The release of Asheville firefighter Charles Alexander Diez, charged with shooting cyclist Alan Simons July 26, has the local cycling community "outraged," according to one leader. Facing charges of attempted first-degree murder, Diez was let out on bond.
Around midday on July 26, police say, Diez angrily confronted Simons, who was riding along Tunnel Road with his wife and 3-year-old son, about having the child in a bike seat behind him. Diez, still in his car, then allegedly drew a .38-caliber handgun and "fired one round toward the victim's head, striking his helmet," according to the incident report.
The bullet tore through Simons' helmet, less than an inch from the left side of his head.
Witnesses reported Diez's license-tag number and, about 25 minutes later, Buncombe County sheriff's deputies arrested him at his Swannanoa home.
An Asheville Fire Department employee since 1992, Diez has been placed on paid leave, according to interim Chief Scott Burnette.
"That's according to the city's guidelines for an incident like this," Burnette told Xpress, declining to comment further on the matter. "We're letting the police handle this."
Diez's bond was originally set at $500,000. But after a judge reduced it to $200,000, he posted bond and was released July 28. He has no prior criminal record and, according to police, was sober at the time of the incident.
At press time, Simons hadn't responded to requests for comment.
Since the incident, said Asheville on Bikes founder Mike Sule, "My e-mail has been flooded. There's a general sense of anger over this. We're simply outraged."
"To just shoot a cyclist in the head like that, that's beyond road rage. I think there's clearly some mental illness involved," Sule told Xpress. "The thing that really worries me is that there's this belief that somehow cyclists shouldn't be on the road."
While confrontations between cyclists and motorists aren't "the sort of thing I worry about every time I get on a bike," he noted, they do occur. Motorists angered by cyclists, said Sule, will use "bully mass" to force them off the road, scream obscenities or throw projectiles "like trash or glass bottles." Such behavior makes the road less safe, he emphasized, given the damage a vehicle can do to someone riding a bike.
"We have occasional reports of civil disturbances between cyclists and motorists," police spokesperson Melissa Williams wrote in an e-mail to Xpress, adding, "This level of confrontation is rare."
For the cycling community, said Sule, the next step — and the question he keeps hearing from cyclists around town — is, "How are we going to rally around this family and express outrage in a way that advances the cycling movement?" and makes the streets safer. That issue, he stressed, is critical as more and more cyclists use local roads, which Asheville on Bikes encourages. The city's Comprehensive Bike Plan projects an eventual 181 miles of bike lanes.
"A lot of experienced cyclists know tactics for avoiding or getting out of these confrontations," said Sule. "But not everyone starting out now, who might be riding their bike to home or work, has that pool of experience. My fear is that there's an increased risk of fatalities as more new riders get on the road."