Two days ago I received a strange email. It was simultaneously matter-of-fact and tragic.
“Hi folks,” it read. “My dad was killed by a truck (he was walking at a crosswalk). I would like to stop his autopay subscription of $10/month.”
It only took me a few minutes to realize this man’s father was 82-year-old Charles McCarthy, who was hit and killed by a truck driver as he walked in the crosswalk of East Burnside and 55th on October 11th.
I wish it wasn’t true, but when people die while walking I don’t usually pay as much attention to the case as I would if they were cycling. That’s an intentional editorial and mental health decision. (Reacting to traffic deaths takes a toll and I have limited professional and personal capacity to do it. I also don’t want to set the expectation that I will cover walking deaths with the same attention and depth as cycling deaths).
Even though I didn’t look too deeply into this case initially, I now wanted to know more about Mr. McCarthy. So I did what I often do in situations like this: I emailed the District Attorney’s office to find out if there were any updates on the case, I looked up his subscriber information, entered his email address in the “search comments” field of BikePortland’s admin dashboard, and checked to see if he’d ever emailed me.
Turns out Charles McCarthy was a big supporter of BikePortland. He’d sent in several one-time contributions over the years and he was one of our first subscribers in 2015. He would also email us from time-to-time with link suggestions for the Monday Roundup.
He had also commented here about 30 times between 2009 and 2016. I was amazed how much those comments revealed about him.
In a comment about the Tilikum Bridge he posted in 2009, Charles shared that he spent more time as a “pedestrian” than a “cyclist” and wanted physical protection between those two modes.
He lived in Minneapolis in the 1970s and once got a stolen bike recovered because it had been registered with the police. “My point: bicycle registration can be a good thing,” he wrote.
In 2011 we learned he was an active volunteer in the community who used a combination of modes — buses, bikes, walking and driving — to reach his many destinations. When TriMet service no longer met his needs, he reluctantly started to drive more often, but still purchased a monthly bus pass because, he said, “I think it is a civic duty to support public transit.”
Charles was one of many people who invested in the Kickstarter campaign for those Conscious Commuter e-bikes that never materialized.
The last comment he made on BikePortland, in 2016, stopped me in my tracks for how it related to his own death. It was in response to a story we did about a group of neighbors in north Portland who held a vigil for an elderly man who was killed while walking across a street. “When driving and stopping for a pedestrian who is crossing, I put on my 4-way emergency flashers, and if possible stick my hand out to flag the drivers in the lane to my left,” he wrote. “It sometimes seems to help.”
As a driver, it appears Charles was exceedingly safe around walkers. It’s too bad he wasn’t afforded the same level of respect.
I’m sorry our system failed you Charles. Rest in peace. And thanks for all your support.
16 of the 32 fatal traffic crashes in Portland so far this year are to people who were walking. Since Charles was killed on October 11th, seven other vulnerable road users have died. Five of them were on foot, one was motorcycling, and one was using a bicycle. You can see an updated tally with basic details on each of them at BikePortland.org/fatality-tracker.
Note: I’ll update this post if I get any substantive updates from the DA’s office. UPDATE, 12/7: The DA’s office says the crash is still under investigation by the PPB Major Crash Team and has not yet been submitted to the DA’s office for review.
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