It’s been nearly two years since that terrible day. It’s still fresh.
Kathy Roth’s eyes still well with emotion when she talks of her late husband’s death on Aug. 9, 2006. Jeff Roth was cycling on West Lamar Alexander Parkway, a designated bike route, when a truck driven by Tommy Carroll of Friendsville struck him from behind on the road’s shoulder, ending the life of the father of three.
Carroll, who would plead guilty to aggravated vehicular homicide, was sentenced earlier this month to eight years in prison.
Jeff’s death left Kathy and the couple’s children searching for answers. There were no easy ones. To ease the pain of the loss, Kathy Roth decided to make sure Jeff did not die in vain.
The Jeff Roth Cycling Foundation, for which Kathy serves as president, was founded to promote cycling as a viable and safe form of transportation through advocacy and education. This past weekend, Cycology Bicycles staged the second annual Jeff Roth Memorial Criterium through the streets of downtown Maryville to help raise funds for the foundation.
Kathy, who’s moved back to her native Ohio with her children, was in attendance.
“I think the cycling community has rallied around the foundation and made it stronger,” she said, “and I think it will continue to do so.”
It’s not difficult for area cyclists to want to get involved, said Appalachian Therapy Center founder and president Joe Black, who serves on the foundation’s board. Roth’s death struck a deep cord for Black.
Cycling was an obvious connection, with Black a long-time, avid rider. There was also a shared professional life, with Roth a physical therapist employed at Shannondale retirement community in Maryville.
Roth and he never met, Black said, something he thinks on often.
“Knowing (Kathy) and knowing about him now, I really missed out on not knowing him,” Black said.
The strength Kathy Roth has displayed since the accident, he said, is compelling.
“She wants her children to know, ‘Hey, your dad meant something in this life,’” Black said.
Smoky Mountain Wheelman president Keith Webb serves the foundation as its education director. News of Roth’s death swept through the area cycling within hours after it happened. Three days later, on the afternoon Roth was laid to rest, area cycling clubs organized a “Ride in Silence” in Roth’s honor.
The number of cyclist who turned out that day was overwhelming, Webb said. The sight of Kathy and her children standing by the roadside to say, “Thank you,” was powerful.
“That was very emotional,” Webb said.
The Jeff Roth Cycling Foundation spurred state lawmakers, led by state representative Doug Overbey, to enact a law — the Jeff Roth/Brian Brown Bicycle Protection Act of 2007 — whereby motorist must come no closer than 3 feet when passing a cycling. Few heed the law, Black said, partly because many are unaware of its existence.
“That’s the amazing part,” he said. “People just don’t know.”
That’s one of the things the foundation, in conjunction with other cycling groups from around the state, is hoping to change, Cycology owner Tim Patterson said.
“That’s the foundation’s main goal,” he said, “to get people to understand the bicycle is an intelligent option for our transportation system.”
Jeff Roth, who bought his bikes at Cycology, was a “real quiet, real laid back” husband and father, Patterson said. It’s one of the reasons he got involved.
“Just being around cycling and commuting, and Jeff was one of our customers, that was the main thing for me,” Patterson said. “I just wanted to keep it (Roth’s death) in the public eye.”
The foundation is also working with the state Dept. of Safety and other groups on a campaign to create “Share the Road” specialty license plates.
The most impressive thing about the foundation is its president, Webb said.
“Kathy has said to me many times the foundation is not about her and it’s not about her kids,” he said. “It’s about the cycling community that rallied around her and her family after the tragedy.”
One of foundation’s goals is to aid families who experience similar tragedies, Webb said. a point driven home in painful fashion just this past weekend. Knoxville cyclist Jeff Hicks was seriously injured during a race in Dayton last weekend and remains hospitalized. The Roth foundation was quick to contact the family and offer support.
“For the foundation to be there and be in place and be there for the Hicks family was very pleasing to Kathy,” Webb said.
Kathy said she plans to return to Maryville one day. For now, the girls and her need time.
“I’m just praying about what we’re supposed to do and getting the kids around their family,” she said.
For more information on the foundation, visit www.jeffrothcyclingfoundation.org.