For the family, their arrival has brought relief – and pain. Relief because they no longer have to live out of a suitcase. Pain because these boxes contain so many memories of Sarah Langenkamp, who was killed in August when she was hit by a pickup truck driver while riding her bike from an open house at her sons’ elementary school.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Dan Langenkamp said as he went through his wife’s belongings. With so many objects calling out to her, he said, “They say, ‘I need her.’ They say: ‘I need the owner of my things so that I can be useful and she is not here.’ ”
These boxes don’t just contain yoga pants; they include she yoga pants. They don’t just include boots; they include she Boots.
“It’s cold right now and she’s got this nice pair of winter boots that are just blank,” he said. “I had to put them in the back of the closet.”
On Saturday, drivers cruising through Bethesda, Md. and DC might have seen a sea of cyclists cruising the streets together. They followed Dan Langenkamp on the last route his wife took – and then they drove further than she could. Together they drove from their children’s elementary school to the scene of the accident on River Road. Then they drove on and rode until they reached the Capitol Reflecting Pool. There they called on federal lawmakers and officials to allocate resources and take action that would help make roads safer across the country.
More than 1,500 people were expected to attend the Ride for Your Life event, sponsored by Trek, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, Families for Safe Streets and others. Among those attending were people who loved Sarah Langenkamp, including her children, and people who had never met her but recognized the need for action in her death. She was a US diplomat who fled Ukraine for safety, only to die on a Washington-area street.
A US diplomat left Ukraine only to die on a Washington-area street
“The deadly road design is a political decision,” said Colin Browne of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. “The tools to make streets safer for everyone — people who walk, roll, bike, take the bus, drive a car — exist, and are being used in cities around the world.”
Browne described Saturday’s ride as a way to protest “a simple, grim reality: Hundreds of people die and thousands sustain life-changing injuries on our region’s roads every year, not because we don’t know how to stop it, but because we don’t know how to prevent it. Many of our elected officials and agency leaders are still afraid of making driving and parking a little more uncomfortable.”
In a previous column I told you about Sarah Langenkamp. I have also told you in other columns about other pedestrians and cyclists who have been fatally injured on roads in the area: 32-year-old Brett Badin, 5-year-old Allison Hart, 70-year-old Michael Hawkins Randall, 64-year-old Charles Jackson, 65-year-old Michael Gordon and 40-year-old Shawn O’Donnell. These last four deaths occurred in the same month.
At 5, she was killed riding her bike at a crosswalk. Your legacy should be safer roads.
Behind each of those names is a family unexpectedly plunged into grief and activists who have risen again to demand that officials do more to prevent future deaths.
There were other drives and gatherings in the region aimed at raising awareness of the need for road safety improvements. But most of them have urged local officials to take action. At Saturday’s event, participants called on Congress to fund safe cycling and walking infrastructure and on the Department of Transportation to implement measures to improve truck safety. One measure would require large trucks to add structural protections to the lower front and sides to prevent cars, bikes or pedestrians from sliding underneath.
Langenkamp said his wife could have survived if that measure had been taken. According to police, the truck that hit them was traveling in the same direction as they were when it turned right into a parking lot.
“These deaths are really violent,” Langenkamp said. “We shouldn’t cover that up. Nobody should be killed like that on our streets. People say she was “hit by a truck” or “been hit by a truck.” No, she was crushed by a truck and killed instantly on the side of the road.”
His voice trembled as he said that. He knows that’s not a gentle picture, but what she experienced wasn’t gentle, and he believes people need to recognize that in order to fully understand what traffic victims and their families are experiencing.
On Saturday, several people gave speeches and some high-ranking officials sent statements that were read aloud. One of them came from US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. In it, he recognized the importance of the event on the eve of World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims.
“Each year, on the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, we mourn those who lost their lives in traffic accidents,” the statement said. “But grief is not enough. We must all work to end this crisis on our roads and create a safer transportation system so more families don’t have to share this grief.”
After his wife’s death, Langenkamp received notes from senators and other US officials. A letter came from President Biden.
“Sarah will always be remembered for her unwavering commitment to our nation,” Biden’s letter said. “She was an extraordinary diplomat dedicated to fulfilling America’s promises to its people and to the world. We are especially grateful to your family for your and Sarah’s courageous service in Ukraine.”
In a letter, Attorney General Merrick Garland spoke of working with Sarah, describing her as representing “America’s best who work tirelessly and at significant personal risk and sacrifice on behalf of our country to promote peace, democracy, prosperity and the rule of law.”
Dan Langenkamp worked with his wife at the State Department but has been on leave since her death. He has instead spent his days trying to make sure she didn’t die in vain and learning how to raise two children alone. Her sons were 8 and 10 years old and had just enrolled in a new school when the crash happened.
“It was really tough,” said Langenkamp. “It was super emotional going to Target the other day to buy some extra winter gear. We used to go to Target together, and all of a sudden I was this unhappy dad doing it alone. I was trying to pick pants that fit and Sarah knew that stuff was cold.”
When he talks about unpacking these boxes, he vacillates between describing it as part of “untangling our lives” and “untangling our lives.”
“Sometimes,” he said, “I walk home from my sons’ school and I’m like, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to do this on my own.’ ”