Ligonier Township ride, ‘ghost bike,’ honor cycle crash victim and stress road safety | TribLIVE.com
Westmoreland

Ligonier Township ride, ‘ghost bike,’ honor cycle crash victim and stress road safety

Jeff Himler
1831598_web1_gtr-BikeMemorial1-102119
Jeff Himler | Tribune-Review
Participants turn onto Route 30 in Ligonier Township on the first leg of a bike ride held in memory of Jason Zollinger.
1831598_web1_gtr-BikeMemorial2-102119
Jeff Himler | Tribune-Review
Tom Kokoska, a founder of the Ligonier Valley Cycling Club, displays a “ghost bike” Sunday before it is installed as a memorial.
1831598_web1_gtr-BikeMemorial3-102119
Jeff Himler | Tribune-Review
Participants line up as they prepare to depart from the Laurel Mountain Ski Resort lodge on an Oct. 20, 2019, bike ride held in Ligonier Township in memory of Jason Zollinger, a Hempfield cyclist who was killed Oct. 1, 2019, when his bike was struck by a car nearby on Route 30.
1831598_web1_gtr-Zollingerbikeride-101419
Submitted Submitted
Jason Zollinger

A “ghost bike” placed in front of a tree on Route 30 in Ligonier Township will stand as a temporary memorial to a Hempfield man killed Oct. 1 when his bicycle was struck by a car at the site as he was riding up Laurel Mountain.

Friends and family of the late Jason Zollinger, 38, and fellow biking enthusiasts hope the memorial that will face the highway’s eastbound lane for one month also will drive home the need for motorists to be watchful as they share the road with bicyclists.

Donated by friend Neil Amina of New Derry, the painted white bicycle was installed at the midpoint of a memorial bike ride held Sunday afternoon to honor Zollinger.

About 150 people completed the 7-mile route from Laurel Mountain Ski Resort Lodge to Route 30 and back.

“My hope is that it will raise awareness on the part of cyclists, but particularly on the part of motorists, that they need to be attentive and they need to be courteous in respecting bicyclists on the road,” said George Leiner of Greensburg, who helped organize Sunday’s event. “I’ve been riding (bicycles) for 50 years, and every decade it has become more dangerous.

“Drivers have become less attentive and less courteous.”

A philosophy instructor at Saint Vincent College in Unity, Leiner completed many 30-mile bike rides with Zollinger in the Chestnut and Laurel ridges of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

When Leiner received a message Oct. 1 from a fellow biking enthusiast sharing the news that a cyclist had been killed in a crash on Laurel Mountain, he recalled, “We all had a very bad feeling. There aren’t that many people who do that climb. We were pretty sure it was going to be somebody we knew.”

Authorities haven’t released the name of the driver who struck Zollinger, as Laurel Valley police note they are continuing to gather information in their investigation.

Beyond the temporary bike memorial, Leiner said organizers of Sunday’s ride are hoping to convince officials to add signage along the stretch of Route 30 that will remind motorists to “share the road” and that, under state law, they must stay at a distance of at least 4 feet when overtaking a bicycle.

According to PennDOT statistics, reported crashes in the state that involved a bicycle and resulted in a fatality or suspected serious injury totaled 116 last year, up from 70 in 2015. Over the past decade, there have been 16 such crashes in Westmoreland County and 58 in Allegheny County.

Jim Logan of Shaler, a board member of the Western Pennsylvania Wheelmen bike club, noted that Sunday’s event was the third such ride he’s participated in this year to honor cyclists who have perished on roadways in the Pittsburgh region.

Counting Zollinger’s crash, there have been 10 such regional fatalities in the past five years, Logan said, noting, “nine out of 10 of them have been on state routes.”

He noted something as simple as keeping berms clear of debris can make a big difference. Otherwise, cyclists can be forced out closer to or into the same travel lanes with motor vehicles — where they must rely on drivers following share-the-road rules.

Donations at the event and through a social media campaign raised more than $6,000 to support local human services organization Achieva in helping people with developmental challenges obtain employment.

Zollinger’s partner, Danielle Shoup, of Ligonier said he had hoped to provide such employment at a cafe the couple talked about opening.

“In addition to biking, another of his passions was roasting his own coffee,” Shoup said of the genesis for the cafe proposal. “We were looking in Ligonier and the surrounding area for a location. We had spoke about how we might incorporate jobs for people with disabilities and autism.”

People can continue to donate through Tuesday by visiting a Facebook page for the fundraising campaign.

The ride up Route 30 to the summit of Laurel Mountain was a familiar one that Zollinger tried to complete at least once a week, Shoup said. “When you’re a cyclist, you know there are dangers involved,” she said. “Jason was always about safety.

“He was really an awesome dude. There was no one else like him.”

A number of those who took part in the bike ride have a connection to Saint Vincent College, where Zollinger, a project manager for Bank of New York Mellon, earned his accounting degree.

A scholarship fund is being established to assist students at the college in Zollinger’s name. Call 724-454-1800 for more information about that effort.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter .

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.