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-after-day at round 4:05 p.m., the time Sarah died: They drop no matter they’re engaged on, collect collectively, maintain palms and discuss 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, 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 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 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 development in America of individuals getting killed in visitors crashes. There’s an epidemic of visitors violence in opposition to individuals 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 had been a part of a small group of US authorities workers who stayed behind after Russia’s invasion however in the end made the troublesome choice to go away, 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 conflict first began.
The couple spent just a few weeks in Washington DC earlier than shifting to Bethesda, the place they had been eagerly making 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 known as Dan to share her impressions. It was the final name she ever made.
“We’ve lived in harmful locations,” Langenkamp mentioned. “The very last thing we anticipated was that certainly one of us would die or get harm 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 bunch 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 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 embody funding for the Energetic Transportation Infrastructure Funding Program, which was licensed 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 aspect and entrance guards on giant vehicles to forestall individuals from getting caught beneath.
“I get consolation figuring out that, perhaps by way of all of this work, another mom will journey dwelling safely after using her bike to work,” Langenkamp mentioned. “And that’s significant 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 through the pandemic and larger, heavier – and deadlier – autos on the roads, mentioned Colin Browne, a spokesperson for the Washington Space Bicyclist Affiliation.
Greater than 930 cyclists had been killed on American roads in 2020, a 9% enhance from the prior yr, and greater than 38,800 had been injured, based on knowledge from the Nationwide Freeway Site visitors Security Administration. Practically 80% of deadly bicyclist crashes that yr had been in city areas, the company mentioned. No less than 985 cyclists had been killed in 2021, a 5% enhance from 2020, based on early estimates from the NHTSA. Since 1975, deaths amongst cyclists 20 or older have almost quadrupled, based on the Insurance coverage Institute for Freeway Security.
“It’s a public well being disaster,” Browne mentioned. “Much more so as a result of that is, from a technical standpoint, not a difficult drawback to unravel. The instruments and the engineering to make the streets safer to make use of is on the market, it’s examined, it’s confirmed.”
However creating safer streets for bikers and pedestrians and regulating giant autos has usually proved a politically unpopular transfer, which has led to sluggish motion from native leaders, he added.
“We might give (funding) to buses and folks on bikes and scooters, however we’ve kind of constructed an infrastructure that assumes nearly all of individuals will drive,” Browne mentioned.
Anna Irwin additionally rode her bike together with her 10-year-old daughter at Saturday’s occasion to honor Sarah’s reminiscence. She advised CNN she was moved by the dimensions of the gang and the sound of motorcycle bells ringing to indicate their help for Langenkamp.
“It was unbelievably highly effective,” she mentioned. “One of many issues that I realized in a short time after I obtained into bike advocacy is that this group is so passionate. They usually present up.”
Irwin based the Bethesda BIKE Now coalition, a neighborhood group created in response to a 2017 choice from native leaders to close down a well-liked bike path which ran by way of Bethesda through the development of a rail line.
In these 5 years, the group has known as for the completion of a community of protected bike routes – fashioned by two main paths – working from one aspect of Bethesda to the opposite, whereas the prevailing path stays closed. However progress has been sluggish, Irwin mentioned.
“Right here we’re, in 2022, and neither one of many routes is accomplished,” Irwin mentioned. “They’ve accomplished 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 Division of Transportation advised CNN it lately accomplished the primary section of two segments within the community and extra bike lanes are both being designed or beneath development, including “we’re constructing them as quick as we are able to.”
The division can also 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 security of all freeway customers however didn’t reply CNN’s particular questions on bike path initiatives, together with if there are plans for development on River Street. On Saturday, the division added it has begun a “complete wants evaluation” for a stretch of the freeway which is able to assist determine methods to “handle pedestrian and bicycle community wants, improve security, and enhance journey situations.” Within the meantime, officers are contemplating options together with a velocity restrict discount or signal upgrades in that a part of the street, it famous.
The company final month introduced it began development 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 items might have been prevented,” Irwin mentioned. “We’ve got obtained to only preserve educating individuals in regards to the want for protected bike lanes. You may’t simply paint the street after which count on automobiles to offer us the area that we want. It’s not protected.”
Langenkamp has mentioned his fundraising effort can 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 – missing correct limitations, truck/auto driver schooling, legal guidelines, and legislation enforcement – are solely dying 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. Just some days in the past, his son famous he had no clear pants for college, and Langenkamp realized he hadn’t accomplished laundry for per 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 at all times in a position to flip off work and give attention to her household, Langenkamp mentioned. Whereas working from Poland throughout Russia’s conflict 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 had been reunited.
She was equally unimaginable at her job, her husband mentioned, including, “She was all people’s favourite colleague.”
The 2 met of their Overseas Service orientation class in 2005 and had been married a yr later. “She had this quiet confidence, and a really down-to-earth, pleasant demeanor that simply actually made her simple to get together with,” Langenkamp mentioned. “She was the type of boss that everyone loves. Simply actually good.”
And he or she was by no means afraid to go to the locations the place different diplomats had been generally unwilling to go, telling her husband it was “the place we had been wanted.”
Throughout their time in Ukraine, Sarah headed the US Embassy’s packages on corruption and legislation enforcement and was liable for equipping and supplying its nationwide police and border guard. And he or 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, Legal professional Basic Merrick Garland and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“She was our guiding gentle, actually, and our ethical compass,” Langenkamp mentioned. “It was her judgment that helped us by way of every part.”
Three months since her dying, reminders of Sarah are in all places 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 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 associates. Close by, photos of Sarah are taped proper as much as the ceiling. “We simply attempt to have her round, in all places,” 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 good looking journey. 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. Selecting this combat for security since his spouse’s dying was virtually 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 are able to do some bit of fine on account of this, I’ll have been consoled barely,” he mentioned.
“It received’t deliver her again,” Langenkamp added. “However no less than it would assist, slightly bit.”