BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - An eerie coincidence that resulted in a cyclist struck by a vehicle and a police officer struck by a suspected drunk driver is shining a brighter spotlight on roadway issues in Baton Rouge.
Tuesday evening cyclists from across the city gathered in City Park to take part in a memorial ride. It was for 64-year-old Clifford Gouner, who died Monday afternoon while riding his bike on Goodwood Boulevard.
"The purpose of last night's ride was to remember a friend of ours who was killed while bicycling on roads that are, by design, unsafe for bicyclists and pedestrians to use or cross," said Mika Torkkola, an organizer of the ride who was recently involved in a crash with a hit-and-run driver. "Sadly, these roads are often the only option, particularly for anyone who wishes to visit the library near where Cliff was killed."
After the ride concluded, one of the participating cyclists was riding his bike home in the 3900 block of Capital Heights.
He never made it home.
According to reports, a driver failed to yield at a stop sign when he was crossing Capital Heights on Blanchard Street. That's when he struck the cyclist. Thankfully, this man did not suffer the same fate as Gourner, but he was transported to a local hospital for treatment.
Witnesses say the man ran a stop sign, which caused the crash with the cyclist. The responding officer issued the driver of the vehicle a citation.
"Just because it is a one-way street does not mean you don't have to look both ways," a resident posted online. "I could have hit a skateboarder yesterday if I had not looked both ways."
Unknowingly, that officer was about to be involved in a crash of his own.
According to reports, the officer was dispatched to a different car crash. The officer was responding to that call when he was struck by a suspected drunk driver. It happened in the 1900 block of Government Street.
In yet another twist of fate, the cyclist who was hit on Capital Height's is proponent of the proposed structural redesign of Government Street.
"[He is] a major part in championing the Better Block efforts that would calm traffic and put a Bike Lane on Government street, transforming it from a thoroughfare to place where people could walk, ride, shop and socialize," Torkkola noted. "It would make Government Street a place where people could live rather than get in and out as fast as possible."
The driver who allegedly caused the crash with the police officer, Gabrielle Roussel, 22, submitted to a field sobriety test. The officer claims she responded poorly, so she then submitted to a breath test, which showed that she was well over the legal limit.
The officer was transported to a local hospital with minor injuries caused by the crash.
Roussel was arrested and charged with DWI (first offense), disobey control devices, and failure to yield (left turn). She was booked into the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison.
"While it's easy to point the finger at people for causing these incidents via making bad decisions, those bad decisions might not be possible if the design of our streets were better," Torkkola added. "If Goodwood had a bike lane and a crosswalk, and if Capital Heights and its cross streets had speed bumps or some further traffic calming, then the opportunity that people would have to injure or kill others with their bad decisions would be significantly reduced.
"Secondly, I think that there should be a concerted effort on the part of our Law Enforcement Officers to help make speeding, texting and drink driving unacceptable," he continued. "People do all these things because they know they can get away with it. Nobody in this city leaves a bar fearful of being caught drink driving. Everybody drives 10 miles over the speed limit. In most places in the world, people would be terrified of breaking these laws not only because they know they'd get caught, but because they know the damage they can do."
There is a community bike ride set to happen tonight on Capital Heights. It will begin at 7 p.m. at Ingleside Church.