- Associated Press - Friday, June 10, 2016

DETROIT (AP) - A federal safety agency that investigates airplane failures, commercial truck mishaps and train derailments is taking a look at a Michigan road crash that killed five bicyclists to determine if lessons can be learned to prevent a similar tragedy.

Eric Weiss, spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, said it has been decades since the agency has “looked at bicycles and cars and safety.”

An NTSB team arrived in the Kalamazoo area Thursday and will likely spend a week conducting interviews and studying the crash site, bikes and the pickup truck that hit the group, investigator Pete Kotowski said Friday.

“What drew our attention to this were the five fatalities as well as the number of injured,” said Kotowski, adding that the agency also is interested in the effects of impaired driving. “The things we look at are the type of road, the lane markings, those things. We haven’t reached any conclusions yet.”

Five people were killed and four were injured Tuesday when a pickup struck a large group of bicyclists from behind on a two-lane road in Kalamazoo County’s Cooper Township, 160 miles from Chicago.

“This wasn’t coming around the bend and suddenly there were bicyclists there,” said Paul Selden, a bicyclist who knows the road and talked to an NTSB investigator. “This was a straight stretch of road, an uphill stretch.”

The driver of the pickup, Charles Pickett Jr., appeared in court Friday on second-degree murder charges and other crimes. He was returned to jail without bond, and an attorney will be appointed to represent him.

Prosecutor Jeff Getting is awaiting a state police report on what was found in Pickett’s body, if anything.

The number of bicyclists killed nationally in crashes has fluctuated over the past decade, while remaining relatively flat. A total of 786 cyclists died in 2005, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It dropped to 628 in 2009 and went back up to 726 in 2014.

Bicycle commuting nationwide climbed 62 percent from 2000 to 2013, according to a census survey. In cities such as Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, it shot up by more than 300 percent.

Selden, who knew some victims, said he’s pleased the NTSB is involved.

“They were interested in the spirit of the ride, the mood of the riders,” he said. “They were interested in lines of sight, some technical factors. I found their approach very professional.”

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Follow Ed White at http://twitter.com/edwhiteap

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