Ghost bike installation on North River Road, Alva
Sunday’s, March 21, 2020, placement of a ghost bike was to honor Debra Purcaro, killed in the crash, and Cristin Madden, seriously hurt by the hit-and-run driver.
Michael Braun, Fort Myers News-Press
Ghost bikes are stark, white reminders of a fallen bicyclist that are usually discreetly placed memorials.
Sunday’s placement of one such monument to a rider who lost her life went against that trend not only because of the connection the fallen rider had with the local bicycling community but because of the feeling of utter loss her death brought.
“She was always there with an encouraging word,” Megan Fasig, a board member for the Caloosa Riders Bicycling Club who helped organize the ghost bike installation Sunday. She was also a friend of Debra Purcaro, the woman who was killed March 14 along North River Road in Alva.
That gorgeous Sunday morning, a perfect biking day, Purcaro and her riding pal Cristin Madden were enjoying a quiet ride down the rural and narrow North River Road.
That just a scant week later her family, friends and fellow bicyclists gathered to place the ghost bike at the spot where a hit-and-run driver claimed her life and left Madden with severe injuries brought tears, a smattering of laughs, quiet groups in contemplative conversation and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness.
The driver and vehicle that caused the placement remains at large with the Florida Highway Patrol investigation ongoing.
For Fasig, Purcaro’s death is one of those things that bicyclists can never move away from.
“As a cyclist, I have to take personal responsibility for safety,” she said. “Just because we legally share the road doesn’t mean everybody sees it that way. You don’t have a right to be on the road is how some see it.”
Mike Martin, also a Caloosa club board member, agreed: “All we can do is to be as visible as possible.”
The group of 50 or so who honored Purcaro and Madden shared stories, sometimes funny, always poignant.
One woman, recounting Purcaro’s mischievous character, generated hearty laughs when she told of a kayaking trip that she and Purcaro took that ended up with the two of them flashing boats as they passed them on the river.
Another woman, Nancy McKarrick of Bonita Springs, simply said: “Deb, man, I love you and I will always love you.”
At one point, when Purcaro’s youngest daughter Allison Simon with her mother’s infant granddaughter Sunny in tow, knelt next to the memorial and spoke through tears, the gathering became so quiet you could hear cows mooing in the distance.
“Sunny loves you mom,” Simon said as she cried. “I’m glad you’re doing what you love.”
The Fort Lauderdale resident said there were no words to cope with the loss of her mother.
“There’s love and peace and we have a great time reflecting on everything she’s given us in life,” she said. “Obviously, we’re very angry, we want answers. But, mostly, we’re trying to keep it in our hearts that she was at peace doing what she loved when she left us.”
Simon said the gathering of people to honor her mom and Madden gave her hope.
“This is a silver lining to such a tragedy, for sure,” she said. “These people are going to have my back for many, many years.”
Still others strode to the microphone provided and talked about similar tragedies.
Paul Kim of Atlanta put his life on hold in February and came to Cape Coral after his mother, Juliet Kim, was hit while bicycling. The 73-year-old suffered a spinal injury and has been left paralyzed.
“She’s still in the hospital,” Kim said. “She was on her morning bike ride, something she loved to do. She had just got a new bike three weeks before that.”
A driver hit her from behind and then flipped his car, Kim said.
Megan Greer of Naples, a friend and riding partner of Madden’s, said the injured rider wanted to attend but had just come home from the hospital Friday after having wrist surgery and was in no shape to be out. Her injuries include a fractured vertebrae and a bisected artery in her neck. She expects a long, difficult rehabilitation.
“Cristin wanted to be here, “Greer told the group gathered. “She’s so grateful for the (biking) family that’s here.”
Greer added that the loss of Purcaro can’t be added up. “She was such an amazing, great light.”
The SWFL Critical Mass bicyclists group’s next monthly bike ride, April 2, will be dedicated to Purcaro and Madden.
There will also be the annual Ride of Silence on May 19, at a Southwest Florida location yet to be named, Fasig said, that will honor Purcaro and Madden.
As traffic edged around the gathering, directed by club members, Fasig pretty much summed up the feelings:
“This is a hard time for all of us. And we will all deal with it differently. And look out for one another.”
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