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