Editor's note: The first video contains some graphic details of the accident and some salty language.
When Ken Krayeske and Tony Cherolis contacted Colleen Kelly Alexander to see if she would be willing to let them place a Ghost Bike memorial at the corner of Boston Post Road and Neck Road, she hesitated.
She is when she was run over by a truck at that corner, while biking home from work.
After flatlining twice following the accident, and being revived, and then going through a series of extremely painful and arduous operations to repair and reconstruct the parts of her body that were demolished, Colleen is not yet able to work.
She has been dedicating what spare time and energy she has to raising money for the organizations that helped save her life and raising awareness about bike safety.
She wondered what it would be like to visit the scene of the accident again and look at the spot where it all happened. She did not know if she was ready for that.
And then she says yes
And then, as she so often does when she thinks that something good might come out of an action, she said yes.
And so about a dozen people gathered 9 a.m. Sunday at the corner of Neck Road and Boston Post Road for a Ghost Bike ceremony, one of hundreds around the world intended to memorialize those who have been killed or hit while riding, the Ghost Bike website says:
Ghost Bikes are small and somber memorials for bicyclists who are killed or hit on the street. A bicycle is painted all white and locked to a street sign near the crash site, accompanied by a small plaque. They serve as reminders of the tragedy that took place on an otherwise anonymous street corner, and as quiet statements in support of cyclists' right to safe travel.
Lindsay Cummings, of the Madison Ambulance Association, who drove the ambulance that October day, safe and fast enough to get to Yale-New Haven Hospital so that Colleen could be revived twice when she flatlined, was there at the ceremony. So was Amanda Bernier from Madison Ambulance Association, who not only helped administer life-saving medical support, but also held her hand over Colleen's heart to comfort her en route to the hospital. They were one of several emergency medical responders from , and the all-volunteer who were among the team of medical experts, on the scene and at Yale-New Haven hospital, who helped save Colleen that October day.
Two heroes and their inspiration
On Sunday, Colleen gave Lindsay a long hug, and then another to Amanda. Colleen told Lindsay and Amanda that they, along with the other emergency responders, were her heroes.
"It's so good to see her here, able to do this," Lindsay said. "She is our inspiration."
"She is an inspiration, and courageous," Amanda said. "She is the definition of the word."
"And you are my life savers," Colleen responded. They talked quietly just before the ceremony as Colleen slipped out of her cute short skirt and t-shirt to reveal her biking outfit underneath. The black bike top and shorts proclaim Colleen's identity as a member of an elite group of bikers who have finished 600-mile marathon rides and triathlons, which she has. The outfit also reveals deep and profound scars, which are a testimony to Colleen's status as the survivor she is.
Well-prepared emergency responders
When Lindsay and Amanda were asked whether they thought Colleen would make it that day of the accident, they looked puzzled at the question. "That's not how we think of our patients," Amanda said, shaking her head gently and smiling. Rather, she and Lindsay said, they just think about what it's going to take to deliver their patients safely to the next set of life-saving hands at the hospital.
Amanda says the incident was memorable for a variety of reasons, including that it was her first major trauma incident after going through training. While that may be the case, she was no beginner when it came to dealing with emergencies and people in major distress. Prior to joining Madison Ambulance Association, both she and Lindsay were volunteers with the North Madison Volunteer Fire Co., which is made up of "neighbors helping neighbors."
"I asked her to put her hand on my heart," Colleen said of Amanda. That was something her husband often did to comfort her, Colleen said. Colleen says that simple act, along with the expert medical care she received, and the "bat out of hell" driving by Lindsay, helped save her life.
Quiet contemplation, tears, incredulity
Colleen and her husband, Sean Alexander, spent a moment before the Ghost Bike ceremony Sunday in quiet contemplation next to the yellow marks on the road that still mark where Colleen laid after the accident. Then, after Ken and Tony wheeled the sparkling white Ghost Bike over to a telephone pole near the accident site, she helped affix signs that explained what happened.
Several of the participants said they hope the memorial will serve as a reminder to people so they will drive safely in the presence of cyclists and as a reminder to take that complicated corner slowly so as to not cause another accident. Many bikers flew by on their bikes Sunday morning during the ceremony, including some without helmets. Several of the participants expressed amazement at that basic lack of protection on the part of so many adults. Colleen's helmet helped save her life and
Several participants also expressed incredulity that, other than the yellow marks on the road, nothing much appears to have changed at the intersection since the accident. The town's traffic commission requested a review by the state of the intersection, since Boston Post Road is a state road, and
A memorial for one who died, but in this case revived
There still is no line on the road that would tell drivers where exactly to stop on Neck Road before turning on to Boston Post Road, and the stop sign is so far back that anyone stopping by the sign itself would have an obstructed view going both ways. That neither the town nor state has taken the simple step of clarifying what motorists are supposed to do at the intersection was a source of anger for some of those attending the ceremony, a group that included Colleen's family, friends, neighbors, and other supporters.
And the primary focus of the ceremony was on memorializing those who have died in bike accidents and those who have been hit or run over, and died, but like Colleen, were revived to bike again some day. Colleen—known for her steadfast positive attitude, her frequent smile and cheerful demeanor—said she is angry about the accident and its aftermath. She added, quoting Noble Laureate Jody Williams, that "anger without action is irrelevant."
"May none of these deaths be in vain," Colleen said at the conclusion of the ceremony, wiping tears from her eyes. Many of those with her at the ceremony did the same.