Brrng. Brrng. Brrng.
Zed Anja Sonder flicked the warning bell on his bike three times, sending metallic reverberations through the mostly silent crowd. He gave a few instructions, urged attendees to take care of themselves and each other, and then walked his bike slowly down the sidewalk before swinging his leg over the seat and riding away.
A mass of other cyclists followed, all pedaling unhurriedly. Few — if any — spoke. A woman in the crowd leaned on a friend and wept.
The cyclists started their slow procession at the Liberty Park flagpole on Saturday night to remember Cameron Hooyer, a fellow cyclist who was struck and killed by a train during a large group ride Thursday night. They rode three silent laps around the park in his honor.
Dubbed the 777 Memorial Ride, Saturday’s event was planned as a way for Hooyer’s friends and family to remember the young man, who died just short of his 23rd birthday. Sonder, who put the ride together, said he also wanted it to be a reckoning moment for safety within the community.
“777 was basically just an idea of bringing that love back, of slowing down, realizing we’re not invincible, that life moves fast,” Sonder said, “and that we need a lot of love to get through this.”
About 100 people showed up, bringing with them a menagerie of bikes, painted in blacks, yellows, greens and reds and everything in between. Many carried in their spokes a black-and-white laminated photo of the memorial set up near the tracks where Hooyer was killed.
Since Hooyer’s death, there has been much speculation about what happened that night at the train tracks near 900 South and 600 West.
Two trains went through the intersection that night in a short period of time. First a Union Pacific freight train. The crossing gates lifted. The red lights shut off, and the gaggle of cyclists started across.
About 13 seconds later, the process started all over again as a Utah Transit Authority FrontRunner train approached. Video from that night, shared with The Salt Lake Tribune, shows the group heading toward the tracks and cuts off quickly — after a few audible yelps of surprise — when the bells again begin to sound.
Cameron Hooyer’s father, Mark, said he doesn’t know all the facts about what happened next, but he says he knows his son, an avid and safe cyclist, wasn’t trying to beat the train.
"He was adventurous, but he was not an extreme risk taker,” said Mark Hooyer, who attended at the memorial event with his wife, Carla. Both wore matching white T-shirts, painted to say “CAM’S MOM” and “CAM’S DAD” and “THANK YOU.”
The parents told reporters they were heartbroken and missed their son very much. They said there was some solace in seeing how many came out to support their son — and knowing that he packed a full life into his nearly 23 years.
Cameron Hooyer began biking at a young age, his dad said, and competed in many races.
Sonder said he can still hear the distinct ding, ding, ding of the crossing warnings, the sounds of cyclists panicking in the moments after the train passed and the shock of the realization that Cameron Hooyer was dead.
While Utah Transit Authority has said the train was going 45 mph through the crossing, Sonder said it seemed to be going much faster.
Since Cameron Hooyer’s death, Sonder said he’s heard of a lot of blame within the cycling community. He doesn’t think that will do any good.
“I said to them, ‘We’re all responsible here. ... If we don’t change this behavior, we’re not going to be getting justice in this passing,'” Sonder recalled.
He has since been promoting a website he built — healmonics.org — where anyone can post about community bike rides and, most importantly, the route and rules of the ride.
On Saturday, cyclists finished the memorial ride in about 40 minutes. They then made their way up a grassy hill that overlooks Liberty Park’s pond from the north.
The crowd returned in silence, gathering in a semicircle around a skinny tree atop the hill. The only sound, for the first few minutes anyway, was the click, click, click of a bike chains, soft footsteps and faint sobbing.
A GoFundMe page has been set up for Cameron Hooyer. His parents said all donations will go to an orphanage for disabled children in Africa, where Hooyer worked previously and “where his heart and a lot of his passion laid.”