When JoJo McKibben was the victim of a hit-and-run on April 3 as she biked to work, she wasn’t all that surprised.
She was also hit while biking last summer — by a drunk driver — and has come to expect that cars won’t realize she’s riding on two wheels.
Austin police said McKibben was struck by Richard Garcia Lopez’s vehicle on the morning of April 3 at Lightsey Road and South Congress Avenue. Garcia was arrested and charged with failure to stop and render aid.
“I have this memory of being guided or lifted upright by the midsection of his car,” said McKibben. She brushed herself off after being hit that time, but when she realized her ring finger was contorted out of place, she found herself yet again in an ambulance to the hospital.
Her finger and hand were broken in two places.
“I told them to take me to Dell Seton because they saved my life last time,” McKibben said.
The last time was when McKibben was biking on Sixth Street and North Lamar near Whole Foods. Austin police say driver Katie Bykowski — who was later arrested on a DWI charge — ran a red light, hit a van and then spun into McKibben at the light. Now Bykowski faces intoxication assault charges.
McKibben said she was pinned underneath Bykowski’s car and feels indebted to the Austin police officers who helped to pry her body out from underneath.
“I had a lot of deflated organs, my liver was bleeding, that was the thing that would have killed me,” she noted.
She went to the hospital for surgery and her loved ones tell her she was in a coma for six weeks afterward.
“It’s pretty amazing I survived,” she said.
McKibben went back to work again and even got back on her bike, that is until she was hit a second time. She has lived in Austin for 11 years, cycling that whole time and was never hit by a vehicle until this past year.
With her hand in a cast, McKibben cannot bike, she also can’t drive her stick-shift car. She walks everywhere and dreams about the day she’ll be able to get back on her bike.
Why would she want to start riding again? She loves it.
“I’ll be damned if I’m confined to live somewhere where I can’t proudly ride my bike, where I have the scare that this could happen or that could happen, I don’t want to live that way,” McKibben said. “And maybe it’s about me moving out of this city.”
McKibben has noticed the city grow during the time she’s lived there and believes more drivers are distracted by technology.
She says for cyclists who decide to remain living in Austin, it’s crucial that they follow all the rules and drive with caution.
McKibben’s boyfriend Brendan Sharpe said he has also been seriously injured by cars while he’s biked in Austin, once in 2009 and again in 2015.
McKibben’s family has filed a lawsuit against the Driskill Hotel, Star Bar and the driver, saying that Bykowski was over-served alcohol. The attorney representing McKibben that lawsuit, Brad Houston, spoke to KXAN about his concerns for bikers in Austin.
“It scares me to death, anytime I get on my bike, I wonder if I’m gonna be the next victim,” said Houston, an avid cyclist himself. He thinks Austin drivers are now more likely to be driving aggressively or distracted.
Houston said he’s overwhelmed with injured cyclist clients presently.
“It’s to the point where it’s a balance of where I need to make a living and I’m a citizen of the community and I’m concerned, I’d almost rather business not be so good,” he said.
For things to be safer for cyclists in Austin, Houston thinks infrastructure needs to improve for them, but after looking over many crash reports he thinks the biggest factor is that many drivers continually violate the rules of the road.
Houston thinks there need to be more severe penalties for drivers who injure or kill cyclists, both to deter others from violating the rules and to prevent offenders from doing harm again.
He explained that in Texas, if you injure someone while driving, it’s most likely you will be charged with reckless driving, which is a class A misdemeanor, even if you put someone in a coma.
Houston said you only start seeing more serious charges for injuries to cyclists when you can prove that the injuries were intentionally caused.
Bike Austin, a bike advocacy group, responded to McKibben’s injuries Thursday saying, “the crashes JoJo McKibben was injured in were both preventable. She should have never had to experience the injuries and trauma she continues to endure.”
Katie Delleoz, the executive director of Bike Austin, said she personally has nearly been struck at the same intersection McKibben was hit at last week. She recommends that the city use data-driven engineering to improve road widths, educate everyone on the road and catch the people who violate the law.
The Bike Austin statement continues:
“At Bike Austin we are preparing for Bike To Work Day on May 18 and encouraging individuals and workplace teams to sign up for the Love To Ride May Biking Challenge. We are focusing on people who would consider themselves “interested but concerned” when it comes to riding a bicycle as traffic, rather than on a trail or in a protected bike lane. These are individuals who will tell you honestly that they are “afraid” to ride, and their concerns are not without merit. However, the more people who are outside riding their bicycles, the more normal it will become, the greater the demand will be for improved infrastructure, and the safer everyone will be on the streets of Austin.”
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