Pe­tra Riedel (50) ‘He didn’t do it on pur­pose. It was the road’s fault’

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS REVIEW -

Pe­tra Riedel (50) from Duis­burg in Ger­many died on April 21st, 2012, when she was hit from be­hind by a car driv­ing along the Ban­don Road about 10km south of Cork city. Riedel, who was liv­ing in Cork, had been cy­cling along the north­bound hard shoul­der of the N71 dual car­riage­way. She was forced to move into one of the ve­hi­cle lanes when the hard shoul­der came to an end. She died in­stantly. On the N71 Ban­don Road about 10km south of Cork city a small wooden cross sits buried in the long grass on the side of the dual car­riage­way. In­scribed on this weather-worn post is one name – Pe­tra. It is marked April 21st, 2012, and ac­com­pa­nied by a solemn “RIP”.

Six years ago a small group of peo­ple gath­ered at this other­wise non-de­script stretch of road to plant their mod­est me­mo­rial in the west Cork soil. Anne Riedel watched silently as her fa­ther Thomas pounded the small stick of wood into the ground. Only a few weeks had passed since her visit to see how her mother was set­tling into her new vol­un­teer­ing role in Cork.

Pe­tra ar­rived in Cork city in late 2011. Her only daugh­ter had re­cently moved away to univer­sity, and Pe­tra had suf­fered from de­pres­sion in her ab­sence.

She had pre­vi­ously stud­ied ed­u­ca­tion and worked with peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties in Ger­many. She was look­ing for vol­un­teer op­por­tu­ni­ties when she came across the L’Arche or­gan­i­sa­tion. The com­mu­nity scheme, founded in France in the early 1960s, of­fered vol­un­teers the chance to work, live and de­velop friend­ships with peo­ple suf­fer­ing from in­tel­lec­tual and phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties.

Pe­tra, who al­ready had a deep love of the Ir­ish coun­try­side, signed up to the year- long project in Cork city and packed her bags.

“She loved it, it was ex­actly what she needed to do and she was so at ease,” re­mem­bers Anne, who vis­ited her mother in Cork in early April 2012. “She was as­signed to one woman in par­tic­u­lar who had been a vic­tim of abuse as a child. My mum was the first per­son in many years who was able to reach out to her, they had a very strong con­nec­tion.”

Pe­tra had orig­i­nally planned to spend a year in Ire­land. How­ever, Anne’s mother im­me­di­ately felt at home in Cork and started mak­ing plans to stay longer. “She fell in love with Ire­land. She hoped my dad would come and join her.”

Pe­tra de­vel­oped a strong friend­ship with Maria Lezama who works with Cork’s L’Arche com­mu­nity. “She just felt in com­ing to Ire­land she had come home to her­self, that what­ever felt miss­ing from her life she had found it.”

Maria, who is orig­i­nally from Trinidad, re­mem­bers the day Pe­tra ar­rived into the of­fice with her new bike. A pas­sion­ate cy­clist, Pe­tra had been plan­ning since the mo­ment she ar­rived in Ire­land to buy a bike. “She was like a child on Christ­mas day, she was so ex­cited. That was only five days be­fore the ac­ci­dent.”

Pe­tra had also told Anne she was plan­ning to buy a bike. “As a fam­ily we al­ways cy­cled ev­ery­where, we never had a car. My par­ents were huge cy­cle en­thu­si­asts, they cy­cled ev­ery­where.”

Ex­tra care

Shortly be­fore she left, Anne, who had spent a year liv­ing in Dublin when she was 17, ad­vised her mother to take ex­tra care on Ir­ish roads. “I went to school in Port­marnock and I al­ways took the bus. I hated it but I knew I had to do it be­cause it was too dan­ger­ous to cy­cle. I told my mum to be care­ful, that there was no cy­cle in­fra­struc­ture on Ir­ish roads.”

On April 21st, 2012 – a bright, sunny Satur­day af­ter­noon – Pe­tra cy­cled her new bike out of the city for a day trip around west Cork. Mean­while Kathy Foulds, the co-or­di­na­tor of the L’Arche Cork vol­un­teers, was pre­par­ing to go out for din­ner with her fam­ily to cel­e­brate her 60th birth­day.

Shortly be­fore 5pm Kathy’s phone rang. She picked up only to hear one of her L’Arche col­leagues sob­bing down the line. The vol­un­teer ex­plained that a garda had just called to the Dóchas house where Pe­tra lived with the news that she had been killed on the road an hour ear­lier.

Pe­tra had been cy­cling around a bend on the Ban­don road where the hard shoul­der comes to an end when a car hit her from be­hind. She died in­stantly.

Back in Ger­many, Pe­tra’s hus­band Thomas had turned off his mo­bile phone for the af­ter­noon. Kathy used an­other emer­gency con­tact and rang the lo­cal pas­tor in the town of Duis­burg where the fam­ily lived. He then con­tacted Anne’s boyfriend who jumped on a train to the town of Luneberg where Anne was study­ing.

“When the bell rang that morn­ing I thought it might be a par­cel,” re­mem­bers Anne. “But there was my boyfriend stand­ing with his mum. The first thing I thought when he told me she was dead was that I needed a black dress for the fu­neral. I couldn’t cope, I wouldn’t let it sink in.”

Anne even­tu­ally con­tacted her fa­ther who came to the train sta­tion to pick her up. From there they got a lift to her mother’s home­town where Anne’s grand­par­ents lived. “They weren’t at home so we didn’t know what to do. We just wan­dered around and then saw them on the street. My grandma fell down and passed out when we told her.”

The fol­low­ing day the fa­ther and daugh­ter flew to Cork. A flu­ent English speaker, 21-year-old Anne had to act as a trans­la­tor with the gar­daí and un­der­tak­ers. “We spent about four days in Ire­land and they were the most help­ful days in the grieving process. Ir­ish peo­ple just ac­cepted the death.

“In Ger­many they’re very cor­rect, they ask all the de­tails. But in Ire­land it was never ‘ what hap­pened’, the ques­tion was how we could deal with this and make it ok. It just felt like a ridicu­lous death, it was a cy­cling ac­ci­dent.”

The L’Arche com­mu­nity ar­ranged for their wood­work project to carve a small cross with Pe­tra’s de­tails in­scribed across the mid­dle. It was Maria who held the cross as Thomas drove it deep into the damp soil. “The sound of that pound­ing of the cross into the ground was like the pound­ing into re­al­ity that she was gone. She was only with us for five months but it felt like five years.”

In the weeks and months that fol­lowed Anne strug­gled to come to terms with her mother’s death. Be­fore the in­ci­dent she loved every mo­ment of her univer­sity stud­ies but now she found it im­pos­si­ble to con­cen­trate. “I started hav­ing panic at­tacks and I couldn’t cope with the pres­sure of ex­ams. If I couldn’t reach my dad on his phone I im­me­di­ately thought he was dead.”

Anne and her fa­ther re­turned to Ire­land the fol­low­ing year for the trial hear­ing of her mother’s death. The man who had knocked her down sat with his wife across the gallery from Anne.

“It was the first time I saw him. His lawyer had said he was very sorry and couldn’t go on with his life be­cause of what hap­pened.

“I can­not ex­plain it but some­how I told him it was okay. I said: ‘It’s enough that we have to cope with this, don’t let it ruin your life. His wife came over to me af­ter the hear­ing cry­ing. I hugged her. Then I hugged him. It was a sur­real mo­ment but it re­ally helped me. He didn’t do it on pur­pose; it was the road’s fault.”

A few years af­ter her mother died, Anne gave birth to a baby girl. “The first six months were aw­ful. I was re­ally de­pressed and I missed her so much. But I’m build­ing a new iden­tity that makes me a mother, not a daugh­ter.”

She still feels a deep con­nec­tion to Ire­land but will never cy­cle on this is­land. “My mum loved cy­cling and feel­ing free on her bike. She also loved Ire­land. But I will never cy­cle in Ire­land, I wouldn’t feel safe on Ir­ish roads.”

‘‘ I will never cy­cle in Ire­land, I wouldn’t feel safe on Ir­ish roads

PHO­TO­GRAPH: DARAGH MC SWEENEY

Kathy Foulds at the spot where her ■ friend Pe­tra Riedel was killed in 2012.

Pe­tra Riedel Killed: April 21st, 2012

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