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Woman seriously injured after mysterious crash on Columbia Slough path

Posted by on September 19th, 2016 at 11:28 am

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Riding along the Columbia Slough path north of Kenton.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Skjelse Rapoch thought she’d just had a very bad crash while riding her bike. Now the police her family thinks she might have been attacked.

It happened Tuesday night while Rapoch was riding on the Columbia Slough path en route to Portland International Raceway where her husband (who works at Velo Cult Bike Shop) was competing in a cyclocross race. Details of the incident are scarce because Rapoch doesn’t remember anything. It was only after she was recovering in the hospital that she spoke to police and began to put the pieces together.

“What we initially thought was a terrible bicycle accident,” her family says, “is the result of something far more sinister…. it would appear an individual(s) was hiding along the path and hit Skjelse in the face with a rock while she was riding by.”

According to statements from Rapoch and her family, the police are now investigating this as a possible assault (update: the police say there is no evidence to suggest it was an attack).

A rider who found Rapoch says they saw a lone suspect fleeing the area as they rolled up. Rapoch says police have found a bloody rock has been found nearby that matches her facial trauma.

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Screengrab from fundraising page set up for Skjelse Rapoch.

Screengrab from fundraising page set up for Skjelse Rapoch.

While we don’t know much about the motives of the attack or the identity of a suspect, what we do know is that Rapoch has been very seriously injured. She was found unconscious on the path and suffered a severe concussion as well as numerous facial injuiries. She faces an long and arduous road to recovery and her family has started a fundraising campaign to alleviate some of the financial burden. So far over $10,000 has been raised.

The path she was riding on is very popular and recently received a significant upgrade that includes new connections to PIR and North Denver Avenue that leads up into the Kenton neighborhood. In 2014 we shared a ride report and said this path is perfect for families.

Over the past year or so we’ve heard from several readers who say a group of people live in tents and other housing structures along the Columbia Slough — especially under the bridge that connects Schmeer Road and Denver. In December of last year we got a report of a suspected chop shop in this area. One reader said he saw shopping carts full of bike parts and frames. The addition of people living along these paths has changed the riding environment.

If you’d like to help Rapoch get through her injuries and the medical pills that are headed her way, hit the GoFundMe link. If you have any information about what happened to her, please contact the Portland Police non-emergency line at (503) 823-3333.

UPDATE, 9/19: Here’s the latest from the Portland Police Bureau:

At this point, we cannot verify whether or not it was an assault as the victim has no memory, there are no eyewitnesses or suspect information. The information about people hiding along the trail and throwing a rock that struck the victim has not been verified. The incident is suspicious enough to warrant further investigation. Anyone with information should call Assault detectives at 503-823-0400.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Adam
Subscriber

Jonathan, I take issue with the second to last paragraph. I am really disappointed that you are perpetuating the “homeless people living along the trail are attacking people and stealing bikes” rhetoric. Since we don’t have any idea who attacked her, insinuating that a homeless person did it is irresponsible. I know you are just reporting what people are telling you, but you are also implying that a woman was attacked, homeless people live near here, therefore one of them may have attacked her. Implying this connection does a disservice to the majority of homeless people who are not causing problems.

I wish the victim a swift and easy recovery.

TJ
Guest
TJ

I did not read an insinuation. I read other examples of problems along the path. Campers along the path –hidden or out in the open– are a problem. Be it just an inconvenience or something more. “The addition of people living along the path has changed the riding environment”.

Our bikeways are not campsites — not until we open the golf courses and car lanes.

TonyH
Guest
TonyH

The last line of that paragraph (” The addition of people living along these paths has changed the riding environment.”) puts it into context. JM wasn’t “insinuating” anything, IMHO.

rick
Guest
rick

Portland has become a paradise for drugs and illegal actives.

highrider
Guest
highrider

Rick, when I first moved here Old Town (now the Pearl district) was a place you could buy almost any drug, any time, on any street. Similarly, you could buy weed in Washington Park, or even Laurelhurst park up until the end of the 1980’s.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

The weed dealers that used to be in the parks have mostly relocated to the pot stores nearby. Some things never change.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

And SE Division street. Anyone listen to Elliott Smith?

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

True, highrider–but not sure what your point is. I’ve lived here all my life and while the Pearl and other areas may have gentrified, rampant open drug use and aggressive, confrontational users have increased dramatically and spread all over the city where neighborhoods can’t afford private security.

dwk
Guest
dwk

“therefore one of them MAY have attacked her.” (CAPITALS MINE).

What exactly is wrong with that statement? It just may help find the perp.
Your constant defense of homeless people is admirable to a point, but you have completely jumped the shark…

Middle of the Road guy
Guest
Middle of the Road guy

Adam,

over the last two years there have been many crimes committed in the area that are suspected to have been done by the good folks living around Farragut Park and near the bridge on Schmeer.

You can take all the offense you want, but when people find open parcel packages over there that are not anywhere near the address listed on them and more bike parts per person than most avid cyclists own, it’s not difficult to draw a conclusion. At some point, the idealism of a social justice warrior has to give way to reality.

Paul Wilkins
Guest
Paul Wilkins

SJW is a derogatory term. Doesn’t really advance the topic…

Todd Hudson
Guest
Todd Hudson

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, a DNA test to determine it was a duck is not necessary. Assaults on the Springwater skyrocketed after Hales started tolerating camping there, and the same is happening here.

Work Account
Guest
Work Account

I think it’s worth noting that people living on the fringes of society inhabit this area personally.

Matt
Guest
Matt

Well, you certainly have your priorities in order.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Of course it was a homeless person. Where would someone with a house get a rock???

highrider
Guest
highrider

A few years ago there was a guy golfing at the course by that path who was attacked by a group of youths. His Boxer dog helped him fight off the attack. My first thought was more teen-aged nihilism this time rather than a person experiencing homelessness. But I dislike speculation- belief is not knowledge.

KTaylor
Guest
KTaylor

This sounds like territorial behavior, so it seems reasonable to look at people who have illegally staked this area out as their territory.

Jess
Guest
Jess

I live very near the trail and the camping IS a problem — I frequently run on the trail and have had instances of the campers actively intimidating me (standing in the dead center of the trail as I run up, glaring at me and not moving away). For awhile they blocked much of the path. There has been at least one fire over there and the area is intermittently a real mess. I am a petite woman and I no longer run that trail without having a phone handy. It sucks.

eli bishop
Guest
eli bishop

Aw, Jess, I’m sorry. I’ve had the exact same problems on the Springwater. 🙁

christopher
Guest
christopher

If you’ve been down this path you know who is hanging around there.

Kate
Guest
Kate

Thanks for the reporting Jonathan. I run and ride the slough trail alone with some frequency and had, in fact, planned to ride there tonight. I’ve been recently debating whether to do so any longer.

I hate to cede this lovely trail to fear, since I’d rather not ride Lombard or other roads to Kelly Point Park and so on. I’ve been startled by folks emerging from under the Vancouver Bridge over the slough and threatened by the larger camp under the Interstate Ave bridge. Thankfully you can divert on the path up to the at-grade crossing of Interstate Avenue to avoid the camp in the underpass area.

While Adam is correct that we don’t know who may have attacked her, Jonathan is also correct that riding conditions have changed. I dunno- what else can you do beside be extremely aware when using the trail? I try to make eye contact and say hello to everyone I pass. How do you avoid people jumping out and smashing your face in?

Chris I
Guest
Chris I
B. Carfree
Guest
B. Carfree

Only obliquely related to all this, I have a question for the knowledgeable BP community. I live in Eugene and we have bike infrastructure being taken over by drug addicts. They have taken to blocking key underpasses over the past few years (part of the explanation for our loss of 30% of our cycling commuters back to cars since 2009).

Our police are now saying that it is legal to block the bike paths and are refusing to help clear the underpasses. They say as long as it’s not a lane cars operate on, it’s not a road. I distinctly recall reading that in Oregon, per ODOT, bike paths are legally roads. Can anyone help confirm this with citations?

Spiffy
Subscriber

ORS 166.025 is what you’re looking for…

Spiffy
Subscriber

also, bike paths are considered sidewalks under the law according to http://www.stc-law.com/bikemulti.html

pdxhobbitmom
Subscriber
pdxhobbitmom

Makes me sick.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

Not mentioned in this article there is any apparent motive for this horrible crime. If Skjelse had been robbed after being knocked unconcious this would shed more light on the criminal and their motive. This is a horribly violent act that would only be perpetrated by a sociopathic person bent on robbery, or some kind of twisted sense of revenge.

John
Guest
John

I’m guessing he was scared off before he could ride off with her bike, rummage through her wallet, or assault her further. It would be nice if there was enough trust in the homeless community to where they would report dangerously unstable or vicious individuals….sadly, many of the homeless are living under bridges because of mental illnesses so there would likely be some over reporting.

Robert Ping
Guest
Robert Ping

I was the ‘victim’ of rock throwing a couple of months ago while riding along Willamette Blvd around midnight. I was not hit by the multiple rocks, but they landed hard all around me. I stopped and two young men/youth had just jumped up onto the jersey barrier wall that was temporarily there during a road construction project to upgrade the bridge, acting innocent. I confronted them, and warned them that the next time I wouldn’t take their word for it.

This is the second time I had rocks thrown at me in that same spot, although the first was when I was driving my Eurovan last year, also late at night, in the same exact spot. The rocks did damage to my vehicle.

Rock throwing at cars is not unheard of for teenagers to do, but this probable attack on Skjelse Rapoch (all the best for a full recovery, Skjelse!) is only a couple of miles across the peninsula, and along with my attack, are the only times I have experienced rock throwing at people on bikes in decades of riding. Now thumbtacks, however…

Redhippie
Guest
Redhippie

There used to be a homeless cave just below the road where the construction project was located. Over the years commuting to St Johns, I have seen a number of weird events around that area.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

Since the Bikeways of Portland are begining to resemble the streets of 1970’s New York it might be about time to set up a chapter of the Guardian Angles, except on two wheels.

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

I’m thoroughly weary of the preoccupation in Portland for vigilant defense of the dubious ‘honor’ of a legion of drug addicts and antisocial aholes willing to trash our public spaces, and more. The same self-appointed defenders have no trouble lambasting those like the folks of Lents who have the temerity to get upset about living next to the resultant chaos and squalor of an unchecked population of miscreants. And I do distinguish, by the way, between the jerks and the law-abiding homeless. It is possible to do! Who knew? I’d wager most of us don’t paint all homeless with the same brush. Give us some credit.

Whomever perpetrated this attack, I’m sick about it and I hope Rapoch heals as quickly as possible.

soren
Guest
soren

Eighty-eight people died while homeless in Multnomah County last year.
That’s 32 more than the year before, and the total of 2013 and 2014 combined.
And it’s yet another sign Portland’s homelessness crisis is taking a toll beyond the perennial focuses of messy camps or inconvenient panhandlers…
Also: 17 women died on the streets, a 325 percent increase from four in 2014.
“The numbers in this report are staggering,” Multnomah Count Chair Deborah Kafoury writes in an introduction (she’s been calling the death toll “unacceptable” since 2011, when 47 people died).

http://www.portlandmercury.com/blogtown/2016/09/09/18554819/deaths-of-homeless-people-shot-way-up-in-multnomah-county-last-year

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

But what does it really say? I don’t know how these people died, and that matters. If they were primarily drug overdoses, it might suggest more need for treatment. If they died from violence, that suggests a completely different problem. If they died of exposure or starvation, it suggests something else entirely.

I do believe that for many people, “housing first” is the solution. For others, I’m not so sure. We all know that some people are homeless because they simply can’t (or won’t) follow rules, and I’m not sure “housing first” would work for them.

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

Agree w/ HK. And I’m firmly against any further enabling of illegal and antisocial, territorial, destructive behavior. Get those people out or incarcerated. I don’t care where they go. But I care in the bigger sense of that word. Give them incentive to change via appropriate, hard consequences for their actions. Anyone who’s lived w/an addict (as I have) knows enabling is the last thing they need. Hitting bottom (and a consequent desire to change) for many often involves incarceration/paying a price for their destructive behavior.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

“Hitting bottom” sometimes results in death.

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

Are you proposing you, or we, can save everyone from death? Even if they are hell-bent on it?

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

In the grand sweep of history there are only 4 ways this type of situation gets taken care of. 1) Our government comes up with solutions to houselessness, so this type of fringe community is not needed 2) The police crack down and maintain law and order 3) The fringe society organizes and polices itself to avoid conflict with the rest of society ( this includes those elements that orbit or interact with this society.4) Non government forces within the greater society push back forcefully. Apparently options 1 and 2 have failed, so I really hope that 3 happens quickly before the ugliness of 4 comes on the scene. I wish that those in power would realize that inaction creates its own momentum.

Middle of the Road guy
Guest
Middle of the Road guy

If #3 happened on a regular basis, #4 would never arise.

My neighborhood is starting neighborhood watches. Personally, I do hope there some kind of confrontation. Things often only change once there is some kind of violence or conflict.

Bald One
Guest
Bald One

I occasionally ride this path. This path is one of the only places in Portland that gives me pause to ride for personal safety reasons – in particular the section under the schmeer bridge near Interstate. I think the BP commenters who do not ride this path should hold their comments until they can go there and experience it for themselves. Criminal elements clearly harbor and intermingle with these long standing homeless camps, even though most residents of these camps are not engaged in criminal activity. Go there, ride this path (take a friend with you), see for yourself.

Brenda E
Guest
Brenda E

I live in NoPo & regularly ride/walk the area in & around Kenton. This particular section near the bridge also causes me concern – to the point that I will not ride in this area out of concern for my personal safety.

Anna G
Guest
Anna G

I also live near this path (Farragut park area) and will not use it anymore for safety concerns. Thus the folks living under the overpass have successfully defended their territory by discouraging the use of said path.

Matt S.
Guest
Matt S.

I rode that path everyday for three months while I commuted b/t Portland and Vancouver. I disliked the entire ride from the I5 bridge, through the path system, through Delta Park and finally up on the Columbia slough path. I’m a 6’2″ 200 lb. built man and I was nervous everyday riding along that 3-4 mile stretch. Not until I got up on Vancouver Ave. did I feel safe.

I strongly considered carrying pepper spray attached to my top tube.

Then my job changed.

Jim
Guest
Jim

Those that care about the homeless should be commended for their humanity, and empathy. But those same caring souls MUST accept reality as well. Yes, a lot of the homeless are there by fate they had little control of. But most are there because of substance abuse, often triggering mental problems and irrational behavior. Cyclist who are not part of their world, their reality, can cause anger, and an angry reaction. For example, the commuter train service my wife works for has had passenger car windows damaged by rocks every time they travel past a couple of homeless camps. It’s not teens. And teens aren’t likely to hang out around homeless camps.

Spiffy
Subscriber

substance abuse is often a self-remedy for mental anguish… users trying to escape something which is tormenting them…

I wear many hats
Guest
I wear many hats

Lets not ignore the fact that these stereotypical biases often arise either from experience and or profiling. The only people I’ve caught actively stealing and chopping bikes were tweakers. It would be illogical to ignore that experience. It would be naïve to do so. Homelessness is not equal to tweaker squatting. I highly doubt that JM was equating the two groups. One does not squat on a grassy island in the middle of the Columbia slough amidst the utopia of social services available in PDX without addiction and/or mental health issues. I read JM’s report as “watch out for these squatters”. No bias received.

Andrew Kreps
Guest
Andrew Kreps

If she has auto insurance, I hope she knows her personal injury protection fund will pay for quite a bit of the initial costs. I didn’t when I had a bicycle collision recently.

J_R
Guest
J_R

This is yet another example of why city leaders, city councilors, law enforcement officers, and prosecuting attorneys need to ride bikes, at least occasionally.

Since being verbally assaulted, physically assaulted, harassed by persons and by vehicle operators is outside of their personal experience, they simply do not take it seriously.

If our leaders rode, they’d also get to experience first hand the lack of sweeping of dangerous debris, tree branches that intrude into the paths and bike lanes, signal detection that doesn’t work, nonsensical routing, etc.

Thanks for posting information about another area where I should avoid riding alone.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Any idea of the section where this occurred?

Laura
Guest
Laura

Between Vancouver and I-5 just south of the Portland Meadows Park.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

thx

Lisa
Guest
Lisa

Best wishes for fast healing, Skjelse Rapoch!

Teddy
Guest
Teddy

This is horrible to read about indeed! I wish her a full and speedy recovery.

I used to ride on that trail back in 2014-2016 and usually felt pretty safe there other than some blind spots by the sewage treatment plant. I had to get to Vancouver by 2AM once and I was tempted to ride the Slough Trail, but I was too scared so I took a different way.

John Liu
Subscriber

Skjelse was very seriously injured. I don’t want to go into details, but she will need very major facial and dental reconstruction, which will cost far, far, far more money than she has.

C’mon folks. Don’t fall back into our standard endless debate about homeless. It really doesn’t matter who attacked her, or why, or if they are homeless or a psychopath with a home.

The fact is that women, and men, should be able to ride Portland’s trails in safety. Not “should be”. Try “must be”. We can’t be frightened away from this trail and similar trails. We have to take them back, cyclists and runners and families and all of us, and the city and police have to help. Have to. Have to.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Well said.

J_R
Guest
J_R

I agree we must take them back, but it’s become painfully obvious that there’s no help from City Hall. The city and the police will have to be present with some regularity. Until then, even though I’m a reasonably fit male, I’ve abandoned riding the trails alone because I fear for my personal safety.

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

Well, if our trails were safe until they were overrun with threatening, territorial homeless campers and bad things ensued once that happened, and now we have all ceded the trails to threatening, territorial homeless campers because of their behavior, then I’d say that it DOES matter, and the discussion here about problems with homeless campers is absolutely germane.

This IS the problem. Whether Rapoch was attacked by someone living on or off that trail or not, without question THE problem with the deterioration of and lack of safety on our trails is directly related to threatening, territorial, homeless campers. Who are using/shooting up. A lot. NOT EVERY ONE OF THEM. I hope we can agree that we all can distinguish between the law abiding and the not law abiding? But a large number–large enough to wreak effective havoc on on parks and trails systems, and to leave devastation behind. And the City is enabling them. People fed up with this situation or not compassionless. They’re just distinguishing between those that want and deserve help and those engaging in criminal and antisocial behavior.

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

p.s…the general lawless atmosphere brought about on our trails by the bad campers makes it a lot easier for criminal ‘tourists’ to do bad things too. If I were looking for a good place to do some awful things right now, I’d head straight to someplace like the Slough path, or the Springwater. Lawlessness breeds lawlessness, and the word about lax (or nonexistent) enforcement gets around. Fast.

Brian
Guest
Brian

I agree with you rachel b, and what I got from John’s statement is that we can’t just sit back and type away when we hear of a terrible story such as this. We need to actively get involved to ensure safety for all on our trails. Ride the trails. Ride in groups. Use them as often as possible. Include them on organized rides. Be safe.

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

Thanks, Brian. “Ride in groups” is the key phrase here, I guess, but even that places a ridiculous burden on cyclists (and peds). Being on the distaff side of humanity, I’m used to the injunctions to “never walk alone” (…and carry mace! And a rape whistle! And don’t dress provocatively! And be nice! And don’t provoke! And don’t go down the wrong street! And don’t go to that bar alone! And don’t walk at night w/o someone else! And don’t get into that elevator alone w/ that man in there! And don’t go get your car or bike in the parking garage w/o an escort! And etc. etc. etc.). I’m all for prudence but it all just sucks–esp. when so much of it could be easily solved w/ some simple spine at the Top.

Kate
Guest
Kate

Yes, it’s all well and good to say that, but frankly I’m a single lady living alone and I don’t really have a ‘group’ to bring along on my runs and often not on my rides so it’s not super useful advice for those who use regularly rather than as infrequent recreation. But maybe if others do, that will increase safety for all of us. So really, extra eyes on the street- er, path always helps.

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

I’m with you, Kate. It makes me feel like I’m a character in The Handmaid’s Tale, or something. Strange that we live in a world that expects women to just have male escorts (or a gaggle of ready female friends) around, just to go about our business safely. At night. Or in the day, on a public trail that’s no longer safe. Or in parking garages. Or in certain parts of town. Or in deserted areas. Or, or, or, or…. Especially strange how “post feminist” and progressive we all congratulate ourselves on being. USA!

Matt S.
Guest
Matt S.

Would anyone be interested in meeting up at the Lucky Lab or another location and do a letter writing campaign to the city council, mayor, police chief?

If we could get 10-15 people doing this weekly, maybe we could have an impact? Plus, spur some interesting conversation and see what’s born out of it?

John
Guest
John

I was about to say fuck PDX I’m moving to Minneapolis where the city seems to care more for their bike paths. Then I found this list of assaults. While few, I haven’t heard of pistols, stun guns, and Molotov cocktails being used against cyclists here in Oregon. Maybe we’re lucky?

http://midtowngreenway.org/about-the-greenway/safety/incidents/

I wonder what a list of Springwater assaults would look like.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

We should find out who cleaned up Minneapolis. It was looking pretty grim until they did something in Sep 2015; since then, not a single incident has been reported. Let’s do whatever they did, and get our trails back under control.

KM
Guest
KM

From FOX (while not a source of a news I like) her friend found her and then called the husband. The husband says he “searched” and found a rock. It sounds like the husband did a thorough investigation of the area so by the time the police arrived he had a rock, a story of a person climbing the overpass, and an unconscious wife… and all bikes accounted for. If you watch his interview, he’s composed and not shaken but makes little eye contact with the newcaster.

Brian W.
Guest
Brian W.

When I first saw this on instagram I did not think the injuries were consistent with a cyclist losing control and landing on their face. She was wearing a helmet which tend to do a decent job of protecting massive damage to your nose/mouth area (almost all helmets stick out further than your nose). I would also expect scraping and lacerations to the lower part of her face due to sliding on asphalt, which are absent.

I am not a doctor or a collision expert, but the two times I have landed on my face while wearing a helmet my nose/upper mouth was spared, and most of the damage was to my chin/lower jaw. Which is anecdotal of course.

I have ridden with Skjelse before and wish her as quick as a recovery as possible, and hope she is back on the road (or trail) soon.

Ian
Guest
Ian

On the topic of anecdotal evidence, I was in a right-hook crash that sent me face-first into asphalt, and Rapoch’s injuries look perfectly consistent with the ones I sustained (including a helmet that, thankfully, absorbed a good bit of the impact force). Specifically, broken nose, upper lip split open, several teeth knocked out, but no significant injuries below the mouth area. That’s not to say that the rock wasn’t involved, of course, but I’m quite convinced that her apparent injuries could be adequately explained by a face-first helmeted collision with the ground.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

I agree that the injuries could result from a face plant. I sustained similar damage myself in a crash a little over 30 years ago. You do not necessarily slide, and even though my case was much less severe than hers, I still lost a bunch of teeth, rammed the bone in so I still can’t close my mouth the way I could before, and got 18 stitches in my chin plus a few in my lip.

Whether or not she was attacked, I won’t ride some of these paths specifically because of harassment. My personal experience is that harassment on bike ways is significantly worse than that on the road, and it much more unpredictable to boot.

Gabriel
Guest

Terrible. And I am assuming her bike was stolen?

Jim
Guest
Jim

I’m re-reading this a couple of weeks after seeing it the first time. My wife had a cycling accident a few years ago and her injuries were remarkably similar to the young woman in this story. My wife doesn’t remember what happened either, and she’s glad she doesn’t. I wouldn’t be so fast to point fingers and assume that there was an attack.