Driver kills grandfather who biked to work every day

Thomas Bickel, a 59-year-old grandfather from Oconto, took extra precautions while biking to work after a hit-and-run driver crashed into him in September.

But another alleged lapse behind the wheel by someone else killed him just after sunrise Friday morning, according to a report released by the Oconto County Sheriff’s Department.

Thomas Bickel holds his grandson, Jaxon.

The driver of a Dodge Durango hit Bickel from behind, while both were westbound a few miles from Lena and Bickel’s employer, Graef Trucking. The report lists inattentive driving as a factor in Bickel’s death.

“It’s frustrating,” said Bickel’s daughter, Betty. “The guy delivered papers. He would have seen my dad every day. He rode his bike to work every day. It’s frustrating that they didn’t see him.”

Neighbors and friends who posted condolences to Bickel’s online obituary noted that they saw him biking, even on the coldest days of the year.

According to the report, Bickel was one foot left of the fog line on the roadway, which provided no paved shoulder. The speed limit at the crash site, about 1,000 feet west of Fairview Road is 55 mph, and the driver reportedly crested a hill before striking Bickel.

Betty Bickel told the Wisconsin Bike Fed that she and other family members bought her father extra lights and reflective gear after his crash in September. In that instance, he was riding home from work at night with flashing lights and a reflective vest.

“The paramedics told him last time he was doing everything right,” Bickel said.

The crash, the ruptured spleen and the cracked ribs didn’t stop him from making his daily commute by bike.

Bickel enjoyed his 30-minute ride to work, because his job kept him sitting in a truck all day, his daughter said. He liked the exercise.

He also liked to grow vegetables in his garden, and work with his four-year-old grandson, Jaxon Weigelt.

“He was a family guy. He loved tractors, and he loved to hunt rabbits. He never missed a day of work, and everybody knew him,” Betty Bickel said.

Instances of people on bicycles being hit from behind only represent about 10 percent of all motor vehicle crashes involving cyclists. It’s a particularly deadly type of crash, however, especially on main thoroughfares in urban areas and rural roads with higher posted speed limits.

In 2015, 12 of the 15 people killed while riding bikes in Wisconsin were hit from behind.

The Bike Fed has joined with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to reduce these crashes, through the Share and Be Aware Program.

A key message: People behind the wheel can avoid these fatal crashes by slowing down and driving with the watchful mindset that a person on a bike or a person on foot could be in front of them at any time. State law provides people on bicycles with the same rights to the road as people in motor vehicles, and Bickel was exercising that right, while exercising on his way to work.

His death remains under investigation and no citations have been issued.

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