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 day by day at round 4:05 p.m., the time Sarah died: They drop no matter they’re engaged on, collect collectively, maintain fingers and speak to her, sharing particulars about their day. They inform her they love her, they miss her, they usually hope she’s happy with them.
Sarah Debbink Langenkamp was killed August 25 whereas using her bike on a Bethesda, Maryland, highway. She was touring on the biker’s lane when the driving force of a flatbed truck alongside her made a proper flip right into a parking zone and ran over the 42-year-old, police said. She was pronounced dead on the scene.
“I’ve tried to make sense of what occurred to Sarah, and since I began wanting into it, I’ve realized this isn’t a freakish accident,” Dan Langenkamp mentioned. “What occurred to her is a part of an enormous, worsening pattern in America of individuals getting killed in visitors crashes. There’s an epidemic of visitors violence towards folks strolling or biking.”
The accident got here simply weeks after the couple, each diplomats, moved again to the US after spending roughly a yr 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 resolution to depart, so they might reunite with their two sons – Oliver, 10 and Axel, 8 – whom that they had despatched to their grandparents in California when the battle first began.
The couple spent a couple of 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 faculty. A couple of minutes earlier than she obtained on her bike to return dwelling that night, she referred to as Dan to share her impressions. It was the final name she ever made.
“We’ve lived in harmful locations,” Langenkamp mentioned. “The final thing we anticipated was that one in every of us would die or get damage in Bethesda.”
His anger, Langenkamp mentioned, has been a driving pressure to push for change in bike security. A GoFundMe 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, lots of of individuals biked to Congress in Sarah’s honor in a ten.5-mile Ride for Your Life occasion her husband organized and led. Just ft 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 embrace funding for the Active Transportation Infrastructure Investment Program, which was licensed by Congress however not funded and which might help native governments spend money on bike lane infrastructure. They’re additionally asking for extra measures round truck security, together with mandating higher coaching and requiring aspect and entrance guards on giant vans to stop folks from getting caught beneath.
“I get consolation figuring out that, possibly by way of all of this work, another mom will experience dwelling safely after using her bike to work,” Langenkamp mentioned. “And that’s significant to me.”
For many advocates, the combat for safer roads has been lengthy and troublesome, even amid worsening trends for biker and pedestrian security. The issues have solely been exacerbated by increased driver recklessness through the pandemic and larger, heavier – and deadlier – automobiles on the roads, mentioned Colin Browne, a spokesperson for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.
More than 930 cyclists have been killed on American roads in 2020, a 9% improve from the prior yr, and greater than 38,800 have been injured, in accordance to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Nearly 80% of deadly bicyclist crashes that yr have been in city areas, the company mentioned. At least 985 cyclists have been killed in 2021, a 5% improve from 2020, in line with early estimates from the NHTSA. Since 1975, deaths amongst cyclists 20 or older have almost quadrupled, in line with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
“It’s a public well being disaster,” Browne mentioned. “Even extra so as a result of that is, from a technical standpoint, not a difficult drawback to resolve. The instruments and the engineering to make the streets safer to make use of is on the market, it’s examined, it’s confirmed.”
But creating safer streets for bikers and pedestrians and regulating giant automobiles has typically proved a politically unpopular transfer, which has led to sluggish motion from native leaders, he added.
“We may give (funding) to buses and folks on bikes and scooters, however now we have kind of constructed an infrastructure that assumes nearly all of folks 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 instructed CNN she was moved by the scale of the group and the sound of motorbike bells ringing to indicate their help for Langenkamp.
“It was unbelievably highly effective,” she mentioned. “One of the issues that I realized in a short time once I obtained into bike advocacy is that this neighborhood is so passionate. And they present up.”
Irwin based the Bethesda BIKE Now coalition, an area group created in response to a 2017 resolution from native leaders to close down a preferred bike path which ran by way of Bethesda through the development of a rail line.
In these 5 years, the group has referred to as for the completion of a community of protected bike routes – shaped by two main paths – operating from one aspect of Bethesda to the opposite, whereas the present path stays closed. But progress has been sluggish, Irwin mentioned.
“Here we’re, in 2022, and neither one of many routes is accomplished,” Irwin mentioned. “They’ve performed some work, however in 5 years they will’t construct a protected bike lane to cowl two miles of closely trafficked space?”
The Montgomery County Department of Transportation instructed CNN it not too long ago accomplished the primary section of two segments within the community and extra bike lanes are both being designed or underneath development, including “we’re constructing them as quick as we will.”
The division can also be working with the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration, which controls River Road, the place Sarah was killed.
The freeway administration mentioned Friday it’s dedicated to the security of all freeway customers however didn’t reply CNN’s particular questions on bike path tasks, together with if there are plans for development on River Road. On Saturday, the division added it has begun a “complete wants evaluation” for a stretch of the freeway which can assist determine methods to “tackle pedestrian and bicycle community wants, improve security, and enhance journey circumstances.” In the meantime, officers are contemplating options together with a pace restrict discount or signal upgrades in that a part of the highway, it famous.
“These issues may have been prevented,” Irwin mentioned. “We have gotten to only hold educating folks concerning the want for protected bike lanes. You can’t simply paint the highway after which count on automobiles to provide us the house that we want. It’s not secure.”
Langenkamp has mentioned his fundraising effort may also assist advocate for the state’s transportation division to create a safer bike lane on River Road, the place Sarah was killed.
“Such bike lanes – missing correct boundaries, truck/auto driver training, legal guidelines, and regulation enforcement – are solely demise traps,” Langenkamp wrote on his GoFundMe web page.
The combat for change has given Langenkamp goal in what in any other case has been an insufferable three months. Adjusting to life as a single father hasn’t been straightforward, he mentioned. Just a couple of days in the past, his son famous he had no clear pants for college, and Langenkamp realized he hadn’t performed laundry for per week. He typically worries what holidays and Mother’s Day will seem like for the kids.
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 capable of flip off work and give attention to her household, Langenkamp mentioned. While working from Poland throughout Russia’s battle on Ukraine, Sarah flew to California for a weekend over the summer time 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 all people’s favourite colleague.”
The two met of their Foreign Service orientation class in 2005 and have been married a yr later. “She had this quiet confidence, and a really down-to-earth, pleasant demeanor that simply actually made her straightforward to get together with,” Langenkamp mentioned. “She was the type of boss that everyone loves. Just actually sensible.”
And she was by no means afraid to go to the locations the place different diplomats have been generally unwilling to go, telling her husband it was “the place we have been wanted.”
During their time in Ukraine, Sarah headed the US Embassy’s applications on corruption and regulation enforcement and was answerable for equipping and supplying its nationwide police and border guard. And she was a “crucial participant” 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, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“She was our guiding mild, actually, and our ethical compass,” Langenkamp mentioned. “It was her judgment that helped us by way of all the things.”
Three months since her demise, reminders of Sarah are in every single place across the household’s Bethesda dwelling, 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 footage 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 associates. Nearby, footage of Sarah are taped proper as much as the ceiling. “We simply attempt to have her round, in every single place,” her husband mentioned.
There’s additionally an image Sarah gifted to her husband at their marriage ceremony. It’s an image of a motorcycle with the phrases, “Life is a ravishing experience. Dan and Sarah, est. 2006,” the yr of their marriage ceremony.
“Biking was a factor for us,” he mentioned. “It was a central a part of our lives,” a mode of transportation which was “down-to-earth, wholesome and environmentally pleasant,” Langenkamp added.
Wherever the couple discovered themselves, they tried to commute by bike when attainable, he added. Choosing this combat for security since his spouse’s demise was nearly like an “impulse,” Langenkamp mentioned.
“If the least I can do to honor her, an individual who had a lot potential in her life. If we will perform a little bit of excellent on account of this, I’ll have been consoled barely,” he mentioned.
“It received’t deliver her again,” Langenkamp added. “But not less than it’s going to assist, a bit bit.”