COOPER CHARTER TOWNSHIP, Mich. — It’s been six years since a drugged driver hit multiple cyclists in Kalamazoo County.
The nine cyclists rode together as part of “The Chain Gang Bicycle Club”. Five runners lost their lives and four were injured.
“Just thinking about the people, it was such a loss for the community to lose these people. Each one of them was a good person,” said Paul Runnels, one of the men who survived the bicycle tragedy.
READ: Survivor of Kalamazoo bike tragedy remembers the day five years later
The cyclists were riding on N. Westnedge Ave in Cooper Charter Township around 6:30 p.m. on June 7, 2016.
Runnels says he remembers just passing Markin Glen Park. The trip was approximately 28 miles from Nazareth to Plainwell.
“We were about six to seven miles away when the crash happened,” Runnels said.
The driver, Charles Pickett Jr., was convicted of hitting the cyclists with his van while under the influence.
“The only thing I remember hearing was people, and it’s pretty typical to yell ‘car back’ and because we were going up I decided not to look back because I didn’t want to not swerving into traffic. I decided to keep my head down and keep pedaling up the hill,” Runnels said.
Runnels was one of four injured cyclists. He had several fractures from which he took months to recover.
The five victims who lost their lives were Debbie Bradley, Fred (Tony) Nelson, Larry Paulik, Melissa Favig-Hughes and Suzanna Sippel.
“The bikes were in such bad shape after they were all hit that paramedics and first responders didn’t even know how many people were involved,” Runnels said.
Bike Friendly Kalamazoo president Paul Selden says it’s important drivers give space to cyclists and slow down when passing.
“It’s five feet in Michigan. State law is three feet, but in Kalamazoo County, and many places, it’s five feet, which is about half a lane.” , Selden said.
Selden also says cyclists should make sure they are visible and follow the rules of the road.
This accident did not stop Runnels from his bike, but rather inspired him to advocate for awareness and change.
“It’s a day of the year when we come together around this idea, that we are here to help each other because unfortunately we are not the last to have lost someone in a bicycle accident,” said Runnels.
The Kalamazoo Bicycle Club, along with survivors of the bicycle tragedy, are organizing a ‘Ride of Silence’ Tribute and Memorial Ride.
The cyclists met at Ascension Borgess Health and Fitness Center off Gull Road around 5.45pm on Tuesday.
They planned to take the 28-mile route that the cyclists had taken on the day of the tragedy.
The group stopped at the Chain Gang Memorial in Marking Glen Park, about five miles along the route, for a moment of silence.
From there, cyclists could turn around to return to Ascension Borgess Health and Fitness Center or continue to Plainwell.