A dozen bouquets of flowers have been placed along the Milwaukee County Oak Leaf Trail as a memorial to Tom Van Hoof, a cyclist who died over the weekend from injuries he suffered in a collision with a car on W. Mill Rd. Thursday night.
The crash occurred about 10 p.m. Thursday at an uncontrolled intersection – no stop signs for motor vehicles – the point where a newly paved portion of the trail crosses Mill Rd. near N. Sydney Pl. Van Hoof was riding on the Oak Leaf Trail with a group of friends, part of a weekly outing.
According to a Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s report, Van Hoof was southbound and struck by a car traveling east on W. Mill Rd. He had a small blinking light on his bicycle but the driver reportedly did not see him until he landed on the hood of her car. He was wearing a helmet, but suffered severe head injuries and died early Sunday. No citations were issued.
The asphalt on that new section of the Oak Leaf Trail was added within the last few weeks, and the segment is not officially open, according to Guy Smith, director of operations for the Milwaukee County Parks Department. Signs warning motorists they are approaching a bike trail and alerting cyclists they are approaching a road crossing have not yet been installed, but will be as part of the project.
Yellow caution strips also will be installed on the bike path.
Van Hoof is the sixth cyclist killed in a crash with a vehicle on Wisconsin roads this year.
The 60-year-old husband, father and cancer survivor was a swaggering fixture in a tight group of cyclists and skiers from the Milwaukee area. They pedaled thousands of miles together. Just a week before his crash, Van Hoof finished a 200-mile group ride to a family cabin north of Oconto, a ride dubbed the Double Trouble. He skied 33 American Birkebeiner races and gathered friends on all of his adventures – cycling, skiing or sailing.
As news of his death circulated on Facebook, I thought back to the number of times I first met Van Hoof. It seems our path crossed every few years, just often enough for one or both of us to say, “hey, don’t I know you,” and start over.
One couldn’t help but gravitate toward him. He had a wicked grin, and an attitude to match, and a get-it done approach to life.
The last time I first met Van Hoof was in the early evening of the 2013 American Birkebeiner. Working to file a story, I had missed most of my transportation options from Hayward to the house where I was staying with friends, a few miles outside of Cable. Van Hoof approached as I boarded a school bus waiting along Main St. in Hayward and heading to Cable. He didn’t hesitate to solve my transportation problem.
We would take the bus back to the Telemark Lodge, then he would drive me to the cabin where I was staying – never mind the inconvenience for him or the delays in his dinner plans.
I wish like hell I could remember every word of our conversation on that bus ride, and the drive. I know we talked about twins: my girls and his twin brother, Terry. We probably went over the race and skiing and beer and bicycling. I do remember that, as with every one of my chance meetings with Van Hoof, it was a treat.
I’ll share information on the crash and the funeral services for Van Hoof as they become available. My condolences to his friends and family. I can’t imagine their loss.