Thursday, July 27, 2017

Remembering Eloy Sandoval-Mateoz

By Angela Connolly -- Three years ago, on July 26, 2014, at approximately 8:30PM, 21-year-old Rahul A. Patel was driving a 2003 Honda Accord at a high rate of speed on westbound Del. 273 (Ogletown Road) and was approaching Ruthar Drive when he lost control of his car. The car traveled off the roadway onto the center median, rotated counter-clockwise and continued into the intersection, where the passenger side hit Eloy Sandoval-Mateoz, 44, of Newark, who was northbound through the intersection on a bicycle and was trying to cross Del. 273. Mr. Sandoval-Mateoz sustained multiple traumatic injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene. Mr. Patel was later convicted of driving at a high speed, while under the influence of drugs/alcohol. A handful of bicycling Advocates attended the sentencing for Mr Patel in November, 2015, where we witnessed the Honorable Judge Medinilla order that he be imprisoned be for 18 months without possibility of parole for killing the cyclist. Although additional conditions were set at the time of sentencing, we did not feel that the punishment was fair, as it was revealed at time of sentencing that Mr Patel had prior convictions for speeding and aggressive driving. Sadly, presumably because impoverished family members in Mexico could not attend the proceedings, none of Mr Sandoval-Mateoz's loved ones were there, and so the Judge never had to look into the eyes of the people that he left behind, to see the anguish there. And although we members of the bicycling community were there and would have welcomed the chance to speak for Mr. Sandoval-Mateoz, we were not allowed to. So Her Honor never heard how the loss of this fellow cyclist had affected us, the cycling community, his fellow riders. Mr Sean Lugg, Prosecutor, did a wonderful job representing Mr Sandoval-Mateoz, and during his testimony, he described a much-loved, gentle family man, who was here working hard, and sending his earnings back home to his family in Mexico. A family that now lives not only without their beloved family member, but also with the financial devastation caused by the loss of the earnings that were sent to them.

Eloy Sandoval-Mateoz had the sad distinction of being Delaware's first bicycle fatality of the year 2014. He was born on December 2, 1969. He was 44 years old at the time of his death. There were no funeral services for him here, and his body was sent home to his family in Mexico. Before he was killed, he was what some call an Invisible Cyclist, one of many who dot our landscape, traveling along the busy corridors that take them to their jobs, on their errands, and everywhere they need to go, because they do not use cars. He was from Mexico, and may have been undocumented. I wondered about where he was traveling to, or from, on that terrible night. Because of the hour of the crash, I thought that he was perhaps on his way home, possibly from a job in Newark. Maybe he was weary, and just wanted to get home, to rest. Maybe he was on his way to a night shift, or to meet some friends. We will never know. His body lay at the Coroner's Office for several days before he was even identified, because those closest  to him feared to claim him, as they too were probably undocumented. This set off a sad chain of events, where Eloy's name would soon fade from the news stories. We later learned that he was a husband, a Father, and a Grandfather. Although I did not know Eloy personally, from the description of him, I believe that I had passed him in my travels on my bicycle, on that same road and nearby my home in Ogletown. We would wave at each other. He appeared to use his bike for his primary means of transportation. After this tragedy, I never saw him again.

I am glad that there is a beautiful Ghost Bike at the spot where he tragically died, and I think of him each and every time I pass the site. Some bicycling Advocate friends and I had planned to put up one for him, but someone beat us to it, someone anonymous, and for that I am very grateful. It is beautifully done, in the tradition of the Ghost Bike, and shows that others know that he too was a human being, with family, friends, and a wider community that cared about him. I hope that the motorists who pass it know what it means, and that they think about how their actions behind the wheel can injure and kill others. I hope that every cyclist that passes it, no matter how they dress, or what they ride, will feel empowered, and know that there is a wider community that cares for them, and watches out for them. Because Eloy Sandoval-Mateoz wasn't ever invisible - some just chose not to see him.

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