DC Woman Killed In Collission With Security Vehicle

Security at the corner of 12th and New York  <br/> (cc photo by Matthew Yglesias)

Security at the corner of 12th and New York (cc photo by Matthew Yglesias)

A 68-year-old DC woman was killed last night as her bicycle collided with a 5-ton military truck providing security for the attendees of the Nuclear Security Summit.  ABC7:

“Our assignment was to block the intersection as motorcade came through,” stated Major General Errol Schwartz.

D.C. National Guard moved in to block 12th Street at New York Avenue for one of countless motorcades to criss-cross the city when a woman on her bike and a 5-ton military truck collided. In that horrific instant, the bicyclist was killed.


The D.C. National Guard says the beige military truck was moving forward into position at the intersection and says there was a ground guide, a guardsmen on foot telling pedestrians to stay out of the trucks’ path. “We will look at the video to make sure the pedestrian didn’t run into the truck as it was moving.”


Officials won’t say which motorcade was involved in the motorcade or anything about the person driving the military truck.

Like Matt Yglesias, I’m sad this woman was killed and am skeptical of the ridiculous levels of security we provide dignitaries at the expense of ordinary citizens. I’m not sure the convenience of Very Important People is worth the inconvenience and risk posed to the taxpayers.  And this isn’t an isolated incident.  See the Jim Treacher incident for another recent example.

I’d stop short of this, however, absent more information:

When I took driver’s ed, I was taught that when you’re moving your car in reverse you’re supposed to take responsibility to make sure you aren’t accidentally running anyone over and killing them. Obviously people not currently encased inside a military vehicle have good reason to try to avoid situating themselves in the path of an uncoming multi-ton vehicle, but ultimate responsibility generally seems to fall on the person piloting the gigantic deadly object. I think there are perhaps some lessons here for the question of the prospects of actually conducting military operations that protect civilian life. The fact that people conducting a security operation on American soil can’t even react to accidentally killing an old lady by saying “we’re sorry we killed that woman” rather than lets “make sure the pedestrian didn’t run into the truck as it was moving” doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence.

Presuming the DC National Guard spokesman is telling the truth — and I have no reason to think otherwise — it sounds like the proper procedures were used.  Not only was the driver likely going quite slowly but he had a ground guide outside to monitor his backing up.   That was standard military procedure when I was in twenty years ago. As an officer, I was usually the “assistant driver” (a military term for “passenger,” connoting that the guy next to the driver has a responsibility to keep an eye out, too) and performed ground guide duties when we were backing up or driving in areas where there was a high risk of hitting pedestrians (such as pulling into a bivouac area during darkness).   It’s a remarkable extra precaution that drivers of ordinary vehicles almost never take.

We just don’t know how the victim here managed to get hit despite these precautions.   But bicyclists in DC frequently — if not usually — ignore the rules of the road.  And, with a gigantic vehicle with a high degree of inertia, there’s not much room for error.

I, too, would have preferred a more sympathetic statement from the DC National Guard spokesman about the tragic loss of life here.  Even if the victim was at fault here, her death is a sad accident.  But bureaucratic organizations naturally go into CYA mode in times like this.

UPDATE:  The victim has a name.

The cyclist, Constance Holden, was a journalist and artist who had worked at the magazine Science since 1970. She wrote articles on genetics and human behavior, and her oil paintings often hung on the walls of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, according to a news release from the organization.

“She was a unique personality and a wonderful reporter, and a great colleague,” Colin Norman, the Science news editor, said in the release. “She will be deeply missed.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Brian Knapp says:

    Not only was the driver likely going quite slowly but he had a ground guide outside to monitor his backing up. That was standard military procedure when I was in twenty years ago.

    This is standard procedure for when I drive a U-haul.

    This is a sad accident and she sounds like she was an extraordinary woman. But, in my experience, there is some responsibility on both sides.

  2. TangoMan says:

    My god, I nearly had a heart attack when I read your update. I knew Constance. What a way to find out.

  3. JKB says:

    Unfortunately, they can’t even say they are sorry she was killed lest some idiot lawyer twist it into an admission of culpability.

    It’s always amazed me how people on small, light, maneuverable vehicles cut so close to the massive inertia types. Basically, taking out any chance the operator of the ‘maximum tonnage’ can’t do anything to avert disaster if the little guy messes up. Such as the windsurfers I saw cutting in front of ships coming in the Golden Gate. It was all fun, until one wiped out in front of a tanker well inside their sight line. He was able to get out of the way before the screws cut him into bite-sized shark chunks.

  4. Steve Plunk says:

    As a long time bicyclist I find the best policy is to always assume you are invisible to auto drivers. That’s doubly so for motorhomes, minivans, and SUVs. Older folks and moms are easily distracted.

    Working around trucks I learned to just stay away whenever possible. Proximity is dangerous so avoid it.

    In a battle between bikes and cars we know who wins.