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Remembering Jeff Dusenbury, calling for more educated drivers

Ron Polk
Over a hundred people from both the cycling community and food service industry attended a gathering on Sunday, July 20, 2014 near the location where bicyclist Jeff Dusenbury was struck by a hit-and run driver and died on Saturday. Bill Roth / Alaska Dispatch News

On the morning of  July 19, the community lost a wonderful man -- husband, father, son, and friend to many. Through no fault of his own, Jeff Dusenbury left us much too soon at age 51, and didn't stand a chance.

I had known "Duse" since the late 70s growing up on Elmendorf Air Force Base. We spent many days working, playing, and riding bikes together, usually in a pack of other military brats. He also became a standout football player for West High School. In a sense, he was like an older brother, as well as my last biking cohort and connection to that era. Jeff was a huge part of the local cycling community and had many associations through his job in the food industry. We had stayed in touch, ridden a couple years ago, and talked about taking more rides in the future; but that is now gone.

As the numbness from the shock and sadness from this tragedy begins to wear off somewhat, many of us are left to wonder, "What now?" Cycling on roads has its inherent dangers, but again, so does riding a motorcycle or even walking on a sidewalk next to a busy road. The group of motorcyclists hit after their bikes were blessed by a priest early this summer, and the two teenage girls weeks away from a new school year killed while on a sidewalk next to Abbott Road last summer, leaves us with a feeling of helplessness.

Whether you knew any of these victims or not, we as a community should be bothered by these senseless events. All were obeying the law and following the rules, and trusted drivers would do the same. None of the them ever saw it coming. Not with that much speed and force. Obviously we need something more.

When I visited the site where Jeff took his last breaths, I was amazed at the sheer quietness of the setting next to a park. It is a tranquil area on a dead end road. I was also appalled that something like this could happen here. While sitting next to the temporary memorial, a mom with two young girls biked slowly past. Ten minutes later, a father with two children and dogs walked by. Both parties expressed sympathy and concern about what happened. Then it dawned on me -- an entire family could have been killed by an errant vehicle. What would be the level of outrage over that?

When I was in school, Driver's Education was offered as an elective. It vanished from the curriculum some years later, likely for budgetary reasons. It should be mandatory now. The costs are far greater in the long run with the current status quo. Generations of bad drivers are passing along their habits and we get even worse drivers in this culture of distraction. Since driving is a lifelong skill, wouldn't the public be better served by a program at some level to remind young drivers-to-be of this fact? Maybe show some gruesome pictures of carnage so they are forced to see the reality involved here? Perhaps until age 30 a driver`s license renewal would come with the requirement to watch a sobering video. Reinforcement can be a good thing.

Whether conviction and jail time result or not after an incident a reckless or negligent driver who caused serious harm should be made to visit adolescents at schools, perhaps for two years, and give their account of the event. A young audience would likely be more attentive to someone closer to their own age, and maybe it would give more than a few cause to think about future driving behavior. No doubt this would be emotional and some may argue a cruel and unusual punishment. I strongly contend it is cruel and unusual to take nearly every precaution and still get maimed or killed by a reckless young driver. Note that named events above are not "accidents," rather "incidents," and are totally preventable.

The culture of distraction and lack of personal responsibility can be dangerous, and the time to do something is now. The lives of future generations depend on us.

Ron Polk works for the Alaska Railroad, sometimes bicycle commutes, and is a lifelong cyclist and skier.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.