A year ago, Maureen Billings didn’t know the Ride of Silence existed and about the powerful message it can convey without saying a word.
Toledo’s Ride of Silence — a simple, quiet way to increase awareness for drivers to share the road with bicyclists — will begin at 7 p.m. today at the University of Toledo.
Mrs. Billings will speak prior to the memorial ride about the impact the death of her son, Matthew Billings, an avid cyclist, has had on her family.
Mr. Billings, 33, formerly of Whitehouse, was killed Sept. 17 while riding with eight other cyclists near Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Brecksville, Ohio.
A pickup turning left at an intersection struck Mr. Billings and four other cyclists. He died at the scene, and James Lambert, 52, of Cuyahoga Falls, died several days later.
“This has been so hard for us to accept. Your life up to that point stops, and you are given a new life that is not the same without him,” Mrs. Billings said.
Keith Webb, a bicycling advocate and Ride of Silence organizer, said the annual ride has two components: honoring cyclists who have been killed or injured while riding on streets and roads, and drawing attention for drivers to be aware and respectful of cyclists on the road.
“The ride aims to raise awareness of motorists, police, and city officials that cyclists have a legal right to the public roadways,” he said.
Mrs. Billings said her son was a stickler when it came to obeying traffic laws, and he never went for a ride without first putting on a helmet.
“I never worried about Matt riding. He was always safe. Nobody rode their bike more safely than Matt. However, there was nothing he could do to avoid the accident,” she said.
Mrs. Billings and her daughter, Katie Emerson, will take part in their first Ride of Silence in honor of Mr. Billings. Both women have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. As a teenager, Mr. Billings took up bicycling to raise money for Bike to the Bay.
Mr. Billings and his wife moved from the Toledo area to North Canton about three years ago. He died about two months before their daughter’s first birthday.
The 8-mile ride will begin and end on the University of Toledo campus in Lot 1 North, near Bancroft Street and North Towerview Boulevard. Cyclists will start at 7 p.m., but organizers are asking cyclists to join about 20 minutes prior for instructions and remarks from speakers about bicycling victims.
Police will escort the cyclists through Ottawa Hills and West Toledo at a pace that is not intended to exceed 12 miles per hour. Riders are asked to refrain from talking during the ride. The event is free.
Victims of past fatal accidents and incidents will be honored along the route — David Larabee, a Ottawa Hills High School teacher who was killed in 2005, and Dr. Stephen Snedden, who died in 2006 after he was struck and killed on River Road in Perrysburg Township by a drunken driver.
A white “ghost bike” will be placed in Ottawa Park along Kenwood Boulevard to pay homage to Robert Brundage, who died of head injuries in 2009 after being attacked by a teenage boy intent on stealing his bike in the Old West End.
Tributes also will be made to Emilee Gagnon, 21, of Massachusetts. She was killed in 2013 while riding on State Rt. 163 in Ottawa County on a cross-country tour to raise money for multiple sclerosis research. Harvey Bell III, 17, who died in 2014 while riding on McCord Road, also will be honored.
The Toledo ride will be one of at least 370 memorial rides happening today around the globe, according to the Ride of Silence organization. The ride takes place every year on the third Wednesday in May, which is National Bike Month.
Last year, more than 200 bicyclists rode in the event.
The memorial rides started in Dallas in 2003 and have since spread to at least 20 countries and 48 states in the United States.
Simultaneous events are to be held in the following Ohio cities: Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, Defiance, Galion, Hudson, Lancaster, Warren, University Heights, Troy, and Oberlin.
Contact Mark Reiter at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6199.
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.