking or biking.”
The accident got here simply weeks after the couple, each diplomats, moved again to the US after spending roughly a 12 months and a half in Ukraine and later in Poland, on the border. They have been a part of a small group of US authorities workers who stayed behind after Russia’s invasion however finally made the troublesome determination to go away, so they may reunite with their two sons – Oliver, 10 and Axel, 8 – whom that they had despatched to their grandparents in California when the warfare first began.
The couple spent just a few weeks in Washington DC earlier than shifting to Bethesda, the place they have been eagerly getting ready for the beginning of a brand new chapter. Sarah enrolled in a grasp’s diploma course and, three days after their transfer there, attended an open home at her son’s new elementary college. A couple of minutes earlier than she acquired on her bike to return residence that night, she known as Dan to share her impressions. It was the final name she ever made.
“We’ve lived in dangerous places,” Langenkamp mentioned. “The last thing we expected was that one of us would die or get hurt in Bethesda.”
His anger, Langenkamp mentioned, has been a driving power to push for change in bike security. A GoFundMe marketing campaign Langenkamp created has raised greater than $289,000 to assist native and nationwide biking security organizations of their efforts to advocate for safer bike routes.
And on Saturday, a whole lot of individuals biked to Congress in Sarah’s honor in a ten.5-mile Trip for Your Life occasion her husband organized and led. Simply toes from the Capitol, a line of audio system, together with Langenkamp, spoke to a sea of bikers on the finish of their journey retracing Sarah’s route on the day she died.
The group’s requests to lawmakers embody funding for the Energetic Transportation Infrastructure Funding Program, which was approved by Congress however not funded and which can assist native governments put money into bike lane infrastructure. They’re additionally asking for extra measures round truck security, together with mandating higher coaching and requiring facet and entrance guards on giant vehicles to forestall folks from getting caught beneath.
“I get comfort knowing that, maybe through all of this work, some other mother will ride home safely after riding her bike to work,” Langenkamp mentioned. “And that’s meaningful to me.”
For a lot of advocates, the combat for safer roads has been lengthy and troublesome, even amid worsening tendencies for biker and pedestrian security. The issues have solely been exacerbated by elevated driver recklessness throughout the pandemic and greater, heavier – and deadlier – autos on the roads, mentioned Colin Browne, a spokesperson for the Washington Space Bicyclist Affiliation.
Greater than 930 cyclists have been killed on American roads in 2020, a 9% improve from the prior 12 months, and greater than 38,800 have been injured, in response to information from the Nationwide Freeway Visitors Security Administration. Practically 80% of deadly bicyclist crashes that 12 months have been in city areas, the company mentioned. A minimum of 985 cyclists have been killed in 2021, a 5% improve from 2020, in response to early estimates from the NHTSA. Since 1975, deaths amongst cyclists 20 or older have almost quadrupled, in response to the Insurance coverage Institute for Freeway Security.
“It’s a public health crisis,” Browne mentioned. “Even more so because this is, from a technical standpoint, not a challenging problem to solve. The tools and the engineering to make the streets safer to use is out there, it’s tested, it’s proven.”
However creating safer streets for bikers and pedestrians and regulating giant autos has usually proved a politically unpopular transfer, which has led to gradual motion from native leaders, he added.
“We could give (funding) to buses and people on bikes and scooters, but we have sort of built an infrastructure that assumes the majority of people will drive,” Browne mentioned.
Anna Irwin additionally rode her bike along with her 10-year-old daughter at Saturday’s occasion to honor Sarah’s reminiscence. She informed CNN she was moved by the scale of the group and the sound of motorbike bells ringing to point out their help for Langenkamp.
“It was unbelievably powerful,” she mentioned. “One of the things that I learned very quickly when I got into bike advocacy is this community is so passionate. And they show up.”
Irwin based the Bethesda BIKE Now coalition, a neighborhood group created in response to a 2017 determination from native leaders to close down a well-liked bike path which ran via Bethesda throughout the building of a rail line.
In these 5 years, the group has known as for the completion of a community of protected bike routes – shaped by two main paths – operating from one facet of Bethesda to the opposite, whereas the prevailing path stays closed. However progress has been gradual, Irwin mentioned.
“Here we are, in 2022, and neither one of the routes is completed,” Irwin mentioned. “They’ve done some work, but in five years they can’t build a protected bike lane to cover two miles of heavily trafficked area?”
The Montgomery County Division of Transportation informed CNN it not too long ago accomplished the primary part of two segments within the community and extra bike lanes are both being designed or underneath building, including “we are building them as fast as we can.”
The division can be working with the Maryland Division of Transportation State Freeway Administration, which controls River Street, the place Sarah was killed.
The freeway administration mentioned Friday it’s dedicated to the protection of all freeway customers however didn’t reply CNN’s particular questions on bike path initiatives, together with if there are plans for building on River Street. On Saturday, the division added it has begun a “comprehensive needs analysis” for a stretch of the freeway which can assist establish methods to “address pedestrian and bicycle network needs, enhance safety, and improve travel conditions.” Within the meantime, officers are contemplating options together with a pace restrict discount or signal upgrades in that a part of the street, it famous.
The company final month introduced it began building on one other street in North Bethesda, the place an 18-year-old bicycle owner was killed in June and a 17-year-old bicycle owner was killed in 2019.
“These things could have been prevented,” Irwin mentioned. “We have got to just keep educating people about the need for protected bike lanes. You can’t just paint the road and then expect cars to give us the space that we need. It’s not safe.”
Langenkamp has mentioned his fundraising effort may even assist advocate for the state’s transportation division to create a safer bike lane on River Street, the place Sarah was killed.
“Such bike lanes – lacking proper barriers, truck/auto driver education, laws, and law enforcement – are only death traps,” Langenkamp wrote on his GoFundMe web page.
The combat for change has given Langenkamp objective in what in any other case has been an insufferable three months. Adjusting to life as a single father hasn’t been simple, he mentioned. Only a few days in the past, his son famous he had no clear pants for college, and Langenkamp realized he hadn’t finished laundry for every week. He usually worries what holidays and Mom’s Day will appear like for the youngsters.
Sarah beloved their two boys, he mentioned. Even amid a demanding job which took the household all all over the world – together with to Baghdad, the Ivory Coast and Uganda – she was all the time in a position to flip off work and concentrate on her household, Langenkamp mentioned. Whereas working from Poland throughout Russia’s warfare on Ukraine, Sarah flew to California for a weekend over the summer season to shock her oldest son on his birthday. She returned to Europe when the weekend was over. And within the weeks earlier than her return to the US, she wrote heartfelt postcards to her boys, sharing she couldn’t wait till they have been reunited.
She was equally unbelievable at her job, her husband mentioned, including, “She was everybody’s favorite colleague.”
The 2 met of their Overseas Service orientation class in 2005 and have been married a 12 months later. “She had this quiet confidence, and a very down-to-earth, friendly demeanor that just really made her easy to get along with,” Langenkamp mentioned. “She was the kind of boss that everybody loves. Just really smart.”
And she or he was by no means afraid to go to the locations the place different diplomats have been typically unwilling to go, telling her husband it was “where we were needed.”
Throughout their time in Ukraine, Sarah headed the US Embassy’s applications on corruption and regulation enforcement and was chargeable for equipping and supplying its nationwide police and border guard. And she or he was a “critical player” in Ukraine’s protection efforts and helped Ukrainian police and border guard forces obtain tools like helmets and physique armor after the invasion, Langenkamp added. After her killing, letters of appreciation poured in from US leaders together with President Joe Biden, Lawyer Basic Merrick Garland and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“She was our guiding light, really, and our moral compass,” Langenkamp mentioned. “It was her judgment that helped us through everything.”
Three months since her loss of life, reminders of Sarah are in every single place across the household’s Bethesda residence, Langenkamp mentioned.
There’s a nook – part of the house Langenkamp refers to as a “shrine” to his spouse – the place a candle stays lit by her urn, surrounded by photos of the household, notes Sarah’s sons wrote to their mother after her passing, jewellery she used to put on, playing cards from household and pals. Close by, photos of Sarah are taped proper as much as the ceiling. “We just try to have her around, everywhere,” her husband mentioned.
There’s additionally an image Sarah gifted to her husband at their marriage ceremony. It’s an image of a motorbike with the phrases, “Life is a beautiful ride. Dan and Sarah, est. 2006,” the 12 months of their marriage ceremony.
“Biking was a thing for us,” he mentioned. “It was a central part of our lives,” a mode of transportation which was “down-to-earth, healthy and environmentally friendly,” Langenkamp added.
Wherever the couple discovered themselves, they tried to commute by bike when doable, he added. Selecting this combat for security since his spouse’s loss of life was nearly like an “impulse,” Langenkamp mentioned.
“If the least I can do to honor her, a person who had so much potential in her life. If we can do a little bit of good as a result of this, I’ll have been consoled slightly,” he mentioned.
“It won’t bring her back,” Langenkamp added. “But at least it will help, a little bit.”