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Legal issues remain after cyclist dies

The Augusta Chronicle: Legal issues remain after cyclist dies

By Bianca Cain
Staff
Monday, Feb. 7, 2011

Cycling, rowing and wakeboarding were things he loved, but Anna was the apple of his eye.

Matthew Burke and his wife, Bonnie, looked forward to watching Anna grow up together. Before she turned 1, though, the couple's dream was cut short when he died Sunday evening from injuries suffered in an Oct. 1 bicycling incident.

"It's profoundly sad to lose someone that young," said Randy DuTeau, a cyclist. "He and Bonnie were doing everything right. It's just unfathomable that he's gone."

The 38-year-old orthopedic surgeon at Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center met with about 15 cycling buddies at Outspokin' Bicycles early that evening for a traditional night out.

An SUV driven by Daniel Johnson, 41, of Beech Island, hit five of the cyclists about 6:40 p.m. while they traveled on Beech Island Avenue. Johnson told the South Carolina Highway Patrol he had reached down for something and didn't see the cyclists, all of whom were wearing helmets and reflective gear.

Burke was taken to the hospital with severe head trauma. The others had minor injuries.

DuTeau had opted out of the ride that night to celebrate his anniversary with his wife. When the group called and told him the news, he said, he was devastated.

Burke had been back from Iraq about a year at the time of the accident.

"I think the one thing people need to realize is that he's more than a cyclist," said John Phelan, a friend and cyclist. "He's a husband, father, soldier, doctor, friend.

"I think at this point, people should stop focusing on who was wrong and who was right and just focus on the loss."

The case is still open. Charges have not been filed against Johnson, says the Highway Patrol. Paul Burke, the victim's brother, said in an e-mail Monday evening that "we expect that Solicitor Strom Thumond Jr. will pursue criminal charges against the driver who bears sole responsibility for this tragedy."

Brett Ardrey, the owner of Outspokin', said it has been difficult for cyclists since the accident. Many, he said, are scared to get back on the roads.

The Friday ride was a time for the cycling community to come together and catch up, Phelan said. Some of that joy has been lost.

"It's been very difficult to get back on the road," he said. "You always think, 'That could have been me.' "

Ardrey said the accident has brought more awareness and safety issues to the table. He said that as the media reported the story, he learned some of the feelings motorists have against cyclists. He hopes that in the future, the two groups can learn to work together.

"I'm not in the business of law," DuTeau said, "but I can only hope that the charges will match the seriousness of what happened. There are still a lot of unanswered questions as to why it happened."

Funeral arrangements have not yet been confirmed.