The rain stopped, clouds parted, and the sun came out on a winter Saturday in Austin. Fifty or so bicyclists gathered underneath the Browning Hangar, the first of its kind, a now refurbished WWII era structure built with wooden trusses. A sense of history was fitting for the somber purpose: to celebrate the life and commemorate the death of Merry “Cookie” Katheryn Daye. She was the fourth Austin Cyclist to die in 2019 in a crash, in this case a hit-and-run with a truck. We rode slowly and quietly to the crash site and had a gathering, and then returned. It was a fitting event.
The tragedy still hurts for the family members and strangers alike who didn’t know her but felt the pain and loss, even indirectly. This gathering was a step toward healing, community and preventing further senseless deaths. Perhaps, some justice will come out of this. That is why I initiated the idea for this ride and facilitated conversations to make sure it happened. At the end of the day, while the ride was a success due to no incidents and some media coverage, Cookie is gone. And that is just wrong, and it hurts. But her memory lives on.
[POST IN PROGRESS, MORE PHOTOS LATER]
As previously reported in my post Austin Cyclist Death #4, the perpetrator has not been caught, and this is still the case a month on. Although his or her truck was found, someone got away with murder. A white ghost bike was erected in her honor by Kathy of Central Texas Families for Safer Streets. The ride was led by Ricardo of Social Cycling Austin and half a dozen ride leaders. Major kudos go to them for their time and effort on this.
The local NBC affiliate, TV news station KXAN, covered the event. Other outlets did not due to being at the annual women’s rally. The top story Saturday night was titled “Family asking for answers a month after east Austin bike crash kills their loved one”. I happened to be in the group picture, but that’s not important. What is key is that about a dozen members of Cookie’s family were able to be there. Several of them spoke out powerfully about their anger at the person who did this, and the loss of a daughter, sister, mother.
I was humbled and honored to meet most of the family members, one of whom had contacted me after the first blog, which led to them being in touch with Kathy and coming to the event. Again, it’s not about me. It was powerful to hear their anger and grief about the crash, the driver, and the City. But it was also striking to me to hear the family gratitude and love for strangers who came to show support.
David, who I believe was Cookie’s uncle, spoke powerfully about finding the perpetrator, and suggested they may have a lead about who that person is. A group of mostly white faces stood in the parking lot of a Church of Christ, listening to a man who is African-American essentially preach. That was an emotional experience for me and I think many of us. If you’re unfamiliar with the black Southern style of worship, it is nothing if not honest, raw emotions.
Color, race, creed, religion didn’t matter. We all bleed red. Cookie was homeless but was no less loved by her family. They asked for a group photo and for us all to say “We love you Cookie!” While I wasn’t raised to believe in another place after this one, if there is, I’m sure she got that message.
Later, back at the hangar, the family generously provided drinks, fruit and snacks. People talked, and listened. I gently shook the hands of those I hadn’t met at the crash site. Cookie’s son said “Nice to meet you,” and I didn’t have words for that. The sun set, lights went down, and people trickled off to go on their way with exhortations to be safe.
All the other riders had left, and the family stayed on to be together. I held Cookie’s mother Mary’s hand again. She was angry, and sad, and I think a bit weary; I could see it in her eyes and hear it in her voice. No mother should have to lose a child, but sometimes it happens. Life is not fair. But I also felt her strength, the resilience to carry on. “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living,” Mother Jones the labor organizer famously said.
We who give a damn can and must fight for protected bike lanes to prevent future tragedies. (Sign the petition here — but only if you live in Austin.) The lives we save may be someone we know,or even our own. Biking is still very safe.
We can keep asking the City what they are doing to find the perpetrator and hold them accountable for their criminal vehicular manslaughter. And as we are able, we can keep riding our bikes and enjoy the roads, as is our right. We do our part reduce traffic and the harmful pollution that is killing our planet.
And we remember the fallen, in whose numbers will someday include ourselves. Until then, ride on. I know I will, with one eye looking over my shoulder. And every time I pass the ghost bike, I will have a guest riding with me: sweet, smiling, and strong Cookie.
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