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 every single day at round 4:05 p.m., the time Sarah died: They drop no matter they’re engaged on, collect collectively, maintain arms and discuss to her, sharing particulars about their day. They inform her they love her, they miss her, and so they hope she’s pleased 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 motive force of a flatbed truck alongside her made a proper flip right into a car parking zone and ran over the 42-year-old, police said. She was pronounced lifeless on the scene.
“I’ve tried to make sense of what occurred to Sarah, and since I began trying 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 site visitors crashes. There’s an epidemic of site 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 determination to depart, so they may reunite with their two sons – Oliver, 10 and Axel, 8 – whom that they had despatched to their grandparents in California when the struggle 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 college. A couple of minutes earlier than she acquired on her bike to return house 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 very last thing we anticipated was that one among us would die or get harm in Bethesda.”
His anger, Langenkamp mentioned, has been a driving drive 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, a whole bunch of individuals biked to Congress in Sarah’s honor in a ten.5-mile Ride 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 Active Transportation Infrastructure Investment Program, which was approved by Congress however not funded and which may also 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 massive vans to forestall folks from getting caught beneath.
“I get consolation realizing that, perhaps by all of this work, another mom will journey house safely after using her bike to work,” Langenkamp mentioned. “And that’s significant to me.”
For a lot of advocates, the struggle 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 greater, heavier – and deadlier – autos on the roads, mentioned Colin Browne, a spokesperson for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.
Greater 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 Nationwide Freeway Visitors Security Administration. Almost 80% of deadly bicyclist crashes that yr have been in city areas, the company mentioned. Not less than 985 cyclists have been killed in 2021, a 5% improve from 2020, in keeping with early estimates from the NHTSA. Since 1975, deaths amongst cyclists 20 or older have practically quadrupled, in keeping with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
“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 massive autos has usually proved a politically unpopular transfer, which has led to gradual motion from native leaders, he added.
“We might give (funding) to buses and folks on bikes and scooters, however we now have form of constructed an infrastructure that assumes the vast majority 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 advised CNN she was moved by the scale of the group and the sound of motorbike bells ringing to indicate their assist for Langenkamp.
“It was unbelievably highly effective,” she mentioned. “One of many issues that I discovered in a short time once I acquired into bike advocacy is that this neighborhood is so passionate. They usually present up.”
Irwin based the Bethesda BIKE Now coalition, an area group created in response to a 2017 determination from native leaders to close down a well-liked bike path which ran by Bethesda through the building of a rail line.
In these 5 years, the group has referred to 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 present path stays closed. However progress has been gradual, Irwin mentioned.
“Right here we’re, in 2022, and neither one of many routes is accomplished,” Irwin mentioned. “They’ve executed some work, however in 5 years they’ll’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 part of two segments within the community and extra bike lanes are both being designed or below building, 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 building on River Street. On Saturday, the division added it has begun a “complete wants evaluation” for a stretch of the freeway which can assist establish methods to “handle pedestrian and bicycle community wants, improve security, and enhance journey circumstances.” Within the meantime, officers are contemplating options together with a velocity restrict discount or signal upgrades in that a part of the highway, it famous.
“This stuff might have been prevented,” Irwin mentioned. “We’ve got acquired to simply maintain educating folks in regards to the want for protected bike lanes. You may’t simply paint the highway after which anticipate 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 Street, the place Sarah was killed.
“Such bike lanes – missing correct obstacles, truck/auto driver training, legal guidelines, and regulation enforcement – are solely dying traps,” Langenkamp wrote on his GoFundMe web page.
The struggle for change has given Langenkamp function 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. Only a few days in the past, his son famous he had no clear pants for college, and Langenkamp realized he hadn’t executed laundry for per week. He usually worries what holidays and Mom’s Day will appear like for the kids.
Sarah cherished their two boys, he mentioned. Even amid a demanding job which took the household all world wide – together with to Baghdad, the Ivory Coast and Uganda – she was at all times capable of flip off work and give attention to her household, Langenkamp mentioned. Whereas working from Poland throughout Russia’s struggle 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 have been reunited.
She was equally unbelievable 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 have 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 have been typically unwilling to go, telling her husband it was “the place we have been wanted.”
Throughout their time in Ukraine, Sarah headed the US Embassy’s applications on corruption and regulation enforcement and was accountable for equipping and supplying its nationwide police and border guard. And he or she was a “vital participant” in Ukraine’s protection efforts and helped Ukrainian police and border guard forces obtain gear 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, Lawyer Normal 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 the whole lot.”
Three months since her dying, reminders of Sarah are in every single place across the household’s Bethesda house, 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 buddies. Close by, 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 wedding ceremony. It’s an image of a motorcycle with the phrases, “Life is a fantastic journey. Dan and Sarah, est. 2006,” the yr of their wedding 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 doable, he added. Selecting this struggle 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 perform a little bit of excellent on account of this, I’ll have been consoled barely,” he mentioned.
“It received’t convey her again,” Langenkamp added. “However at the very least it’ll assist, a little bit bit.”