Teen cyclist dies after being struck by car in Bethesda

A 17-year-old boy who was hit by a car while riding his bike near Old Georgetown Road in Bethesda, Maryland, has died of his injuries, police said.

Jacob Cassell, of Bethesda, was taken to a hospital with life-threatening injuries Wednesday evening and died Thursday morning.

Montgomery County police said they responded to the area of Old Georgetown Road and Beech Avenue shortly before 5 p.m. Wednesday. Cassell was traveling southbound on the sidewalk approaching Beech Avenue when police said he fell from the sidewalk and onto the roadway.

Cassell was then struck by a 2018 Volkswagen Atlas that was traveling southbound on Old Georgetown Road.

The driver, identified as 39-year-old Matthew Williams, of Bethesda, remained on the scene. He was uninjured.

Cassell was a rising junior at Winston Churchill High School. In a letter to families and school staff, principal Brandice C. Heckert described Cassell as “the spirit in our building and community.”

“This past year, he was at almost every event as our mascot, and he was proud to be a bulldog,” the letter read.

For people who live in that neighborhood, the crash is their worst fear realized.

Neighborhood residents spoke to WTOP about that fear right after the crash, before Cassell died of his injuries.

“There’s no infrastructure in these suburban neighborhoods for bicyclists,” said Jim Spellman, whose family lives just off Old Georgetown Road. He said he worries about his safety when he’s on a bike and the safety of his kids when they go cycling.

Spellman added that riding on the sidewalk, as Cassell had done before the crash, isn’t the safest move either. “Sometimes, it’s difficult to figure out another option,” Spellman said.

“The speed limit is 35,” he said. “That means people are going 50. And, you’re going to share a lane? Even if that’s the law, something is bound to go wrong.”

High speeds were also concerns pointed out by residents such as Nona Perez and Patrick Hoffman, who were talking near the accident scene Wednesday evening.

“They act like they’re a car because they take up a whole lane,” said Hoffman of cyclists in the area. According to Maryland law, as explained by the State Highway Administration, bicycles on the road are vehicles, and “bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers of motor vehicles.” The agency urges cyclists and drivers to look out for each other.

Perez pointed out that cars approach cyclists too quickly, and the cyclists move too slowly.

“Cars are going up and down this road 50 mph, on average — 50, that’s bad,” added Hoffman. “Speed limit here is 35, and they’re doing 50.”

Spellman said it’s time for the state or county to set aside space just for cyclists, noting it’s not easy for people where he lives to get to nearby Metro stations without taking the risk of riding next to speeding traffic.

He’s asking for the construction of dedicated bike lanes in the area. Spellman said what’s most needed in the area is “clarity about where the bikes are and where the cars are … Look, congestion is one of the biggest issues we all face, but it’s not worth getting killed over.”

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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