Working with Kershaw County Law Enforcement to Improve Road Safety

Working with Kershaw County Law Enforcement to Improve Road Safety

On September 9, 2018, I had a driver tell me she wanted to kill me for riding my bike on the road. What seemed to be a lovely, old couple coming from church were adamant that I had no right to ride my bike on the same road as them, and they straight up told me they’d kill me. That was the day I decided to invest in Cycliq cameras for my bike in hope that I could eventually go to the Sheriff’s Office and have video proof of the harassment I’ve experienced on our roads.

As you can imagine, I spend a lot of time training on my bike and running on the roads near my house in Lugoff, SC. Lugoff is a small town of roughly 8,000 people, but the town and neighboring community of Elgin, SC has seen a lot of growth in the past 2-3 years. Our proximity to the state capital Columbia, low taxes, and good schools have led to a boom in home construction and a lot more traffic on our roads.

After a winter of riding mostly indoors, my husband and I got back out on the road, with our cameras rolling, in early April 2019. It only took a week or two to have footage of multiple close passes and aggressive driving in Kershaw County. You can see this footage on my YouTube channel.

At this point, I decided to call the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office to find out if I could show the footage to a deputy and get their opinion on what they can do as law enforcement, and what we could do as cyclists, to prevent injury or death on our roads. I called the KCSO first on April 18, 2019. The receptionist didn’t know what to do with my call and gave me two options: put through to dispatch to have a deputy sent to me (not appropriate since we weren’t in an emergency situation), or leave a message with the captain of the traffic enforcement division. I ended up leaving a voicemail but never received a return call. I went into the office in person on Monday, April 22nd and spoke to the officer on duty, who didn’t know what to do with me either. He gave me the phone number of a deputy in the traffic division, and I left a voicemail with him, too. Two days later, I called the deputy again and he picked up. He said he’d passed my request on to his lieutenant who would call me back. Days passed with no returned calls. I left another voicemail with the deputy. I went back to the Sheriff’s Office in person the following week, and was able to speak to the only officer in the office, a training officer. He was kind enough to watch some of the videos (no other police officer had taken that step, yet), but because traffic wasn’t his department, there was nothing more he could do but give me the email addresses of the captain of traffic enforcement (who already had a voicemail from me that he hadn’t returned) and a lieutenant.

I proceeded to email the captain and lieutenant on April 26th, 28th, May 1st, and 8th without any response. In my May 8th email, I asked if I needed to get a bunch of cyclists with signs outside of the Sheriff’s Office to get a response. The captain phoned me back within 30 minutes of me sending that email. After he accused me of threatening him, I talked him down and we had a productive conversation about things we could do – educating the public about cycling rights/laws via their Facebook page, coming up with a way to report these videos of close passes. Our call was pleasant, and the captain indicated that we could do something on their Facebook page. I followed up on our call with an email on May 9th with resources and suggestions for Facebook posts.

Not surprisingly based on my previous dealings with the Sheriff’s Office, I saw no Facebook posts over the next few weeks. I followed up with a voicemail to the captain since that seemed to be his preferred method of communication and received no response. I followed up with another email on May 31st, which continued to be ignored.

In the meantime, it was clear to me that my voice wasn’t important or loud enough for the Sheriff’s Office to take note. It was time to unite the runners, walkers, and cyclists in Kershaw County so our collective voice could be heard by the powers that be. I started a Facebook group for us to share rides and runs, our favorite training routes, and anything regarding outdoor activities in our county. It’s growing slowly. Please click this link and request to join, if it’s of interest to you.

The silence from my local Sheriff’s Office was frustrating. At this point, a response is all I’m looking for. On June 8th, my husband and I had an altercation with a motorist who just about drove his truck into us. The driver jumped out of the truck like he was going to swing at my husband, but his attitude changed completely when I said we had him on video. I sent this video to my email contacts at KCSO, with the Sheriff now copied in, on June 10th. Still no response.

Also happening at the beginning of June, our neighbors were complaining on the Nextdoor App about a kid riding a motorcycle dangerously through the neighborhood. Folks had called KCSO and visited in person with no action from the department. Finally, someone in our neighborhood, who had a personal connection to the Sheriff, contacted the Sheriff directly and a deputy was sent out to address the situation. I then reached out to this neighbor to see if he could get me in touch with the Sheriff since I, too, was receiving zero response from the department for close to 2 months. Within 24 hours of contacting my connected neighbor, I received a call from Sheriff Boan on June 17th.

Sheriff Boan also accused me of threatening him and his department (is this the M.O. of the police department?) by sending a frustrated email saying that I would post my story and their lack of response on social media. I had to talk him down three times on that issue, but I stuck with it. While I understand the Sheriff’s Department is busy, not responding to emails, phone calls, and in person visits for 2 months is unacceptable in my mind. I didn’t want it to take someone being injured or killed for KCSO to wake up to an issue right in front of their face. The Sheriff was open to coming up with some sort of education initiative using their Facebook page. At the close of the call, I asked when I could expect follow up from his department with next steps since I didn’t want to continue to send unanswered emails and phone calls. The Sheriff suggested a meeting on June 24th, only a week away, which would include himself, traffic enforcement, and Highway Patrol. I asked if I could bring some cyclists and runners with me, too.

So, that gave me one week to pull together people and a presentation to make law enforcement understand what we’re facing. I pulled data from Strava Heat Maps to show frequented routes, data from my own incidents on the road to show that they’re happening in the same places, and formulated how to address the issue with the help of law enforcement.

On June 20th Wendy Thompson, a 47-year-old Lugoff resident, was hit and killed while walking on the shoulder right outside of my neighborhood. The driver thought he hit a deer and left the scene. He was caught with his disabled vehicle on the side of I-20 after the accident. See the news story here. The exact thing I didn’t want to happen, happened. This woman didn’t deserve to die for walking on our roads. We don’t have any sidewalks here so walkers and runners are forced to use the road or shoulder. From the news account, she was using the shoulder properly, walking on the left side of the road, facing traffic.

Our meeting on June 24th went very well. The Sheriff attended and brought along his chief deputy, the head of Highway Patrol for our county, and the captain of the traffic division. I was pleased as punch that there were 8 runners and cyclists in attendance, too. Here is a link to the presentation I gave. The police officers were very receptive and open to what we had to say, and they came up with suggestions that we hadn’t thought of.

Overall, we left the meeting very encouraged that our local law enforcement officers are here to support us, and will help us educate the public regarding vulnerable road users. Here are the key points from the meeting:

  1. KCSO will set up an email address where we can send videos, images, or a report of a close pass or harassment of cyclists, pedestrians, and runners. That email address is Highway Patrol asked us to say the tag number and a description of the driver out loud since those details can be hard to pick up on video. This addresses the issue we’ve previously had of only being able to report incidents via 911 (not appropriate for non-emergency situations) or leaving a voicemail that’s unlikely to be returned.
  2. KCSO and Highway Patrol say they are willing to look into any footage or encounters we report, and if it warrants it, they will go by the home where the car is registered and give them a verbal warning. If word gets out to the public that law enforcement may come to your house, I think that would deter some people from driving like idiots.
  3. Sheriff Boan said they could also leave a flyer on a car if they go to a home and no one is there.
  4. We will do a public awareness campaign using their Facebook Page as a platform since it has over 16k followers. I have drafted up a plan and located resources like images and videos for them to use. This was sent to Sheriff Boan on July 3rd. I would like to kick off the campaign week commencing July 8th as the Tour de France is on TV and cycling tends to be more in the public’s consciousness when that’s showing.
  5. The Sheriff is also open to photo opportunities with cyclists, runners, pedestrians, and his department as a public show of support for us. We can develop some good PR opportunities with this and get something in the local papers. Maybe we can host an event and have a group of cyclists ride Elgin >> Lugoff >> Camden with police support to raise awareness.
  6. It is painfully clear that our streets have not been designed with pedestrians, runners, and cyclists in mind. That is an infrastructure issue, which would be under SCDOT. We need to be in discussions with city and county officials to ensure pedestrians and cyclists are accounted for when designing new roads and streets in Kershaw County. Our current infrastructure in inadequate.

While I left our meeting highly encouraged, I know the responsibility now falls on me (and the running and cycling community) to follow up with KCSO to make sure these initiatives come to fruition. Our law enforcement departments are stretched in terms of time and resources. I am willing and able to do a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to content creation and community organization. I cannot, however, enforce the law or reach as many people as they do. Stay tuned with updates to see if we can make Kershaw County a safer place for all of its citizens.