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Friday, Feb. 11, 2011

Sign posted in fatal wreck

Staff Writer
Zach-Boyden Holmes/Staff
Friends of Danny Johnson's family initially posted a sign on Sand Bar Ferry Road after Johnson's father asked them for help.
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Dan Johnson dropped by his old friend's house this week and asked John Yonce for any support he could give his son, Danny Johnson.

"Just don't make it negative," Yonce said Johnson told him.

Yonce was glad to support Danny Johnson, who posted bond on Wednesday after he was arrested in connection with an October wreck that fatally injured a bicyclist.

After giving it some thought, Yonce made a sign with the word "cyclist" in a circle with a slash through it. It was planted prominently Friday at the edge of his yard on Sand Bar Ferry Road, where the hundreds of cars that pass that way every day -- and the cyclists coming to Beech Island -- could see it.

When a reporter showed up on his doorstep Friday evening to inquire about the sign, though, Yonce had a change of heart.

"We need to be positive," said Yonce, 64, who removed it and planned to replace it with another.

The sign, though, is evidence of some of the frustration felt by Beech Island residents in the past few months toward cyclists and, to a certain extent, toward media coverage of the wreck.

On Oct. 1, about 15 cyclists were pedaling their usual route on Beech Island Avenue when five were hit from behind by Johnson's Dodge Durango.

One of them, Matthew Burke, was critically injured and remained in a coma until his death Sunday. Burke was an Army major and an orthopedic surgeon at Fort Gordon. He is survived by his wife and an 11-month-old daughter.

Yonce's wife, Diane, said Beech Island residents, including the Johnson family, have been heartbroken over what happened to Burke.

She said it's especially tragic that a veteran of the war in Iraq died in such a way.

She also wants the public to know, however, that Danny Johnson is a good man, too. He grew up with the Yonces' daughters, and she said he is not a mean-spirited person.

"He would not maliciously hurt anybody," she said. "It was an accident."

Johnson surrendered at the Aiken County Detention Center on Tuesday after a warrant was issued for his arrest on a charge of reckless homicide.

Diane Yonce said the Johnson family has not publicly commented on the wreck because they don't want to make it harder on the Burke family.

Since the wreck, The Augusta Chronicle has talked with bicyclists who were on the ride with Burke about what occurred.

The newspaper published stories on motorists who deliberately "buzzed" bicycles, and interviewed a Beech Island resident who regularly shares the road with cyclists.

On augustachronicle.com, readers expressed frustration with bicyclists who hog the road and cyclists complained about indifferent motorists who nearly run them over.

John Yonce said he would welcome a town hall meeting of some sort at which people on both sides could air their differences. It's time to stop hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet, he said.

"Maybe we should regroup and talk face to face," he said.

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