At about 11 a.m. on July 26, 2012, Matt Kohler was riding his bicycle on Highway 80 near Bloomingdale.
A car came up behind him. The driver neglected to pay attention to the road for a split second. That was all it took.
Kohler's bike was hit from behind. He flew into the car's windshield, then up and over and down onto the pavement.
Matt Kohler was dead at age 22.
He left behind his wife of less than two months, Kori Kohler — now a widow in her early 20s.
"Matt meant the world to me and his family and friends, and also the whole community. He was such a huge part of Savannah and Georgia Southern," says Kori.
Outdoorsman, activist, jokester... Matt was known by many and had a real impact.
"He helped restart the TKE fraternity at Georgia Southern after it had gone under," Kori recalls of her husband, due to graduate with an accounting degree from GSU. "He was just such a bright light."
Kohler worked at Home Depot to help put himself through school. In their leisure time, Matt and Kori would often watch the Sand Gnats play.
"He loved Savannah. He was part of the community," says his wife. "This happened in the prime of his life because somebody neglected for one second to watch where they were going. He was so very full of life, and I want everybody to know that in an instant that can all be taken away."
There's no way Kori can bring her husband back. But she is trying to spread the word about safe driving and the need for drivers to share the road with bicyclists.
A recent study by the University of Georgia found that Chatham County was the most dangerous county in the state for car vs. bike incidents & injuries. From 2002-2011, there were seven car vs. bike fatalities in the area. At the top of the list of most dangerous routes, no surprises: Habersham Street, Bull Street, Abercorn.
A very special event this weekend spreads the message of vigilance and memorializes Kori's husband's remarkable life and contribution.
On "Matt's Moon River Cruise," you can take a group bike ride from Ellis Square with a bunch of like-minded folks.
What else is in store other than riding bicycles? Two words: BEER GARDEN.
The ride culminates at one of Matt and Kori's favorite hangouts, Moon River Brewing Company, with live music and a new microbrew launch in honor of Matt.
Moon River Brewmaster John Pinkerton says as an avid road cyclist himself, the news of Matt's passing "struck a deep chord for me as I thought of all of the people I know who still share the roads with vehicles in and around Savannah."
Knowing how much Matt and Kori enjoyed hanging out at Moon River, Pinkerton helped craft a special beer to be unveiled at the event.
Matt's Moon Cruise Pale Ale will be a "Belgo-American style Pale Ale, featuring the refreshing fruity/ spicy aroma of our Belgian yeast strain and the citrus/pine/tropical fruit character of our American hop selections." Also, this: a brand-new bike will be auctioned off at the event.
Back to policy: A main goal of the event is to educate the public on how to safely share the road with cyclists and increase awareness of Georgia's "3-foot passing law."
"Georgia Bikes has been successful in recent years in achieving state level policy changes to improve cyclists' safety on Georgia's roads," says Drew Wade, chairman of the Savannah Bicycle Campaign and a board member of Georgia Bikes.
"Still, Chatham County has the highest rate of bike vs. auto injuries and fatalities in the state, and a tragedy like Matt's highlights the need to continue to raise awareness about the problem."
So what exactly has caused the problem?
"Most of our county is just not built for riding a bike in," says Wade, citing a recent "bike score" showing decidedly mediocre results for Savannah — a score of 48 (Cambridge, Mass., got 91.5).
"Bike scores are much better in town where it's easier to bike, but in other areas people aren't biking. And the ones that are, are probably getting hurt at higher rates."
Wade concludes that "It's many years of autocentric planning and engineering."
Matt's Moon River Cruise
When: Sat., June 8, 2-5 p.m. (ride starts 1 p.m.)
Where: Moon River Beer Garden, 21 W. Bay St. (Bike ride leaves from Ellis Square)
Cost: Suggested donation is $20 and benefits Savannah Bicycle Campaign and Georgia Bikes.
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"And you deserve better."
Thanks, Jim, for my new campaign slogan.