Along with members throughout the community, the December death of 13-year-old Wesley Meadows deeply impacted South Lane Fire and Rescue firefighter Doug Lyda. Lyda was on the call after Meadows, who was without a helmet and not visible to vehicles on the road, was struck by a car while riding his bike on Highway 99 around 6 p.m.
“The injuries were pretty significant and a helmet would not have saved him. The only thing that would have saved him was a light,” said Lyda. “I didn’t get a chance to process it until the next morning … and I realized I was a little bit angry. I couldn’t place where that anger was going to go so I decided to be angry about kids not having lights.”
With the goal “to put a light on every kid in South (Lane) County” Lyda was off. But he was not alone.
Independently of Lyda, Cottage Grove resident and avid cyclist Don Strahan also had begun working on getting lights.
“I heard about it a day or two afterwards and … right then, it was we’ve got to do something about this, this shouldn’t be happening,” said Strahan.
Strahan and Lyda were put in contact and were off to get every kid a bike light. Lyda gathered $4,500 from various community organizations (with pledges adding another $5,000 in funds yet to come) and combined it with Strahan’s knowledge of bikes; they created a perfect match.
“(Strahan) is pretty much a bulldog when it comes to gathering information,” said Lyda. “He contacted the companies, got samples, went out and shined it at night — how far away could he get until it was no longer effective — took it on a bike ride, bike ride at night, bike ride on bumpy roads. He went over the top.”
A model was agreed upon that included both a light in the front and a tail light that cost a total of $18. The next step was getting the lights to those who needed them. SLFR first teamed up with the Gran Fondo bike event and had their first give away.
The group also worked with South Lane School District so it could get the lights directly to students. But before it gave them lights, it had to see if students rode bikes. Strahan helped put together a survey that went out to students across the district.
All told, 320 students from first- to eighth-grade participated in a survey discussing their biking habits. 265 students said that they own or have a bicycle to ride and over 70 percent responded that their bike had neither front or rear lights.
Additionally, 78 percent said they own a bike helmet.
“There seemed to be kind of a big public safety gap with, we are flushed with helmets but we have nothing with lights or visibility,” said Lyda.
Last Friday, lights were given to students at Lincoln Middle School — where Meadows was once a student — after a demonstration of how to properly put them on a bike.
“I think when you have a tragedy like this you can either wallow and be sad or you can do something about it,” said LMS vice principal Emily Wren Gerot.
To receive a bike light, students simply had to indicate that they were interested. 83 seventh and eighth graders were given lights last Friday.
“Every kid had the opportunity to sign up for this and these are the kids who said yes,” said Gerot. “But just knowing these kids as their assistant principal, and seeing them around town and who rides to campus, these are our bike riders. So this really is fitting the need of kids that actually ride a bike. So that’s cool to see. I’m looking around this room going, okay, these are kids that I see ride their bikes to school so I’m glad they’re utilizing this and taking advantage of this opportunity.”