Op-Ed

Cars Do NOT Own the Road

Hit-and-run driver kills bicyclist in Dane County. TV reporter asks why bicyclist was on the road.

By , Bike Federation of Wisconsin - Aug 11th, 2016 10:08 am
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Shelton Berel, father of two, was killed while riding his bicycle Friday morning.

Shelton Berel, father of two, was killed while riding his bicycle Friday morning.

Another cyclist has been killed; this time in an egregious fashion.

Shelton Berel was training for a triathalon about 6:30 Friday morning, when Kevin D. Meister drove into him with a pickup truck and fled the scene in the Town of Oregon, according to Dane County Sheriff’s reports.

Berel died along the road.

Meister drove away.

Thanks to good citizens, authorities found Meister later that day, about 10 miles away. He is being held in the Dane County Jail, pending charges.

We’ll have to wait for the official complaint to know more about what happened. Was Meister drunk at the time? Was he distracted? Was it a case of road rage? Why did he flee the scene?

The answers to those questions – and what charges the district attorney decides to issue against Meister – will be something that the Bike Fed will watch and report on very closely.

His driving history provides clues. According to online court records, the 35-year-old has been convicted three times for driving with a revoked or suspended license over the past 11 years; most recently in 2013. Records indicate his original revocation / suspension, in 2005, was the result of a drunken driving charge.

Last year, Meister was ticketed for deviating from a designated lane, speeding and failing to wear a seat belt. He’s been cited for that violation four times.

That’s what we know about Meister’s history of recorded violations and attitude on the road.

Here’s what we know about Shelton Berel. He was married to Katelynn and they have a daughter, Ella. Katelynn is expecting their second child, who they have named “Peanut 2.”  He competed in triathlons and worked at the University of Wisconsin Graduate School.

Pardon me, but I’ve already made a judgment about the character of these two men, regardless of how the legalities play out, and my guess is that you agree with what I think of each man.

When I returned to Madison on Friday after a board/staff retreat in Neenah, I was asked to do a quick interview for a TV station regarding this tragedy. The young reporter asked me over and over again if Berel should have even been on a county highway (it was actually a town road, but “county highway” was how she phrased her question). And over and over again I emphasized that he had every right to be there. I didn’t know why he was where he was. It did not matter.

Let me be as clear to you as I tried to be to that reporter: Shelton Berel and any other cyclist had an absolute right to be on that road or on any other road that is not restricted by law to only motorized vehicles. The fault lies squarely and entirely on the man who killed him and the man who killed him didn’t have the character to stay at the scene, call for help, render what aid he could and answer to authorities for his actions. That much is absolute fact.

Can we just make this clear once and for all: cars and their drivers do NOT own our roads. Roads are a public right of way and bicycles are vehicles under the law with every bit as much right to every inch of that roadway as somebody driving a vehicle with an internal combustion engine.

If you’re driving a car and a bicycle takes the lane (not something we know Shelton did in this case) and it slows you down a little, may I say something impolitic? That something is “tough.” Slow down. When it’s safe, give the cyclist three feet separation or more as the law REQUIRES and get to work or whatever your almighty destination is all of maybe five seconds later.

If Kevin D. Meister had done that Shelton Berel would have returned home after his training ride, taken a shower, kissed his wife and little girl and gone off to work thinking about the new addition to his family. And Kevin D. Meister could have completed his trip to wherever it was he was headed, instead of being headed to a very long sentence in a very cold prison cell, as I so deeply hope will be his fate.

Dave Cieslewicz is the executive director of the Wisconsin Bike Fed and former mayor of the city of Madison.

Categories: Crime, Op-Ed, Transportation

31 thoughts on “Op-Ed: Cars Do NOT Own the Road”

  1. Observer says:

    I agree completely. I also think bicycles should be licensed; those paths and painted lanes aren’t free. And bicyclists need to obey stop signs and red lights. Agreed?

  2. Average cyclist says:

    Enforcing cycling licenses would cost more than the revenue they would generate, Those painted lanes are mostly covered by Federal grants and transport funds. Gas tax only covers 1/3 of highways costs.

  3. AG says:

    Observer, you’d be better off having a bike and bicycle accessory sales tax.

  4. Vincent Hanna says:

    What an incredibly sad story. It’s disconcerting that in 2016 a reporter is repeatedly asking whether or not a cyclist should be on a town road.

  5. Casey says:

    UM has posted several stories the past few years regarding the effect that suspended licenses have on the poor. The comment section usually ends up into some pretty good arguments pro/con. If you’re doing something irresponsible enough to get your license suspended, you deserved it, if you get caught driving (which is irresponsible) with a suspended/revoked license there needs to be real, tangible consequences. Mr. Meister had a history of not being responsible enough to operate a 1-2 ton machine down a public right away and now it has cost someone their life…just saying….

  6. Jeff says:

    You’ve put all the blame on the driver–a very imperfect-sounding driver–without knowing all the facts of the incident. Someone lost their life, and that’s tragic. But it’s not license to make such black-and-white assumptions. Yes, there are a lot of jerks behind the wheel, but the biking world isn’t immune to bad behavior either.

  7. Vincent Hanna says:

    Jeff does the possibility that the cyclist did something wrong justify the driver hitting him and then fleeing the scene?

  8. AG says:

    The driver’s lawyer said in court that he thought he hit a dear…. yeah, RIGHT.

    Each tragic case has it’s own circumstances… cars need to watch out for bikes and give them room, bikers should be wary, follow traffic laws, and be courteous to drivers… traffic is a complicated system and we all want to make it through alive.

  9. Vincent Hanna says:

    Is there really any circumstance in which a person driving a car could mistake hitting a person for deer? Wouldn’t a reasonable person stop either way?

  10. AG says:

    A drunk person could probably make that type of mistake perhaps?

  11. Vincent Hanna says:

    True, which isn’t a great defense really, especially for someone with this gentleman’s driving record.

  12. dudemeister says:

    Hear, hear! While the auto driver has not been yet found guilty, it’s pretty hard to deny a hit-and-run as well as negligence on his part occurred. God rest the bicyclist.

    Dave, thanks to you for defending the right of cyclists to be on roads to the media.

  13. Sean says:

    I grew up in a small town which required me to drive on a county highway daily. There were bicyclist on those roads all of the time and I never hit one. Now 6:30 am is an odd time of day, the sun can make it difficult to see things, even with reflective clothing or lights. That being said, if you hit something, you stop and check it out. If you hit a deer you need to report that to authorities. Unfortunately because of the car vs bike climate, it forces athletic cyclist on to trails, some which include the downtown lakefront trails. Although they are picturesque, I don’t think they are the best place for cyclist to train for their triathlons. If the county highways were safer, I believe more cyclist would take their training there. Personally in the city of Milwaukee through, the jack wagons that ride for break away can go eat dirt. I’ve seen those clowns blow red lights right in front of traffic, kick cars…etc. I saw one of them blow a red light and smoke a pedestrian on Wisconsin Ave, only to respond to the woman that he hit with “WTF.” Clowns!

  14. eric says:

    Thank you Dave Cieslewicz.

  15. Bill says:

    Bravo, Dave! And we now have yet another sad example of why without enforcement of laws, the very people who are most likely to run over cyclists and pedestrians, be they drivers or riders, will continue to be on our streets creating a hazardous situation for anyone they encounter! Laws are all well and good, but without enforcement, they waste our time and the paper they are written on!

  16. Dave245 says:

    Sean, what do you’re incoherent ramblings have anything to do with a father who’s was killed by a hit and run driver? I could easily destroy everything you just wrote by naming statics of driver running stop signs and killing innocent people. ( https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=drivers+running+stop+sign+deaths ) But what would that prove? You are completely clueless.

  17. I’m a triathlete and car operator. My thoughts are with both families. Healing is a difficult process. I like to take a page from Desmond Tutu, founder of South Africa’s program of Truth and Reconciliation. It involves both justice and forgiveness, and works well when coupled with laws and policies to ensure justice and prevent future crime. May we judge the actions but love the person behind the actions. Yes, even in a hit-and-run. By the way, I’m a mom. This is what we do: hold a child accountable for their decisions and actions, but still love the child. No, the hit-and-run guy wasn’t a child; but his life is perhaps in such disarray that he can’t get out of his spiral. He needs to be held accountable, may face significant prison time, and will hopefully come to terms with the issues that have brought him to this point in his life.

    Tutu says:
    “To forgive is not just to be altruistic. It is the best form of self-interest … When I talk of forgiveness I mean the belief that you can come out the other side a better person. If you can find it in yourself to forgive then you are no longer chained to the perpetrator. You can move on, and you can even help the perpetrator to become a better person too.”

  18. Will says:

    Cyclists lives matter.

    That driver needs to be punished to the greatest extent the law allows.

  19. Patty says:

    I lost a good friend in the same way three years ago on a county road, who was drafting a buddy at about 6 pm in August. They were riding the white line on the edge of the road. I don’t know what he was wearing. Since then among many other things related, I’ve looked at cyclist’s clothing. I would not ever wear a dark colored shirt or jersey which I’ve seen many cyclists wear….I would make sure I have a florescent color.on my torso…and a blinking tail light on the back of the seat, during the day of course. A friend also has a plastic wand with a little florescent flag on the back of his bike. BTW, the driver has never been punished by the law. …to date.

  20. Not Jeff says:

    Jeff is right. I’m sure there is some perfectly reasonable explanation of how a driver would collde with a cyclist and take off to leave him dead or dying by the road. Maybe some jerk always gets all the blueberry-filled jelly donuts at the local bakery so he had to get there right when it opened. I’m sure Jeff can fill n the blanks on other-possible “it was the cyclists’ fault he was left to die” excuses.

  21. Darell Dickey says:

    @Observer: Cyclists are not being killed due to sometimes breaking the law. Cyclists are not being killed because of who pays for infrastructure. So I have to ask: What is the correlation between cyclists being killed by drivers and the rest of what you wrote?

    Here’s how it sounds in another context. A bunch of school kids have just been shot dead by a gunman while attending classes.. The first comment about that news article article is this: “I agree completely. I also think that school kids should not smoke pot, and should pay full retail price for their school books.”

    How does this fix the problem of people being killed?

  22. Hal says:

    Asking why this guy ran after hitting the cyclist? With his record he knew he’d be facing jail after this incident. He failed to yield the right of way to the cyclist. His defense to his lawyer of thinking he hit a deer is an out and out lie. He knew damn well he hit a bike.

    As for all the people who think they can’t get into collisions with others, because they deny it: next time you feel doing 80 in a 70 is ok; speeding through a construction zone is no big deal; taking a right turn on red without coming to a full stop first won’t hurt; following another vehicle 2 feet behind is going to get you home faster; changing lanes without signalling or checking your blind spot doesn’t matter; or forgetting everything you were taught in driver ed 2 days after getting your driver license is “normal”; I hope you don’t yell at your kids when they end up driving like you and become the menace you are on our roads.

  23. PeterG says:

    A hit and run is a hit and run–and it is highly illegal. The absurdity of the driver claiming that he thought he hit a deer is readily apparent: the sound of hitting several hundred pounds of flesh (a dear and a steel-framed bicycle) are completely different, if for no other reason than the clanking sound of the bike frame hitting the rolled steel fender and hood. Not to have detected the difference would suggest that the driver was severely intoxicated morally bankrupt enough to deny any and all responsibiity,or deaf. Since I am deaf myself and have been for the last 15 months, I would doubt the last, since being deaf usually means that one tends to be quite careful in carrying out daily tasks, Mr. Cieslewicz’s contention that Mr. Berel had very right to be on a county right is correct. To my knowledge, only roads in the state on which cyclists cannot ride are divided, limited access highways–freeways/expressways–or other highways with sognage that prohibits cyclists and pedestrians The reporter’s unspoken assumption is that bicycles are toys, and that the only legitimate form of wheeled locomotion is an automobile.

  24. Jonathan says:

    As a life-long bicyclist, I find myself in disagreement with Dave and most of the comments here. I saw nothing here urging bicyclists to use common sense and great caution. The idea that bicyclists have an EQUAL right to roads strikes me as nearly ridiculous. Yes, where bike lanes are painted on the pavement, cyclists can expect more freedom. But roads are designed and made for motor vehicles. Bike paths are made for bicycles – and in most cases pedestrians also, lest we forget. Yes, I understand the value and importance of alerting motorists to the growing presence of bicycles on roads, but to act as if we have equal rights to something not designed for us – give me a break! And many narrow county and township roads, without shoulders, are inescapably and often extremely hazardous for cyclists, unless there is clear visibility and low traffic volume, and in many cases we basically do not belong on them except in cases of emergency necessity. This is basic common sense!

  25. Sealock713 says:

    The truth is that roads are designed to accommodate people. Whether those people are in 18-wheelers or compact cars or bicycles, state laws are very clear that they all have rights. There are explicit circumstances where bikes are not allowed just like there are circumstances where heavy trucks are not allowed. But in virtually every other case all vehicles have the right to use public roads. You simply cannot have laws that grant rights to users then blame them when they attempt to exercise those rights. In Texas only 12% of funds used to build and maintain roads comes from vehicle registration fees, and only about 30% comes from federal and state gasoline taxes. The rest comes from income taxes, sales taxes and property taxes, which everyone pays regardless of whether they even drive. All of those people have rights granted by law and aren’t diminished because your vehicle is bigger.

    And for christsakes! Stop with this tired canard about cyclists ignoring laws. What makes a bad cyclist is the same thing that makes a bad driver. Both are examples of self entitled, self righteous individuals who make excuses for bad behavior. Only there’s 100 times more drivers breaking laws so often that other drivers ignore them because they themselves do the same thing. So yeah you don’t often see a driver blatantly running a stop sign, but you also don’t see a bike doing 45 in a 35 mph residential street either. The big difference is that a driver operating a 6,000 lb car is more likely to kill someone than a rider on a 20 lb bike.

  26. Darell Dickey says:

    @ Jonathan – it sounds as if you are not aware of what a “right” is. It is not a subjective opinion that can be argued. It is the objective, legal entitlement of a public resource that we are discussing. Our roads (in almost all cases) are for everyone’s use for transportation. The roads are built to move people and goods. A person moving himself on a bicycles as every right to use our public roads. It is why they ARE public roads.

    If you feel that cyclists shouldn’t use roads “because they were designed and made for motor vehicles” then I suppose you should consider that schools and buses in the USA were made for white people. It was extremely dangerous for non-white people to attend the white schools, drink out of the white drinking fountains, and sit at the front of the bus. And using the logic you brought to this discussion, things should have remained that way.

    One more consideration: Roads are not dangerous to cyclists. Poor, unskilled, sleepy, drunk, uneducated and uncaring drivers are dangerous to cyclists. If road safety is your biggest concern, remove the cars, not the bicycles.

  27. Sean says:

    @Dave245 very constructive criticism, I’m not sure “you’re” understanding my point but cheers anyway. Hope this week goes better for you than the last.

  28. Mike S says:

    Regardless of the varying opinions on whether bikes have a right to be on the roads, when in doubt, just check the laws. Let’s not argue the gray areas of anything that begins with “should.” Bicyclists have EQUAL rights, under the law, to roads not designated as reserved for motor vehicles. This point has been brought up enough here that it needs no more explanation.

    I think it’s equally important to point out some relevant history. Paved roads exist because of cyclists. They lobbied and paid for smooth roadways 30 years before motorists got in on the act. That pioneering investment in the national road system we enjoy today has been forgotten.

    Lastly, as the reporter mentioned in this story demonstrates, the public is woefully unaware bicycles and riders have equal rights to the road. This is as much an education problem as a driver superiority problem. I’d like to see a sustained public service advertising campaign centered around cycling. This would cover issues related to bikes on the road, safe passing distances, how to dress and use blinking lights even during the day, etc. It would have the additional effect of teaching sidewalk riders it’s actually safer (for them and pedestrians) to ride on the street.

    We have to correct the misconceptions the public has regarding bicycle riding.

  29. AG says:

    Safe, lawful, and alert driving is not mutually exclusive to safe, lawful and alert riding. It is not a one or another situation… we can support education and enforcement of both without threat to the other.

  30. Joe says:

    How sad that the first comment on this article is from someone announcing that cyclists need to obey traffic laws. Unless you have information that this particular cyclist didn’t do so, your comment is misplaced. That this is the first thing you’d think of (those big, bad cyclists) speaks to the antagonistic culture between drivers and cyclists.

  31. Doug says:

    Odds are that the car driver, with a long colorful history of poor driving and legal violations, was in the wrong. Perhaps not, but it’s a good bet.

    Hit & Run is reprehensible. Penalties need to be high enough for law breakers to actually deter them. Until that time, this story will repeat over and over and over again.

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