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  • Tue April 21 2009
  • Posted Apr 21, 2009
Des Moines By Marc Hansen mahansen@dmreg.com John Connor was ready to support a fellow farmer and lifelong friend. "I'd be willing to bet my last nickel that this was the first traffic ticket John Lynch ever got in his life," he said. It seemed like a bet worth taking. Lynch, the driver who hit cyclist Doug Smith, 46, on a winding, hilly stretch of Madison County blacktop a week ago Saturday, will be 78 in August. That's a lot of mileage on the odometer, a lot of chances to make a wrong turn. But no, the only violation that pops onto the computer screen when typing in his name in an online courts search is unsafe passing on April 11, 2009. "John's the most careful driver in the world," Connor said Monday, standing outside the windblown entrance of the one-room Lee Township Schoolhouse near Cumming. Connor and maybe 100 others had gathered to support their neighbor from Cumming and express sympathy for a stranger from Des Moines who was struck by one of the anhydrous ammonia tanks Lynch was pulling behind his pickup truck. Members of the cycling groups have had their say, the Lynch supporters figured. About 500 of them rallied at the Statehouse last week in response to the accident. This would be the Lynch supporters' turn to let the public know how they see it: • That it's terrible what happened to Smith, but it was an accident. Nothing more. There was no intent to hit or scare or intimidate anyone on a bicycle. • That Lynch's detractors would be hard-pressed to find anyone in the community who doesn't hold him in the highest regard. • That he is a gentle soul incapable of harassing anyone, on the road or off. Lynch's supporters will have a hard time convincing the cyclists, but they made a passionate case Monday - signing a statement of support, standing shoulder to shoulder in the tiny schoolhouse, taking turns at the front of the room to say the public is getting the wrong idea, and it's time to set the record straight. At least 80 cars, pickups and other vehicles lined the intersecting gravel roads outside the school. At last count, more than 500 people had signed the support statement. "Everybody's fed up with the negative reports that are coming out," Connor said. "I hate to see a man's life and reputation ruined. John would be the last person in the world to run off and leave someone lying in the road." Had he known Smith was down, Lynch would have stopped. That was the schoolhouse consensus. He returned as soon as someone told him what happened. Smith is in the hospital with multiple cuts, scrapes, fractures and torn body parts. He won't be leaving soon. He's still trying to figure out what hit him. Lynch, meanwhile, is beating himself up mentally and emotionally. That's what his friends say. They say he's so down about what happened he can barely muster the energy to leave the house. Lynch did make it to Mass the other night at St. Patrick's Catholic Church. Dan Hanrahan, who grew up down the road from the Lynch family, said it was the first time his neighbor felt safe to go out. The church was full as parishioners said prayers for Smith and Lynch and their families. Hanrahan said Lynch's voice cracked as they talked. Monday, Hanrahan took the floor at the schoolhouse and read the statement of a support. Allegations that Lynch tried to intimidate or scare the bikers, he said, are "appalling and sickening to us all." The oldest and most fundamental of all questions, Hanrahan continued is: "Am I my brother's keeper?" In Lynch's case, he concluded, the answer was yes every time. You have to know Lynch and his wife, Joan, and the 10 kids they raised, almost everybody said. Lynch is a family man who served on the Martensdale-St. Marys school board. He was a Lee Township trustee more than once. Hanrahan believes the cycling crowd is using the accident to advance a political cause — making the roads more bike-friendly. That's their right, Hanrahan said, but not when they're destroying an honest and decent man's reputation in the process. What happened to Smith is awful, everyone keeps repeating, but if you think that $35 ticket is the only price Lynch is paying, you're fooling yourself.

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