Daniel Langenkamp is still searching for words when his sons, Oliver and Axel, age 9 and 11, ask why their mother was killed by a truck while riding her bike home from back-to-school day at their elementary school just over a year ago.
“They will ask, ‘why did this happen to our family?’ Almost every night one of them wants to sleep with me because they miss their mom,” Langenkamp said. “You don’t recover from something like this.”
Sarah Langenkamp, 42, was struck and killed by a flatbed truck around 4 p.m. on Aug. 25, 2022 while she and her husband rode home from their children’s elementary school, according to county police. The Bethesda mother who worked as a U.S. diplomat was riding in a bike lane in the 5200 block of River Road at the time.
On Monday, the driver of the truck, Santos Reyes Martinez, pleaded guilty to a traffic offense for causing serious injury or death to a vulnerable individual while operating a motor vehicle and was fined $2,000 and sentenced to 150 hours of community service. Martinez was employed by and driving a truck for Beacon Building Products, a Herndon, Virginia-based roofing supply company with multiple locations in Montgomery County, including Bethesda, according to court documents.
“We were stunned, and very upset,” Langenkamp said. “My son went to bed that night crying, saying ‘I can’t believe that they don’t care more about my mom.’ Even a child can understand that a $2,000 fine and some community service is not enough.”
Martinez’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
When MoCo360 contacted Beacon Building Products, multiple representatives said they were unfamiliar with the case and were unable to connect MoCo360 with a spokesperson who was familiar.
Langenkamp said he believes the court and the police officers involved did their job, but that the laws don’t do enough to protect cyclists and pedestrians and penalize drivers.
“There are stronger penalties that actually exist for people who drive without a valid driver’s license. If you get caught drinking and driving, even if you don’t hurt anybody, you can go to jail. But there’s no jail time for killing a cyclist in a bike lane,” Langenkamp said.
According to the Maryland Department of Transportation, a driver can face a fine of up to $1,000 and up to one year in jail for a first time DUI offense.
And Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy agrees that many of the laws aren’t adequate.
“Our deepest condolences to the family of Sarah Langenkamp for their immeasurable loss,” McCarthy wrote in an email statement to MoCo360. “Current laws in many ways do not give substantial protections to victims struck by vehicles. As legislative liaison for the Maryland State’s Attorneys’ Association, I would welcome any discussion and examine any changes proposed to the legislature. We share concerns about keeping our community members safe on the roads.”
Langenkamp has spent the past year dedicating his time to advocating for safer streets. He said he doesn’t want his wife’s death to be in vain. He’s been working with elected officials to get legislation on the books that would prioritize pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure improvements.
Earlier this year, U.S. Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon Dist. 3) and Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland Dist. 8) introduced HR 1668, the Sarah Debbink Langenkamp Active Transportation Safety Act in March. If passed, the legislation would expand the Highway Safety Infrastructure Improvement Program to include pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. Existing funding could be used by communities to address infrastructure issues in their communities without having to work through bureaucratic red tape. There are 41 co-sponsors from both political parties.
“It will make it much easier for a community to put forward a project that gets approved by the Department of Transportation,” Langenkamp said.
Langenkamp said U.S. Democratic Senators from Maryland Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin will sponsor the Senate version of the bill, and he is hoping a Republican senator will join as a co-sponsor before it is introduced.
While the county’s implementation of bike lanes, including along Old Georgetown Road, has proved to be controversial for slightly increasing commute times for drivers, Langenkamp says a cultural shift is needed for people to understand their importance.
“For decades, our emphasis in our society has been to use your car to go faster and faster. And that’s how we built our streets. We’re in a moment of reckoning right now with the consequences of that,” Langenkamp said. “My feeling is that we need to literally take our feet off the gas and think about what kind of communities we want to have. Do we want them to be safe and pleasant? And if the answer is yes, then we need to make changes.”
So far in 2023, 11 pedestrians and cyclists have been killed and 404 have been seriously injured in collisions, according to county data. In all of 2022, 19 pedestrians and bicyclists were killed and 541 were seriously injured.
Last week, the Montgomery County Council passed the Safe Streets Act, which was signed into law this week and will eliminate right turn on red specific intersections designated by the county’s Department of Transportation (MCDOT), as well as add new traffic control devices to downtown intersections and town center areas.
Broader changes will include requiring the County Executive’s office to create an automated traffic enforcement plan to be implemented by the county, and to require MCDOT to conduct infrastructure reviews after collisions, specifically for those involving students traveling to and from school.
Langenkamp said this legislation is a step in the right direction. He applauded the councilmembers, who all co-sponsored the bill, for their interest in the issue.
“I support any measures that are going to help make streets safer and save lives,” Langenkamp said.
Following Sarah’s death, her husband has raised more than $300,000 through a GoFundMe that is still active. He has given the money to organizations that advocate for safer streets, including the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), the Action Committee for Transit (ACT), Families for Safe Streets (FFSS), and the Safe Trucking Coalition. The money has helped to fund three full-time employees at WABA, ACT and FFSS, Langenkamp said.
“These people are making a real impact because thousands of people gave money to Sarah’s fund,” Langenkamp said.
Langenkamp is also planning on organizing a second advocacy bike ride in November, after a successful inaugural event last year. Cyclists who participate will travel around to the crash sites of cyclists who were killed in the area to pay respects and raise awareness.
WABA is awarding Langenkamp the Heart and Soul Award for his advocacy, and the Safe Trucking Coalition is giving him its annual Citizen Advocacy Award. The work has been all-consuming for Langenkamp. On top of his full-time job at the U.S. State Department and raising his two sons, he is constantly meeting with legislators and elected officials.
“The other night I was on a WABA board member telephone call for two hours missing dinner when I needed to be with my kids. It’s a big burden, frankly. But it’s important, and the boys understand,” Langenkamp said. “And I hope that through my example they understand how important as a citizen it is to be an activist.”
Above all, Langenkamp’s goal is for what happened to Sarah to never happen to another family.
“I hope that when the public hears about these laws, it’s not only about people like Sarah Langenkamp and Enzo Alvarenga and Jake Cassell,” Langenkamp said, referencing other county residents killed in collisions, “but it’s about their families and about future look and feel of our community.”
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