Five bicyclists traverse the slope of a sleek silver wall, gleaming in the evening sun. Stenciled through the wall are words encouraging remembrance, honor and healing.
The Chain Gain Memorial sculpture was unveiled Thursday, June 7, 2018, as a hundred or more cyclists lined up for the annual community ride honoring those who died and survived the Kalamazoo Biking Tragedy two years ago.
The memorial is the dream and creation of the survivors, the victims’ families and others whose lives were changed by the tragedy. Those behind its creation said the memorial sculpture now offers a place to remember, to mourn and to heal. It was erected along North Westnedge, near the Maple Hill Bike Trail and across from Markin Glen Park.
“We knew we wanted it to be in the memory of the five friends we lost, but also include all the bikers in the crash” said Paul Runnells, who was one of the survivors of the crash that killed five and critically injured four others.
“This is not flashy, this is not loud, this is not angry,” said Paul Gobbles, also one of the four survivors. “But it's an important part of our story that can’t be forgotten."
On June 7, 2018, nine friends who loved to bicycle, including Runnels and Gobble, took off on a ride from Kalamazoo to Plainwell and back. Five would never return. Near a slight rise on North Westnedge Avenue, a driver in a pickup truck approached from behind. The driver, Charles Pickett, was under the influence of a number of drugs he’d taken earlier in the day, and he was traveling fast.
Witnesses described a gruesome scene after the pickup plowed down the cyclists. Pickett could barely speak. He's in jail now, convicted in May of five counts of second-degree murder and four counts of causing serious bodily harm. He'll be sentenced next week and is expected to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Tony Nelson, Debbie Bradley, Melissa Fevig-Hughes, Suzanne Sippel and Larry Paulik died.
Runnels, Gobble, Sheila Jeske and Jennifer Johnson were seriously injured, but survived.
“We want it here for the families of those who were killed, the families of those who survived," Runnels said. "We want it here for the bicycling community and the community at large who really helped us get through this. We hope that people who drive by may see it, and say, 'Gosh, what is that?' And just raise consciousness for people in general to bicycles being on the road and needing to share the space.”
Organizers expected more than 100 riders would participate in the event Thursday. Many of the cyclists riding in the annual memorial said their lives changed forever on that spot two years ago.
Gobble and his physical therapist Sean Murphy will be riding all 25 miles together. Two sons are riding for their fathers, Tony Nelson and Larry Paulik.
Gobble remembers only planning to go on a bike ride with the group two years ago. He has no memory of the crash, nor the actual ride. Along with broken bones, he suffered a serious head injury.
All of the survivors still suffer through the physical pain.
Proceeds from the memorial ride event will be used to maintain the memorial sculpture.
“Any sculpture like this is about processing grief both through the community who sees it and everyone involved,” said Joshua Diedrich, the artist who created the memorial.
“The bikes on the hillside roughly line up with where the accident actually took place, or just prior to where the accident took place,” Diedrich said. “I feel like it's a good place for people to both be vividly reminded of what happened, but also to take a moment and rest and be in a peaceful spot and contemplate the events.”