Saturday, March 31, 2012

Hank Bersani Rear-Ended on Highway 99w and Killed

In profoundly sad news for the weekend, the Statesman and Western Oregon University are reporting that Professor Hank Bersani died this morning after being struck while bicycling on Highway 99W, just north of Monmouth.

It is the second fatality of a person on bike this year in Polk County.

From the SJ:
Oregon State Police reported that its investigating the accident, which occurred at around 11:22 a.m. near the Hwy. 99W intersection with Hoffman Road.

Police said a 2001 Dodge Dakota pickup driven by Marvin H. Ford, 68, of Monmouth was traveling northbound on the highway when it struck a bicycle on which Henry “Hank” Alexander Bersani, Jr. was traveling north bound.

Bersani, 61, is a special education professor at WOU.

Police said the bicycle moved from the shoulder into the northbound lane in front of the pickup truck. Ford veered left in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid contact, striking the bicycle from behind.

Bersani was ejected from the bike and into the center of the highway and died at the scene. Police said he was wearing a helmet.
Heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Hank Bersani.


Anonymous said...

The Oregonian has more:

"OSP troopers from the Salem Area Command office are continuing the investigation. Police believe Bersani may have been trying to cross the highway to access a bike path on the other side, said Oregon State Police Lt. Gregg Hastings."

Walker said...

Two big problems with the SJ story:

The headline "Bersani dies in pickup-bike collision" works extra hard to even avoid the shadow of a whisper of the thought that maybe a driver killed Bersani. "Bersani killed in bike-car crash" is a much more natural statement, it seems to me, without accusing the driver of anything.

Second, and this is what made me notice the bias in the headline, the statement that "police said the bicycle moved from the shoulder .. . .". Well, if police saw the crash, wouldn't the story say that outright? And if police did NOT see the crash, isn't this just the typical unprofessional and sloppy writing and a failure in editing, since the line should read "the driver told police that . . ."

I dont know what happened out there, but running the story this way is no different from running George Zimmerman's version of events as truth in Sanford FL. maybe such a skilled and experienced cyclist as this one made a fatal error the other day --- or maybe a driver made the error, and the cyclist paid the usual price that pedestrians and cyclists so often pay in these cases.

Anonymous said...


This is a matter of pure physics. To say that just because Mr. Bersani was struck by a car makes it the driver's fault is absolutely ridiculous. It's the case of a 400lb vehicle vs. a 5000 lb vehicle.

This is a very tragic event. I personally knew Hank Bersani. He was the father of one of my friends growing up. Truly a great individual and a very avid bicyclist.


You can't automatically blame the driver of the pickup because you're a bicyclist. The Oregon State Police investigated this accident, and they have some of the most highly skilled crash reconstructionists in the country in their employ. They determined the cause of he accident and I believe them.

Just my .02

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Anon: I'm not as confident as you that we know and that the crash investigation is complete. One account has both agents traveling north on highway 99, another has Bersani crossing as if he were on Hoffman, perpendicular to 99. There seems yet to be some uncertainty in the matter.

Additionally, there's a frequent bias in car crash investigations that involve people on foot or on bike in favor of the driver of a car. Too often non-auto users of the road are interlopers, second-class users, or otherwise given a priority behind those in cars.

In fact, and I have dwelt sadly on this over the weekend, it is one of life's supremely tart and bitter ironies that a man who had devoted his professional life to asymmetrical relations and unequal power with the differently abled should have succumbed to a different asymmetry. You yourself point out how much more vulnerable is a person on bike when faced with a swift-moving 5000lb vehicle.

Just as our political and economic systems contain deep structures in favor of those defined as "normal," so the roadway system is engineered and legally structured in favor of those in autos and auto traffic.

In the end, we don't yet know enough to say for sure. As Walker points out, it remains possible that Bersani made that fatal error. At the same time, it is quite possible that the driver of the pickup was distracted, momentarily or carelessly, and himself made the fatal error.

We should probably adopt a salutary agnosticism for the moment - to Walker's points, perhaps the headline here is not neutral enough.

Frederick MP said...

I met Hank at a Disability conference in Arkansas. My deepest sympathies to his loved-ones. He was very passionate about kids with disabilities and a great communicator too.

Anonymous said...

Service details:

"Western Oregon University (WOU) will hold a Celebration of Life honoring Dr. Hank Bersani on Saturday, April 7. The celebration will take place in the Werner University Center Pacific Room. Doors will open at 1 p.m. with a program beginning at 1:15 p.m. A light reception will follow at about 2:15 p.m. All are welcome and parking will be free in all campus parking lots."