A grieving father leads a sea of cyclists on his wife’s last route

Opinion

When the day came to leave Ukraine, Sarah and Dan Langenkamp didn’t have time to pack their house. They had to leave behind their furniture, clothes and children’s toys, never knowing they would see them again.

Dan Langenkamp hoped they wouldn’t.

But in recent days, thanks to the heroic efforts of embassy staff and a Ukrainian housekeeper, boxes full of these items have started showing up at the family’s Maryland home.

For the family, their arrival brought relief and pain. Relief because they no longer need to live out of suitcases. Painful reminders of Sarah Langenkamp, ​​who was killed in August when a flatbed truck driver hit her while riding her bike from an open house at her children’s elementary school.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Dan Langenkamp, ​​who is investigating his wife’s estate. So many items call out to her, they say, “I want her.” They say, ‘I need the owner of my goods to be useful, and she is not here.’ “

Those boxes don’t just contain yoga pants. They have her Yoga pants. They don’t just include boots; They have her Boots.

“Right now, it’s cold, and she has these cute winter boots that are hollow,” he said. “I had to put it in the back of the closet.”

On Saturday, motorists passing through Bethesda, MD and DC may have seen a sea of ​​cyclists riding the streets together. They were following Dan Langenkamp on the last road his wife had traveled – and then they traveled beyond her means. Together they walked from her children’s elementary school to the scene of the accident on River Road. Then they continued riding until they reached the Capitol’s reflecting pool. There, he called on federal lawmakers and officials to provide resources and take action to help make roads across the country safer.

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More than 1,500 people are expected to participate in the “Ride for Your Life,” promoted by Trek, the Washington Area Bicyclists Association, Families for Safe Streets and others. Among those who attended were those who loved Sarah Langenkamp, ​​including her children, and who never knew her but who recognized the importance of action in death. She was an American diplomat who fled to Ukraine for safety, and died on a road near Washington.

An American diplomat left Ukraine and died on the road near Washington

“It’s a fatal road design policy choice,” said Colin Brown of the Washington Area Bicyclists Association. “The tools to make streets safer for everyone – walking, cycling, cycling, busing, driving – exist and are used in cities around the world.

Brown described Saturday’s ride as a form of protest: “The simple, sad fact is: hundreds of people die and thousands more are injured on our state’s roads every year, not because we don’t know how to prevent them, but because we just do.” Many of our elected officials and agency leaders still fear that driving and parking will become less convenient.

I told you about Sarah Langenkamp in a previous column. I’ve also told you in other columns about other pedestrians and bicyclists who have been killed on the streets in the region: 32-year-old Brett Badin, 5-year-old Alison Hart, 70-year-old Michael Hawkins Randall. Charles Jackson, 64, Michael Gordon, 65, and Sean O’Donnell, 40, were the last four to die in the same month.

At age 5, she was killed while riding her bicycle on a sidewalk. Her legacy should be safer streets.

Behind each of the names is a family who has been unexpectedly bereaved and activists who have risen to demand that authorities do more to prevent future deaths.

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Other trips and meetings aimed at creating awareness of the need for road safety improvements in the region were held. But most local authorities have called for action. At Saturday’s event, participants called on Congress to enact measures to improve safe bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and the Department of Transportation to improve truck safety. One measure requires large trucks to add lower front and side structural guards to prevent cars, bicycles or pedestrians from sliding under them.

Langenkamp said his wife might have survived had that measure been in place. The car that hit her was traveling in her direction when it turned into a parking lot, police said.

“These deaths are really powerful,” Langenkamp said. “We shouldn’t hide it. No one should be killed like this on our streets. People say ‘hit by a truck’ or ‘hit by a truck.’ No, she was hit by a truck and killed instantly on the side of the road.

His voice trembled as he spoke. He knows that’s not a gentle picture, but what she went through wasn’t gentle, and he believes people need to know that to fully understand what traffic victims and their families go through.

Several people spoke on Saturday, and a few high-ranking officials sent statements that were read aloud. One of them came from US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. In it, the day after the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, they acknowledged the importance of the event.

“Every year on the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, we mourn those who lost their lives in traffic accidents,” the statement said. “But crying is not enough. We must all commit ourselves to creating a reliable transportation system to eliminate this problem on our roads and prevent more families from sharing this grief.

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After his wife’s death, Langenkamp received notes from senators and other American officials. A letter arrived from President Biden.

“Sarah will always be remembered for her unwavering commitment to our country,” Biden’s letter said. America was an exceptional diplomat, dedicated to fulfilling its promises to its citizens and to the world. We are especially grateful to you and Sarah and your family for your courageous service in Ukraine.

In the letter, Attorney General Merrick Garland described working with Sarah and described her as “representing the best of America, working tirelessly and at great personal risk and sacrifice on behalf of our nation to uphold peace, democracy, prosperity and an honest rule of law.”

Dan Langenkamp worked with his wife at the State Department, but has taken a leave of absence since her death. Instead, she spends her days trying to prove she didn’t die in vain and learning to raise two children on his own. Their children were 8 and 10 years old and had just entered a new school when the accident happened

“It was very difficult,” Langenkamp said. “It was so emotional going to Target the other day to buy some extra winter stuff. We always went to Target together, and suddenly I was the unhappy father doing it alone. I was trying to pick out pants that fit, and Sarah knows that cool thing.

When he talks about unpacking the boxes, he swings by describing it as the “revelation of our lives” and the “infuriating part of our lives.”

“Sometimes, I’m coming home from my kids’ school and I’m like, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to do this on my own.’ “

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