Bicycle safety still a concern one year after crash killed local rider

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - 11:39pm

A year after a car crash killed Nathan Crowson and badly injured Danny Morris, road safety is still a concern for bicyclists around the Capitol Region.

"It takes so many injuries and fatalities and accidents to where people are starting to notice, 'okay, well maybe we need to do something about this,'" said Travis Hill

Hill rides often, both as a competitive racer and as a commuter. He says the accident that killed Crowson shook him up, as it did the entire local cycling community, and made him more cautious. Then Hill got in his own crash last October.

"I was thrown 16 feet from my bike," Hill said, "and my shoes, both of my shoes were knocked off, he hit me so hard.

"And I was struck less than three blocks from my house."

He suffered a skull fracture, but recovered enough to leave the hospital after just two days. That was one of the rare days in which Hill did not wear a helmet.

"I typically do," he said, "but when I go on small commutes around town, like if I'm just riding to downtown, I wouldn't. I didn't wear one.

"Naivety sunk in, and I was just like 'oh, I'm just going down the road to meet my girlfriend. I've ridden this road a thousand times.'"

The driver that hit him sped off. Even though police know the type of car that hit him, they have not come up with a good lead.

Beyond a month of physical therapy, he needed another month to overcome the fear of riding.

"It was so bad," Hill said, "even the idea of me getting on and riding the bike would cause me to get sick."

Hill claimed he still experiences occasional blurred vision when he looks at his phone, and feels pain in his shoulder.

"Initially, they thought that I was either going to be in a wheelchair, wasn't going to be able to walk again; they thought I was going to have severe brain damage," Hill said. "I didn't sustain so many major injuries that I'm not able to get back on (a bicycle), or I'm not in a wheelchair, or I can still form a sentence. You know, those are things that I'm very, very grateful for."

While Hill rides frequently, there are some routes he refuses to travel, because they are so crowded and dangerous. He listed Government Street, College Drive, and Staring/Essen as some of the worst.

"Any of those main thoroughfares that are four lanes across I try to stay away from," he said. "Unless I'm with a group of at least three other riders, to where we can kind of take our own lane."

On Perkins Road, where Crowson and Danny Morris were hit, a new bike path is under construction, partly from the urging of Baton Rouge Advocates for Safe Streets. The Mayor's office has said it wants to make Baton Rouge safer for bicyclists. Hill agrees that progress is being made, but thinks there should be more communication with local cycling groups.

"I think they're willing," he stated. "I just don't know if they know the best way to implement it."

The biggest problem Hill sees is not with local infrastructure, but rather local attitudes.

"The drivers in this state, I don't think that they're ready to adopt those kinds of changes," he said. "I don't think that they are willing to, as you see the slogan, to share the road."

NBC33 has learned that Morris will file a lawsuit against Joseph Branch, the driver who hit both him and Crowson, and The Bulldog, the bar where Branch was drinking prior to the crash. Police said Branch had a blood-alcohol level of .301, nearly four times greater than the legal limit. The Louisiana Alcohol and Tobacco Control Board said in its review that The Bulldog did nothing wrong. Branch pled not guilty to charges of vehicular manslaughter, driving while intoxicated, and negligent injury.


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