Sunday, March 8, 2015

Paths of peril: Austin Dukette

News-Press Sunday 3/8/15 Bike Safety Feature: Paths of peril

Janine Zeitlin, Melanie Payne and Laura Ruane,,

Each Southwest Florida bike death is a different, heartbreaking story...this is Austin Dukette's story.

Austin Dukette, 15

Crash date: Aug. 22, 2014

Austin Dukette, right, in a family photo. (Photo: Special to

 Austin Dukette was the heart of his eighth-grade honors English class.

That's how teacher Heather Wibbels of Caloosa Middle remembers him. She felt his warmth from the moment she met him and learned they shared a penchant for purple pens.

She let him play his ukulele or guitar a few minutes before and after class. He gravitated toward Blink-182, though wrote his own songs.

He was the kind of student who would borrow a book at the start of the school day and finish it by day's end.

"He was more like the kind of kid who was a freshman in college, very much his own person."
She saw him draw out other students, cause them to question standards.

"Why are you wearing makeup?" he'd ask girls. "Makeup is a conspiracy."

Around 6 a.m. on Aug. 22, Austin was struck and killed by a Lee sheriff's deputy whose cruiser had veered out of his lane, according to Cape Coral police. Austin was riding his bike to Mariner High School, where he was a freshman.

Archives:Deputy at fault in crash that killed Cape 15-year-old

The police investigation found Cpl. Douglas Hood had been distracted by his laptop. Hood denied it. His ticket was changed from careless driving to failure to drive in a single lane. The maximum fine for both offenses is $500, but a judge can impose a $1,000 fine when a person is guilty of a violation that causes death. The investigation noted Austin's dark clothing and poor lighting. He wasn't wearing a helmet, police said, but his family has said a helmet would not have saved his life. Hood was driving 50 mph, a crash report said.

Related: Was deputy distracted in crash that killed Cape Coral teen?

Wibbels saw most of the students from Austin's class at his funeral. Afterward, his friends gathered outside with their guitars.

His friends, neighbors and family called on the city for lights, sidewalks and bike paths. City leaders said there wasn't money. His death fueled an urgency to push for more education, enforcement and awareness. Cape Coral police have trained 25 officers for a bicycle unit.

Austin's mother, Stephanie Diersing, has a tattoo on her foot to memorialize her son. There's a music clef for his passion. There's also a heart. Austin gave life in death by donating his organs. A 15-year-old girl received his heart. Austin's heart still beats.

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