Earl Robert Wright of Roanoke rode a bicycle wherever he needed to go and whenever he needed to get there.
“Bike after bike, he rode them till ’til ’ ‘til the wheels came off,” said David Nakhle, who worked with Wright at Roanoke’s Ragazzi’s restaurant. “He would ride that bike to work in the rain. There would be a foot of snow, he would ride his bike to work. It would be sleeting, he would ride his bike to work.”
Wright, 59, was on his bicycle Monday night when he was struck by a van on Franklin Road in Southwest Roanoke. Wright died, and the van’s driver, Rikki Dawn Reynolds of Salem, was charged with drunken driving and DUI manslaughter. Her blood-alcohol content was measured at 0.24 percent, three times the legal limit for operating a motor vehicle, according to court records.
Roanoke police said Reynolds’ 1999 Honda van was northbound in the 3000 block of Franklin Road, between Avenham Avenue and Wonju Street, when it struck Wright’s bicycle around 9:48 p.m. Monday. Wright was riding his bike in the right-hand lane, heading north, when the collision occurred, Roanoke police spokesman Scott Leamon said.
The collision damaged the hood and windshield of Reynolds’ van, Leamon said. Police arrested Reynolds, 33, in a parking lot a short distance from the scene of the crash. Blood samples were collected nearly two hours later at the Roanoke City Jail.
Roanoke police investigators spent much of Tuesday interviewing witnesses and securing search warrants, including warrants for Reynolds’ vehicle, and for medical and cellphone records, Leamon said in an email. Reynolds’ activity before the crash is part of the investigation, Leamon said.
Reynolds is an employee of Vistar Eye Center, according to court records.
Wright was a dishwasher at Ragazzi’s. Nakhle described Wright as a dedicated and well-liked employee who would throw birthday parties for himself and invite co-workers.
“It’s such a gloomy day at Ragazzi’s right now,” Nakhle said. “Even if people didn’t know him, they heard about him. He was talked about. That’s the way that man’s character was. You talked about that man.”
Nakhle said Wright used a bicycle as his primary mode of transportation but didn’t wear a helmet.
“As long as we’ve known him, that’s what he did,” Nakhle said. “He wasn’t on that bike going fast. He was 59 years old. He just got to where he needed to be.”
And riding at night didn’t seem to bother Wright.
“One time he looked up at one of the other employees ... and said, ‘Paul, the moon’s going to follow me home tonight,’ ” Nakhle said.
Staff writer Neil Harvey contributed information information information to this report.