FORT WALTON BEACH — About 20 cyclists gathered Wednesday evening at Fort Walton Landing for the Ride of Silence, an event aimed at raising awareness of cyclists’ rights on public road and honoring cyclists who have been injured or killed.
Although the ride has been held for years, this was Lee Brewer’s first year to organize it.
“It seemed like it’s always been last-minute that somebody’s been throwing something together, so I’m going to try to do it every year and get a better updated list and start earlier next year,” Brewer said.
The event started with a welcome by Brewer and a reading of a long list of names of cyclists involved in accidents. According to Brewer, the ride is treated as a funeral procession in honor of those who have been killed.
Cyclists slowly proceeded from the park and took to the roads in complete silence. Allan Stearns, a certified celebrant with Emerald Coast Funeral Home, drove a hearse in front of the cyclists as an escort along with police.
“Unfortunately, we get these clients,” Stearns said. “It’s a tough thing, because they have the right to the road just like the cars do.”
The cyclists rode west on Brooks Street to Beal Parkway, north on Beal to Yacht Club Drive, east on Yacht Club to Eglin Parkway and south on Eglin back to Fort Walton Landing.
The 3.9-mile ride serves as a reminder to cyclists and drivers to share the road and be aware of one another.
James Stewart of Fort Walton Beach is an avid cyclist who said he has been hit been hit twice in recent years.
Three years ago in March, Stewart was riding home from the beach when a truck hit him from behind in a turn lane on Beal Parkway.
“I had 12 broken ribs, internal injuries,” he said. “I didn’t see it coming. … Next thing I know, I’ve got paramedics looking over me and packing me up in an ambulance.
“I got my wages reimbursed, but my hospital bills are still $270,000.”
Between 45,000 and 50,000 cyclists are injured in traffic accidents each year in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Florida is the No. 1 state for bicycle deaths per capita, with about 110 fatalities per year.
A bicyclist was killed recently in a hit-and-run crash on Okaloosa Island. According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Chad C. Berridge, 42, of Panama City, died May 6 after he was struck.
Officials are still searching for the driver of the car that hit him. A 1998 Honda Passport believed to have struck Berridge left the scene and was found abandoned at the Emerald Grande in Destin.
A cyclist also was hit Wednesday at the corner of Mary Esther Cut-off and Lovejoy Road and was taken to a local hospital, according to the Fort Walton Beach Police Department.
“It’s a dangerous place to ride,” Stewart said. “I pick and chose now. … Every day, if I wasn’t paying attention, there’s an opportunity where I could be hit. They just don’t give you the courtesy.”
The Ride of Silence generally is held on the third Wednesday in May in cities around the world. Chris Phelan of Dallas organized the first Ride of Silence in 2003.
On May 4, 2003, endurance cyclist Larry Schwartz was hit by the mirror of a passing bus and was killed. Just days later, Phelan got the word out and by May 21, 1,000 cyclists participated in the ride.
According to the official registration tally, the Ride of Silence reached 390 locations worldwide across 50 states, 22 countries in 2017. Last year, about 900 riders in 14 cities in Florida participated.