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She was a diplomat in Ukraine when war came. In a U.S. suburb, a truck took her life


The last time I saw Dan Langenkamp in person was in Kyiv, Ukraine, right before the Russian invasion. He was the press attache for the U.S. embassy in Kyiv. If you wanted an interview with a U.S. official on the ground, you went through Dan. He and I stayed in touch. We kept swapping messages after I left Ukraine, then after he left Ukraine, after he and his wife, Sarah, a diplomat who also worked at the embassy and their young kids - after they were evacuated. The Langenkamps moved to Bethesda, Md. And then in August, Sarah was killed when she was hit by a truck while on her bicycle. And Dan has, for now, stepped aside from his State Department work to advocate for road safety. Today is the first time I have seen him in person since Ukraine. Dan Langenkamp, I am so glad to see you. I am so sorry for your loss and your family's loss.


KELLY: The irony is obvious. It's awful that you and your family got out of Ukraine, were evacuated to come home and your wife was killed in a violent accident.

LANGENKAMP: It was unbelievable to us. It felt as if the war had just followed us.

KELLY: Well, what do you want people to know about Sarah?

LANGENKAMP: Well, I mean, she was one of those colleagues that you really just love. She was - I'm sorry. She was good to everybody. She was easy to get along with. She empowered her staff. Within four days of the Russian invasion, she had a planeload of body armor and helmets flying into Poland to rush to the border guard and the police. So she equipped and supplied the police and the border guards. So we lost one of our most effective diplomats of my generation. And I'm - it's not just me saying that. But we also lost, of course, our - you know, my soulmate and my best friend and just a great mom.

KELLY: Yeah. Again, I'm so sorry. And I'm sorry to ask you, but would you describe, in whatever level of detail feels right, what happened that day in August?

LANGENKAMP: We had an open house for our kids at their elementary school, and my mother was there to drive the kids home. And Sarah rode her bike home because she'd already been on her bike. She never made it because a truck driver decided to turn without apparently looking, instantly crushing her and killing her. And I use the word crushing because honestly, these bike crashes - and I don't call them accidents - are incredibly violent. It's not like she just fell and hit her head. What happens with truck crashes in particular is traumatizing for everyone.

KELLY: As part of your efforts to raise visibility about road safety and changes that you would like to see, there's a bike ride tomorrow. You're riding to Capitol Hill, along with a thousand other cyclists, to call for what specifically?

LANGENKAMP: We're asking Congress to give an appropriation for a program called the Active Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act, which is a wonky name for a program, a really good one that Congress passed but didn't give money for, didn't give an appropriation to. We want $200 million to go to that program, the full appropriation so that communities like Bethesda all over the country can ask the Department of Transportation to help them fill in gaps in their safe biking infrastructure.

KELLY: Gaps like what?

LANGENKAMP: Like the gaps that exist in Washington, where you have a bike trail, but the feeder roads into it are not bike routes, or they're routes that are not safe. So it will allow them to put in curbs and stanchions to separate the bikers away from dangerous traffic. And it'll allow them to actually create links between good bike lanes that already exist - really basic stuff.

KELLY: And you're also calling for changes to - like, tech changes to the trucks.

LANGENKAMP: Yeah. So we're asking for things that we know save lives, like under-ride guards that block people and cars from getting trapped under there. It's simple technology. It actually is easy to put in, and it doesn't cost that much. We're asking for better training for the drivers of large trucks, and we're asking for sensors and cameras and emergency braking systems on trucks that we all have on our regular cars now.


LANGENKAMP: But the trucking industry has not caught up with that.

KELLY: I know biking was something you and Sarah did to get around and also something you loved. You all rode bikes together all over the world. Has this changed? I mean, I guess how could it not? But has this changed whether you will continue to do so? Would you still make the case for bikes in the U.S.?

LANGENKAMP: To not cycle or ride a bike, it would be sort of like letting terrorists change the way you live your life. You know, we believed in riding a bike simply because it was healthy. It was environmentally friendly. And it often IS easier, actually. In D.C. in particular, it's the fastest way to get to work if you live downtown. And it's also humble. It's just a nice way to get around. You know, Sarah rode a bike to do her really important work in Ukraine.

KELLY: Like, around Kyiv. That's how she...

LANGENKAMP: Around Kyiv, yeah. And I did, too. And I won't stop that. We all drive, but we all also walk. And we all, most of us, also ride bikes. We want to have a society where people can do all of these things together. And I think everybody agrees that having cities where we can do that is better for everybody.

KELLY: Dan, thank you.

LANGENKAMP: Thank you.

KELLY: Dan Langenkamp is former press attache at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv. He was married to Sarah Langenkamp for 16 years until she was killed this past August.

(SOUNDBITE OF JACK IRVINE SONG, "GLUE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.