Content Warning: This blog post describes and contains images of a motor vehicle/cyclist incident.
When an SUV collides with a cyclist, the result is never pretty. Such was the case on May 13th, 2021 when Candler resident Bill Miller was going for his daily bike ride and was broadsided by a Ford Explorer. The driver, 67-year-old Paul Bork, who witnesses say was speeding, made no effort to avoid him despite the absence of any other traffic on the straightaway section of road. To make matters worse, Bork didn’t even make an effort to help Bill. Instead, witnesses saw Bork stop briefly to survey the damage before fleeing the scene.
Bill’s solo bike rides into the lower Hominy Valley were more than a daily exercise routine—they were critical to his mental well-being. The 70-year-old regularly rode 25- to 45-mile loops to clear his mind, connect with his neighbors, and experience his beloved ecosystem.
Biltmore Lake, the community Bill calls home, is a suburban neighborhood located just outside the Asheville city limits in Buncombe County. With its beautiful lake, extensive trail system, and slow speed limit, the community is cherished for its pedestrian friendliness. Joggers, cyclists, children, and the elderly regularly enjoy the mountain enclave by navigating its well-kept roads and trails.
But the Biltmore Lake area is growing faster than infrastructure can keep pace with, which has led to increased congestion and reckless driving. To emphasize this point, the road where Bill was hit was a straightaway with a crosswalk. In fact, the driver was merely a quarter mile from a stop sign when he hit Bill at a speed fast enough to shatter his femur and destroy his bike.
The aftermath of the “accident”
Following the “accident,” Bill was placed in an ambulance and rushed to the hospital trauma bay. In shock and excruciating pain, he underwent multiple x-rays and CT scans. According to his wife, Susan, a Nurse Practitioner, “I saw his x-ray and felt sick. His left femur was in pieces. He had to have a procedure in the ER where holes were bored into his femur and metal rods were inserted for traction. He had to spend the night that way and in the morning underwent extensive surgery to reassemble his femur with rods, plates, and screws. He also had a fractured rib and later developed deep vein thrombosis in his lower left leg.”
One of the most difficult things for Bill following the accident was telling his 9-month-pregnant daughter he wouldn’t be able to help her and her husband with their new baby. Bill and his daughter are very close, and he and Susan had planned on being extremely involved with their new grandson.
Despite Bill’s remarkable health, recovering from the accident hasn’t been easy. Bill hasn’t been able to climb the multiple flights of stairs in their house, so Susan set up a bedroom and makeshift shower on the first floor for him to use while he heals. He is going to physical therapy twice a week, and can now use a cane and walker to get around his house. Susan says it’s devastating seeing her husband, who was so healthy and strong just a month ago, now barely able to walk on his own. Normally this time of year, Bill would be enjoying group bike rides, volunteering with bike races and environmental organizations, hiking with friends, and swimming in nearby rivers; now he is unable to tend to his own garden.
After a lifetime of biking, Bill says he probably won’t ride his bike on public roads again. The physical and psychological toll the accident took is too overwhelming, and he’s concerned he could be hit again. He laments the fact that he doesn’t even feel safe biking to the nearby grocery store just a mile from his house because that stretch of Sandhill Road doesn’t have a bike lane, shoulder, or sidewalk. “It’s a shame that bike and pedestrian infrastructure in Buncombe County is so limited. The City of Asheville has made some great improvements in infrastructure over the years, but we’re still far from being a bikeable community.”
Making western North Carolina more bike-friendly
One factor that may have been at play in Bill’s accident is the design speed of the road on which he was hit. Design speed refers to the speed a road is designed to be traveled, and is often much higher than its posted speed. For example, Reeves Coves Road, the street on which Bill was hit, has a speed limit of 35 mph, but as a main artery through Biltmore Lake and nearby Reeves Cove, it may have been designed for vehicles to travel much faster. Motorists will often follow a road’s design speed over its posted speed.
As Bill’s story shows, it’s important that states are designing roads that are safe for multiple modes of travel. This may include installing roundabouts, stop signs, pedestrian crosswalks, or other traffic-calming features, which can also help reduce a road’s design speed.
Another way to increase bike and pedestrian safety is through transportation education. Many drivers don’t understand that a road’s “right of way” applies to all its users, and that all people—regardless of their mode of transportation—have a right to the safe and predictable use of public roads.
Road rage is a serious problem
With more cars on the road than ever, especially around his community, Bill says he thinks drivers are more irritable and on edge. Incidences of road rage have continued to increase over the past several decades, with a staggering 66% of all traffic fatalities caused by aggressive driving. Unfortunately, this road rage is also afflicted on bikers: Bill says he’s had drivers force him off the road and yell at him, and his friend had a bottle thrown at her while biking in Biltmore Lake. “People typically don’t get angry with one another when they’re at a busy grocery store, but when they have to share the road with a biker, they sure do,” he says. “I think there’s a lot of assumptions and privilege driving this aggression.”
Investing in active transportation
As people increasingly migrate to western North Carolina, it’s critical we make the investment into active transportation. Instead of widening roads by adding more vehicle lanes (which actually increases congestion, as seen in Atlanta in Los Angeles), our cities must install more bike lanes, shoulders, crosswalks, stop signs, and roundabouts. As Bill can attest, peoples’ lives literally depend on it.
“The City of Asheville has made some great improvements in infrastructure over the years, but we’re far from being a bikeable community.” – Bill Miller
Justice for Bill
Bill wants Paul Bork to be held accountable for his actions, and he says he thinks his community feels the same way. Thankfully, Bill wasn’t killed, but he did suffer extreme pain, immobility, and medical bills—not to mention the terror and grief his family has had to endure. The egregious harm Bork has done to Bill and his family is only made worse by the fact that as Bill’s neighbor, Bork may be able to continue to drive through the Biltmore Lake and Candler communities where children play, walk, and bike to school, and residents recreate.
Insurance for cyclists
Like many motorists who commit hit and runs, Paul Bork is most likely an underinsured driver, therefore Bill may face an uphill battle getting him to help pay his medical bills. Bill wants cyclists to know that you can help defend yourself against uninsured and underinsured motorists by purchasing uninsured motorist/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage. This insurance provides compensation when the at-fault driver’s coverage isn’t enough to pay for all the damages you incur, or when the at-fault driver is uninsured. Most auto insurance comes with UM/UIM; however, UM/UIM typically only covers up to $30,000 in damages, so you should consider adding additional UM/UIM coverage. Check with your auto insurance provider to make sure your plan includes adequate UM/UIM coverage.*
*Unfortunately, health care insurers, by law, can and will demand reimbursement of their medical payments from any liability settlement, so maximizing your auto coverage is important. BikeLaw attorney Ann Groninger has written a very informative article on this subject, which Bill and Susan recommend to cyclists.
Asheville on Bikes supports Bill
Asheville on Bikes wants motorists to know that they will be held accountable for harming or intimidating cyclists in Buncombe County. Paul Bork has been charged with Felony Hit and Run—Serious Injury, and our organization is working with the local District Attorney to make sure that he is convicted and receives the maximum penalty available. Driving is a privilege, not a right, and when that privilege is abused, that right should be revoked. We hope Bill’s story makes people think twice about how they operate their motor vehicles.
Words of thanks from Bill:
“Susan and I are so very grateful for all the help and support we have received. From the people at the scene who stayed at my side and protected me, to those who came forward as witnesses, went to my home to get my wife, and to all the dear friends and neighbors who cooked meals, sent cards, visited, mowed, moved furniture and more, and kept my spirits up by staying in touch: we are forever in your debt. Thank you doesn’t begin to cover it.”