The alleged July 26 shooting of cyclist Alan Simons by Asheville firefighter Charles Alexander Diez has the local cycling community “outraged,” according to one leader. Diez is out on bond, facing charges of attempted first degree murder.
Around mid-day on July 26, according to police, Diez followed Simons, who was riding along Tunnel Road with his wife and 3-year-old child, after confronting Simons angrily about having his child in a bike seat behind him. Parked in the travel lane, Diez allegedly drew a .38-caliber handgun and, the incident report reads, “fired one round toward the victim’s head, striking his helmet.”
The shot tore through the lining of Simons’ helmet, coming less than an inch from hitting him in the left side of his head.
Witnesses reported Diez’s license tag number and, about 25 minutes later, Buncombe sheriff’s deputies later arrested Diez at his Swannanoa home.
Diez, who has been employed at the Asheville Fire Department since 1992, 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 he posted bond and was released Tuesday after a judge reduced it to $200,000. He has no prior criminal record and, according to police, sober at the time of the incident.
Simons has not yet responded to requests for comment.
Since the incident, Asheville on Bikes founder Mike Sule said, “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,” they do occur, Sule says, noting that motorists angered by cyclists will use “bully mass” to force them off the road, scream vulgarity or throw projectiles “like trash or glass bottles.” All of which make the road less safe, he notes, 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 to Xpress in an e-mail. “This level of confrontation is rare.”
The next step for the cycling community, Sule said, and the question he keeps hearing from cyclists around the city, 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 is more essential, he said, since more and more cyclists are coming onto the road – something Asheville on Bikes encourages – and Asheville’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,” Sule said. “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.”
— David Forbes, staff writer