Even now, more than two years later, the terrible events of May 29, 2021, remain a painful blur for Laura Cutler.
It was on that day that her father, Carl Cutler, a retired investment banker from the Philadelphia area, was hit by a distracted driver while biking near his home in Vero Beach Florida.
Tragically, the danger faced by cyclists like Carl has only escalated. Recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveals a significant increase in bicyclist fatalities. In 2021, there were 966 bicyclist deaths, marking the highest number since 1975. This alarming trend underscores the critical need for awareness and action against distracted driving.
Particularly in Florida, where Carl’s accident occurred, the situation is dire. Florida has seen a dramatic increase in cyclist fatalities and now has one of the highest per capita rates of bicyclist deaths in the country.
For a deeper understanding of this issue and practical advice on how pedestrians and cyclists can stay safe, please refer to our related article, ‘Staying Safe in Increasingly Dangerous Streets: Navigating as a Pedestrian and Cyclist in 2024.‘
The family got word from the police, who would at first only say Cutler had been injured in a traffic accident. But a short time later, in another phone call, authorities confirmed Cutler had died at the scene.
“I was numb. I was in a state of shock,” said his daughter, Laura Cutler. “You hear about this all of the time, but you never think it could happen to you.”
The details of her father’s passing would come out later. Cutler had gone for his morning bike ride on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. He was riding in the designated bike lane of a local highway near the Pelican Island Wildlife Sanctuary with front and back lights flashing.
It was a sunny day with clear visibility.
The only witness to the accident, a driver in the car following the vehicle that hit Cutler, said the car suddenly swerved into the bike lane where Cutler was riding.
After a 10-month investigation by the Florida Highway Patrol, the driver, John Rampp, was convicted of careless driving, fined $1,000 and had his license suspended for six months. At the time of the crash, Rampp had a long record of traffic infractions, including tickets for speeding, going through a stop sign, and had twice had his license suspended.
According to the police, Rampp had been traveling at 50 miles per hour at the time of the crash.
The loss of her father inspired Laura Cutler to work to highlight the dangers of distracted driving and urge people to keep their focus on the road. Toward that end, Cutler ran in the Philadelphia half marathon on Nov. 18 to raise money for Enddd.org. Founded by Joel Feldman and Dianne Anderson, Enddd.org sponsors programs nationally aimed at pointing out the risks of distracted driving and urging drivers to develop better habits when they are behind the wheel.
“I’d heard about the work that Joel and Dianne do, so I reached out to them,” Laura said.
Following the race, Laura said she felt “proud and accomplished. It made me realize that I can accomplish what I put my mind to while also feeling grateful for the opportunity to be able to run that far for such a great cause.”
“Although I completed my race with pride and a deep sense of purpose, it served as a starting point for a bigger initiative against distracted driving,” Laura added. “It gave me the confidence and determination to do more. Since the race I’ve been buzzing with ideas on how to…expand the cause because there is so much more I can be doing to prevent this tragedy from happening to other families. I’m committed to ongoing efforts and finding new ways to contribute and raise awareness.”
Cutler, a 23-year-old Colgate University graduate who works in the pharmaceutical industry marketing oncology medicines, also took inspiration from her mother. She suffered a heart attack at the age of 37 and endured a difficult recovery, but then helped found a women’s health initiative at the suburban Philadelphia hospital where she had been treated.
Laura’s dad, who had retired from his job as managing partner of the Brown Brothers Harriman investment office in Philadelphia, was a beloved figure in the Vero Beach area, and his loss was keenly felt. More than 100 of his friends and neighbors came to his Vero Beach house to offer assistance and condolences to the family.
In addition to Laura, he had two sons, Bradford Cutler, 28 and Ryan Cutler, 26. Many of his neighbors and friends joined to pressure the Florida State Attorney’s office to dig more deeply into the crash, after authorities disclosed that Rampp likely would face no jail time for causing the accident.
According to the federal Department of Transportation, some 3,000 people are killed annually in distracted driving accidents, a number that has barely budged in recent years. Laura believes that if drivers understood the emotional devastation that follows a highway fatality caused by distracted driving, it would go a long way toward correcting people’s dangerous driving practices.
“The more people you can impact the less likely it is to happen again,” Laura said. “There are so many people who have been impacted by these tragedies. It doesn’t touch just one family. It affects an entire community. “
Joel Feldman and Dianne Anderson can speak to that harsh reality. Their daughter Casey, a journalism major at Fordham University, was run over in a crosswalk July 17, 2009, in Ocean City New Jersey by a delivery truck driver who had taken his eyes off the road as he apparently reached for his GPS. In an effort to get people to change their driving habits and save lives, Joel and Dianne established the Casey Feldman Foundation to fund the campaign and Enddd.org to promote and highlight the initiative.
Feldman travels the country speaking to groups about ways to stop distracted driving. To date, he estimates that he’s spoken to more than 200,000 people.
Laura says coming to grips with the loss of her father has been a painful process. The two had always been close, and she recalls fondly that he’d made it a point to leave the office promptly at 5 p.m. every day to be home for dinner with his family, and that he was a dedicated coach of his children’s sports teams.
“He was the best dad,” she said. “He coached each of our sports teams and never missed a dinner at home. He was in a stressful job, but he always made his kids his first priority.”
Her dad was a perpetual optimist, Laura said, and that served him well in his career.
“He would say ‘Hi’ to everyone on the street; he was friendly and that is how he became so successful, he just charmed his clients,” Cutler said. “He always had a positive spin.”
Laura acknowledges that like many drivers, she wasn’t keenly focused on the potential harm of distracted driving before her father was killed.
But her mindset has changed.
“I see people just being fearless behind the wheel,” she said. “Texting and driving, I’ve seen a driver feeding a child in the backseat. They seem to be utterly fearless, and I had the same attitude before this happened to my dad. It will never happen to me. If they drove like the families who have been impacted by this, (distracted driving) would be much less of a problem.
“The hardest part is gaining the attention of those who haven’t been close to loss,” Laura said. “We live in a world where people are moving too fast and we only stop to reflect once something interrupts our day to day life. Prior to my dads passing, I didn’t take the time to give back but maybe that’s the problem. We wait until something unforeseen forces us to pause and be grateful for what we have because you never know when it’ll be gone.”