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Originally published: 2012-02-03 12:01:33
Last modified: 2012-02-03 12:02:08

Coach: Car swerves to hit cyclist

Matthew Hundley / (matthew.hundley@averyjournal.com)

While cycling with six other LMC cyclists, Michael Rozelle was struck by a car on Hickory Nut Gap Road on Friday, Jan. 20. Rozelle was not seriously injured, but the incident left the cyclists shaken because they were left with distinct impression that the car had intentionally swerved into the oncoming lane in order to strike them, according to Peter Haile, assistant coach of LMC’s cycling team, who described the incident, which took place around 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 20.

“The accident happened on Hickory Nut Gap, a little on the Newland side,” said Haile, who described the car as “a silver-grey Subaru Legacy from the mid-90s with a grenade brand sticker on the back.” 
According to Haile, the bikers were following the rules of the road when the Subaru swerved into their lane, struck Rozelle and sped away.
“We had a group of seven riders, all in their lane,” said Haile. “They were headed uphill, back into Banner Elk. They were rounding a corner and that car swerved at them and hit one of our riders. He’s uninjured but certainly shaken. It’s my understanding that the car went 10 feet into the lane.”

Haile explained that, following the incident, he and the cyclists involved alerted the authorities, but, so far, no one has been able to identify the driver of the Subaru.

“I’ve talked to Avery County Sheriff’s Office and the Banner Elk Police Department. I have talked to the local snowboard shops. I thought there might be a connection there, but we have not heard anything yet.”

According to Avery County Sheriff’s Office, no report is on file regarding the incident. A call to Banner Elk Police Department yielded the same results: No report is on file with that organization, either, but a representative suggested Newland Police Department may have information. Newland Police Department also had no information or record of the incident, as was the case with North Carolina Highway Patrol.

As a coach of the cycling team, aggressive behavior from motorists leaves Haile discouraged. 

“It kind of leaves me wondering. I’ve had a lot of questions on my mind with people getting hurt and hit. I do not know what to say, because I want everyone to be safe. The road is there for everyone to use, and if everyone follows the rules, then there are no problems. We do not want any animosity between a bike and a car. A bike would usually be on the losing end of that. We try to keep a really positive relationship with the surrounding community, as much as we can.” 

In spite of the cycling team’s efforts to build positive relationships, Haile acknowledges that animosity does exist, but feels that the negative feelings are not caused by any single thing.

“There are probably a lot of factors,” said Haile. “The High Country has been an area for cycling for a long time. I think there is a misunderstanding about the legality of bikes on the road. I think a lot of people understand that bikes should not be on the roads, but the law states that bikes can be on the roads. If there is no bike lane, then they are allowed to take up a lane until a safe passing zone is allowed. I think it is really just the misunderstanding. I think people become hostile when there is a shield between you and another person. But if we could all just sit down, face to face, there would be no contention or issue.” Haile’s call for cooperation in confronting the causes of incidents between cyclists and motorists is a common thread in the conversation about cycling safety. Doug Owen, owner of Cycle 4 Life Bike Shop in Banner Elk, echoed Haile’s sentiment. 

“It is a two-part issue. You have cyclists over here who see it as only an automobile problem. You have automobile drivers who see it is as a cyclist problem. There are issues on both sides that need to be addressed as we bring both sides to the center,”