JHHS teacher hit by car, drivers reminded to give cyclists space

JACKSON, WY — Jackson Hole High School teacher Jim “Jimbo” Rooks is recovering after being hit by a car while riding his bike last week.

According to the Teton County Sheriff’s Office, Rooks was hit by a motor vehicle while riding his bike on the Elk Refuge Road. He underwent surgery at St. John’s Medical Center to fuse several vertebrae together.

The driver is an 86-year-old man with addresses in Jackson and Florida. He was allegedly trying to pass Rooks on the left, but “misjudged the distance” and struck him, said TSCO Sgt. Todd Stanyon. The driver has been cited for “overtaking on the left at an unsafe distance,” which is a traffic violation. The law says a driver overtaking and passing a cyclist on the left should maintain “at least three feet of separation between the right side of the vehicle [including mirrors] and the bicycle.”

There were no substances involved, and the driver wasn’t driving at “excessive speeds. “We just chalk it up to driver inattention,” Stanyon said.

Rooks is a social studies teacher at Jackson Hole High School. He also coaches Jackson’s chapter of “We The People,” a civic education program designed to foster well-educated and active citizenship.

For members of the cycling community, the accident doesn’t come as a huge surprise. The news sparked fury among local cyclists on social media, but a number of commenters noted that it’s just the way of the world these days. Cyclist Jaclyn “JJ” Jaroch said she is “disappointed and scared,” and perhaps surprised by the location, but not surprised that a fellow cyclist was injured by a car. She had an uncomfortably close encounter herself just two weeks ago when a truck towing a trailer tried to pass her on a blind curve, into oncoming traffic, and had to swerve back into her lane.

It’s one of too many close encounters Jaroch says she’s had in her cycling career — so many, in fact, that she bought a rear camera for her bike so that “if I do get hit or killed, my family or the police can use it to figure out who ran me over.”

It’s bleak, Jaroch said, but it’s the reality she’s living. “I’m overly cautious,” she said. “I practically ride with my head on a swivel.”

Jaroch considers herself an unofficial expert on cycling laws and etiquette — she reads them, and re-reads them, and reads them again, every time she has a close call. She wants to make sure she’s in the right. And the law, as she understands it, gives her “as much legal right to every inch of the road space as a vehicle.”

That doesn’t mean there isn’t animosity between drivers and cyclists. Once, a driver passed Jaroch so close she “could have pet his dog.” She gave him a thumbs down, he gave her the finger.

She chalks it up to what she calls “car culture.” People in their cars are in a hurry. They’re trying to get from point A to point B, and “whatever’s at point B is very important.” In Jackson, you introduce peak-season traffic into the equation, and it’s a “perfect storm,” she said.

She also blames fear. She suspects that many drivers who don’t like cyclists have had close encounters with them — and it was scary. “Instead of being more cautious, they get angry. But anger is a secondary emotion [to fear],” Jaroch said.

Overall, Jaroch said she wishes drivers would slow down a bit and pay closer attention to the road. She also wants drivers to humanize cyclists a little more.

“I would implore locals to understand that the people on their bikes are community members… that’s their neighbor, or, in this case, their kid’s teacher.”

“No one is a perfect driver,” Jaroch added. “But no text, phone call, job, cup of coffee, or anything else is more important than someone’s life. That’s what you’re playing with when you’re not paying attention.”

In this case, Stanyon said TSCO is sending a request to the Wyoming Department of Motor Vehicles do have the driver’s license re-tested. Otherwise, the case is closed, and the driver will have to appear in court for the traffic citation. Stanyon said he wants everybody to “be extremely cautious when passing cyclists. Give them a safe distance.”

Rooks is still recovering in the hospital with the support of friends and family. His friends have made a Meal Train to help his family as he recovers.

 

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