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Watertown Mayor Jeffrey Graham defends cyclist comments following Sunday crash

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Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham said Tuesday he doesn’t regret saying last week that it’s not safe for bicyclists to be on the road in wintry weather and they should be arrested.

“I know I’m going to get in trouble for this: People who are on bicycles out on streets like this — they should be arrested,” the mayor said last week on his “Hotline” radio program. “I mean, that is a clear and present danger that is being created, and if you’re going to sit there and make the argument that texting while driving is reckless, doing that is reckless and it creates a danger for them and the motorists.”

His remarks have created a bit of an uproar in the cycling community, with the New York Bicycling Coalition responding on its Facebook page. A Washington, D.C., blog picked up the story as well.

But the mayor’s opinion angered Damien M. LaBarge, 35, of 514 Gotham St., who was riding his 2011 Specialized Hardrock bicycle along State Street on Sunday night when it was struck by a truck. The $700 bike ended up a mangled mess.

After suffering serious injuries, Mr. LaBarge remains in good condition at Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, following four hours of surgery Tuesday.

Mr. LaBarge is forced to ride a bike because he suffers from seizures from injuries he suffered in an accident 25 years ago, he said from his hospital room Tuesday afternoon.

“I was not happy about the comments when I heard about them,” he said. “Some people have to use a bike for transportation.”

Mr. LaBarge, a carrier for the Watertown Daily Times, had just picked up a few grocery items for a friend from the Great American before Sunday’s accident happened less than a block away.

When he was hit, Mr. LaBarge was thrown about 10 feet and landed in a snowbank. He initially was taken to Samaritan Medical Center and then transferred to the Syracuse hospital, where he is being treated for a broken pelvis and hip. He will be out of work for months, he said.

The driver, Jason W. Carr, 41, of 27866 Middle Road, Watertown, did not stop, but returned to the scene after noticing his 2008 Dodge pickup truck was damaged. He drove back to find the ambulance and firetruck still there, Watertown Police Detective Sgt. Joseph R. Donoghue said.

Mr. Carr ended up being cited only with “failure to use due care” as he allegedly caused an injury to a bicyclist.

Mr. LaBarge never saw the pickup. He just got a glimpse of its headlights, got hit from behind and then “the driver just took off.”

Subsequently, the state bike coalition criticized the mayor for suggesting people who do not own a vehicle and ride their bikes in the winter are criminals.

On Monday, Angie Schmitt, a Cleveland, Ohio-based blogger, wrote a story for Streetsblog Network, an Internet publication that covers traffic and city life.

On Tuesday morning, Mr. Graham still said he did not regret his comments, although he then went on to expand his views to people riding in wheelchairs and pushing baby strollers in city streets during the winter.

“It’s not a question of taking their rights away and I’m picking on them,” he said. “It’s absolutely about good judgment.”

He also mentioned a Canton man who was killed the evening of Dec. 23 while riding to work, after which the motorist fled. Richard F. Morrow, 69, of Ellis Road, died when he was struck by a car on County Route 27 in the village. The driver, Daniel W. Lester, 28, of 8 Heuvelton St., Rensselaer Falls, was charged with second-degree vehicular manslaughter, leaving the scene of a fatal motor vehicle accident, driving while intoxicated and several other felonies.

Detective Donoghue, who knows Mr. LaBarge, said he feels bad for what happened to him. He’s also worried about what will happen to him while he recovers.

“He has a heart of gold,” the detective said, calling him “a hard worker” and a guy who likes to help others.

While he doesn’t agree with the mayor, Detective Donoghue said bicyclists “should not be in the road.” Generally, nothing makes winter bicycling illegal, but he expressed his concerns.

It’s one thing if it’s a bright, sunny day; another if the weather is treacherous, he said. And bikers should always wear bright-colored clothing, he said.

Ice- and snow-covered roads can make it too hazardous — either a vehicle or the bike can easily veer and collide with one another, he said, noting cyclists also can cause traffic accidents involving two oncoming vehicles.

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