Josie Johnson is on her road bike that day, Sept. 18. She is 12 miles up Big Cottonwood Canyon, with about two miles to finish. The tires of her bike on this slope are humming at maybe 10 miles an hour. The bike is an extension of her body; steel and flesh are united in a quiet and steady rhythm.
She is holding on in the right lane, trying to command some presence on an uneven and narrow shoulder. She is approaching the first turnout to Solitude Ski Resort. She is a powerful rider, an athlete all of her 25 years, with prowess in competitive swimming, skiing and hiking. Her summit is almost here.
But no. Here is where Josie's ride ends, and for a lifetime. At 4:09 p.m. she is slammed from behind, by a 55-year-old woman driving a Jeep Cherokee. Three tons of steel and glass trump a small woman and a bike -140 pounds tops - every time. Josie, wearing a helmet, is thrown some 20 yards from her bike. She dies at the scene.
No one seems too clear on what happened. The Salt Lake County sheriff's report is vague. The driver, it says, submitted to a blood test, though she was not thought to be impaired at the scene. No charges have been filed at this time.
Sgt. Rosie Rivera told me late last week the matter is now in the hands of the department's accident review board. It may take up to a month to determine if the driver should be charged.
Bicyclists in this community are not taking it well. Why should they? They know what I learned in a just a cursory search of this newspaper's archives, going back to 2002: In more than a half-dozen vehicle-caused adult cyclist deaths in Utah, no driver was cited. And these are just the fatalities. I did not account for the number of injured bike riders who narrowly escape with their lives while the road warriors who hit them suffer nothing.
"She was hit from behind. If I was in a car and hit another car from behind, I would be cited for some kind of inability to control my vehicle," says David Saenz, manager of Guthrie Bicycle Shop in downtown Salt Lake City.
Even though Utah law recognizes bicycle riders as vehicles, with every right to the road as a motorized vehicle, the message is not getting out. What, exactly, would be the excuse for a driver cruising up Big Cottonwood Canyon and plowing into a bicycle? Yakking on a cell phone? Peeping at autumn leaves? Late for a sub sandwich at the Brighton store?
There simply is no excuse.
Authorities will often say they do not charge these cases because they can inflict no worse punishment than the pain a human being feels after killing another on the road.
Small comfort for those who knew Josie Johnson.
The Oakland, Calif., native, returned LDS missionary and BYU graduate had just entered her second year in a highly competitive graduate program in molecular biology at the University of Utah. Only 40 students worldwide are admitted, says pathology professor and program director John Weis, who also is an avid road cyclist.
"I see a wonderful life that has been taken for no good reason," Weis says. "Josie's emphasis was on diabetes research. She was very driven and her work was going well."
The cyclist in Weis has grown tired of this battle for road rights. "Let's make people who do these things obey the law. Drivers have no respect for bikers because there is absolutely no punishment associated with their crimes.
"The person who did this . . . she'll live to see another sunset. Josie, she might have been the one to cure diabetes. We'll never know."