Traffic Safety

Cyclist Killed in NW DC Crash Had Just Turned 40, Climbed Kilimanjaro

The family of Shawn O'Donnell raised questions about whether safety regulations are being enforced in the District, including a requirement that requires that heavy-duty vehicles registered in D.C. have guards that prevent someone from being pulled beneath a truck

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A cyclist died after she was hit by a large commercial truck in Northwest D.C. early Wednesday, police say. 

Shawn O’Donnell, of Northwest, D.C., was struck by a construction truck at 21st and I streets NW, near George Washington University’s campus. She was 40 and was headed to work at the State Department, her heartbroken mother and sister said.

“She lives now in my heart. There’s no other place for her to be because this truck driver took her," the victim's mother, Mary O’Donnell, said as she wept.

"Her life was stolen from her," she continued.

In less than a week, two cyclists have been killed in Northwest D.C. News4's Walter Morris reports.

O’Donnell, a native of the San Francisco Bay area and a graduate of the University of California, Berkley, was described by her sister, Shannon O'Donnell, as a "bright light... extinguished" by the crash. The victim's sister cried as she said she's pregnant and that her sister had been excited to be an aunt.

The call for help came just after 8 a.m. Witnesses described first responders administering first aid to O'Donnell as she laid beneath the large truck. Investigators with the Metropolitan Police Department’s major crash unit documented the scene. Her belongings and mangled bike remained in the area.

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Shannon O’Donnell said her sister was biking to work as she did each morning when she was hit. She worked as a State Department foreign service officer. Before that, she worked as an immigration services officer and a refugee officer under the Department of Homeland Security.

While the investigation is in its initial stages, the District Department of Transportation said new traffic signals at the intersection were activated a day earlier and were flashing on Wednesday morning. 

It wasn’t immediately clear if the driver in the crash could face charges. 

Shannon O'Donnell added that her sister had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in June, completing a bucket list item to mark her 40th birthday, which she celebrated just two weeks ago, on July 7. She said her sister had so much life left to live.

In a statement posted on Twitter, the company Ernest Maier said: "One of our trucks was involved in an accident this morning with a bicyclist while on delivery in DC. The driver remained on the scene. Ernest Maier & the driver are fully cooperating with The Metropolitan Police Dept. Our thoughts are with the friends & family of the bicyclist."

This marks the third time this month that a cyclist has been killed in D.C. Michael Gordon died Friday after he was hit early Friday at Rhode Island Avenue and Seventh Street NW, in the Shaw area, as News4 reported. He was 65. 

“You all have a bad record of cyclists getting either killed or seriously injured in D.C.," Mary O’Donnell said.

The O’Donnells raised questions about whether safety regulations are being enforced in the District, including a requirement that requires that heavy-duty vehicles registered in D.C. have guards that prevent someone from being pulled beneath a truck. 

“If there had been side guards, my daughter would still be alive. She would not have been sucked up and mutilated under that truck. It would not have happened. She would still be alive,” Mary O’Donnell said. 

A spokesperson for the company that owns the truck said the vehicle is registered in Maryland and not required to have the guards. While the truck did have a D.C. tag, the tag is a hauling permit, not a registration.

Jeremiah Lowery of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association said he sees a pattern in the rising number of traffic deaths in the past six years, since Mayor Muriel Bowser implemented her Vision Zero program to completely eliminate traffic deaths by 2024. 

“Since Vision Zero actually became stated policy of the D.C. government, traffic fatalities have only gone up,” he said. “It’s been nerve-wracking for folks who bike in the city and folks who walk in the city, that they could be next.” 

At least 20 people have died traffic deaths so far this year in D.C. Lowery blamed government’s pace in creating safer conditions. When Bowser launched Vision Zero in 2015, there were 26 traffic deaths. There were 40 in all of 2021. 

Bowser's office did not respond to an inquiry.

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