Memory of bicyclist killed on Wantagh bike path inspires fundraising bike ride
Wantagh's Bicycle Phil will pedal for 24 hours straight starting Thursday in memory of a rider he never knew.
Phil Kingsbury's 400-mile cyclethon in Seaford's Cedar Creek Park will raise money for the Miles For Matt Foundation, a nonprofit started after the death of Matt Scarpati, 19, a college student from Dix Hills.
Scarpati was killed by drunken motorcyclist James Ryan, 50, who veered off Wantagh Parkway on July 20, 2009, and struck him as he fixed a flat near the bike path along the highway, police said.
Kingsbury, 61, started riding at 48 and said he has logged about 40,000 miles on the 4 1/2-mile path to Jones Beach. He will finish riding Friday, which would have been Scarpati's 25th birthday.
Kingsbury said he and Andy Hager, who helped organize the fundraiser, felt connected to Scarpati, a fellow bicyclist.
The way Scarpati's family dealt with their grief and worked to improve safety on the path to protect riders like them is inspiring, Kingsbury and Hager said.
"Had you known Matt Scarpati . . . and the amazing work that has been accomplished in his memory, you would realize he was the driving force -- not only in the lives of his family and friends but also in my life to bring me to the point where I want to do this ride," Kingsbury said.
Kingsbury and Hager, who met on the bike path 10 years ago, organized the first cyclethon last year. Kingsbury rode nearly 382 miles over 23 hours, raising about $3,000.
Hager, of Bellmore, handled the marketing, mailing thousands of postcards this year to bicycle stores and gyms in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
"We're all cyclists," he said. "It could've been me. It could have been another person I know."
Kingsbury, known to riders as Bicycle Phil, said he's prepared for the bike marathon by riding 400 miles a week. He is aware it will be grueling.
Hager said Kingsbury, "has the mental drive to overcome anything."
Scarpati, the youngest of four boys, was almost 11 when his brother Michael died in 2001 from a heart condition. He had just finished his freshman year at the University at Buffalo.
He was struck in Wantagh as he patched the tire on his Colnago racing bike on the grassy divide between the path and the parkway, a three-lane highway with no shoulder and a 55-mph speed limit.
Scarpati's mother, Lynn, said her son's death left a "hole in my heart. . . . But if I lost a limb, I would have to figure out how to get along without it, and that's kind of what we do."
Her son's death galvanized his family and strangers to lobby lawmakers to install a guardrail. In 2011, a cable guardrail was completed between Ocean Parkway at Jones Beach to Cedar Creek Park.
Ryan was sentenced in 2011 to 3 to 9 years. Prosecutors said Ryan was driving between 85 and 100 mph and had a blood-alcohol reading of .10 percent. The legal limit is .08.
In 2013, Hager and Kingsbury met Lynn Scarpati and her husband, Jim, when a bronze statue of their son on his Colnago was erected in Cedar Creek Park.
The idea of the bike marathon was born to benefit the nonprofit, which supports education, athletics and medical research.
Proceeds from the Phil Kingsbury 2nd Annual Bike Marathon will pay for a plaque on Matt Scarpati's sculpture and bike safety education, according to Lynn Scarpati.
Her voice choking up, Scarpati said: "These are two people that were touched by someone that they didn't know. It's coming from the heart," she said.
Riding for Matt
The fundraising ride starts at 6 p.m. today at Cedar Creek Park in Seaford. Donations can be made to Cedar Creek Park, 3340 Merrick Rd., Seaford, N.Y. or by visiting www.crowdrise.com/miles4mattbikemarath/fundraiser.