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Posted on Mon, Jul 30, 2012 : 8:07 p.m.

Truck-bike crash kills Pete Cornell, former U-M wrestler, Ann Arbor real estate professional

By Cindy Heflin

Bud Church often had an uneasy feeling when his friend Pete Cornell struck out on one of his cross-country bicycle trips.

“I can’t tell you how many times I told him not to do that,” said Church, who feared for his friend’s safety. He had spoken to Cornell a couple of days before he set out about a month ago on his last trip, a grueling 3,500 mile trek from Alberta to Key West, Fla.

"I said, ‘Pete, how many more of these trips are you going to do’? He said ‘this is my last one. I’ve accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish.’”


Pete Cornell with his dog, Buddy, left, and Bud Church's dog, Cadbury.

Photo courtesy of Bud Church

Cornell, 64, an avid biker, died Thursday when a semi tractor-trailer rig slammed into the back of his bike. Cornell and his two companions, riding about 100 miles a day, already had come nearly 2,700 miles and were about 790 miles from their goal, said Cornell’s son, Dan Cornell.

Cornell and his companions were headed east on Highway 520 near Dawson, Ga., just before daybreak when the truck struck them, the Albany Herald reported. Thomas Clark, 62, of Munith, Mich, was seriously injured, Dan Cornell said. Joseph Muscato, 60, of Grass Lake was less-seriously injured and is no longer hospitalized, Cornell said. Police were still investigating the crash and had not determined whether the driver would be charged, the newspaper reported.

Cornell, who spent most of his life in Ann Arbor before moving to Port Charlotte, Fla., in his retirement, had biked to all four corners of the United States, Church said. This last trip was a continuation of one he, Clark and Muscato started last year when they biked from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to Calgary.

Cornell and his riding companions always wore helmets and reflective clothing and lights, Church said, but he doesn’t think his friend worried about being in danger. “Pete just thought he was invincible,” he said. “He never thought anything like that would happen. If he did he never admitted it.”

Cornell, who took up biking in retirement, was an accomplished wrestler in high school and college and was a three-time All American at the University of Michigan and captain of the team in 1968 and 1969. He was the runner-up for NCAA wrestling champion in 1969. A graduate of Lansing Everett High School, he was the Michigan high school wrestling champion in 1965.

Cornell also played football at the University of Michigan, but when forced to choose between the two sports, chose wrestling, Dan Cornell said. In 2010, he was inducted in the Greater Lansing Area Sports Hall of Fame.

After college, Cornell had a successful real estate career. He was owner of Cornell-Morris Real Estate Company. He was CEO of the Ann Arbor Area Board of Realtors from 1995 to 2004 and executive vice president from 1992 to 1994. He was a past president of the Michigan Association of Realtors, and served on the board of the National Association of Realtors.

It was at National Association of Realtors meetings that Cornell and Church developed their friendship. Church said his friend had a wonderful sense of humor and loved practical jokes. “Not on him,” Church said, “but he loved pulling them on someone else.”

Dan Cornell said his father was an avid dancer and played the piano and guitar. He also liked to fish and play cards and doted on his dog, Buddy.

“I don’t think he loved anything more than his little dog, Buddy,” Church said.

But athletics and physical fitness were Cornell’s true passions, his son said. “He was very driven and that’s why it was so sad that he didn’t finish the ride.”

That fact bothers him so much that Dan Cornell, though he hasn’t been on a bike in 20 years, said he plans to pick up the ride from the last hotel his father stayed at and finish it in the next few months.

“I’m doing it just because he can’t,” he said. “I think it help me get a little bit of closure.”

Besides his son, Cornell is survived by his partner, Sue Pavlat; daughter, Amy Armstrong; sisters, Jean Chapman, Dorothy Hays and Barb Fowler; and four grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Friday at Bethlehem United Church of Christ in Ann Arbor. Calling hours will precede the service at Muehlig Funeral Chapel 1 p.m. until 2:30 p.m. A memorial service is also being planned in Englewood, Fla., for Aug. 10.

Read Peter Cornell's obituary.

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R M King

Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 10:37 a.m.

Once again, the newspaper reporter slants the story to somehow place the blame for an accident on the cyclists. Clearly they had safely ridden their bikes thousands of miles over many years, but you lead with a paragraph of a third party who "feared for his friend's safety." Instead, the author should have led with, "A negligent truck driver killed an innocent cyclist, and injured two others...." Place the blame where it belongs: On the truck driver who failed to safely conduct his rig on the public highway. Don't blame the victim, who was doing what he had clearly, and lawfully, done for years. The truck driver isn't named, despite having committed vehicular homicide. Please re-edit future stories to reflect the blame where it belongs: On the driver who took one life, and injured two other people.


Wed, Aug 1, 2012 : 5:15 p.m.

There are more and more huge semi trucks on the roads, thanks to the gas industry (fracking) in many parts of the country. Semi trucks are getting larger and larger also. I've seen many trucks unable to literally make a turn on a city street because the truck was too long. Cars have had to back up in both directions so these monster trucks can make a turn into a street for a delivery. It is very dangerous for a bicyclist on a highway with large trucks, even in the best circumstances. My sympathy to the family for their loss. On a side note: a lot of these large trucks do not obey signs that prohibit trucks on smaller roads, such as the Huron Parkway. All kinds of large trucks use the parkways even though there are signs prohibiting them.


Wed, Aug 1, 2012 : 10:06 a.m.

Biking is a high risk activity, particularly on travelled roads. Unfortunately, many don't understand the risks...or choose to ignore them.


Wed, Aug 1, 2012 : 4:53 a.m.

This is such a tragedy. I am sending blessings to the family and friends of this amazing man. May he rest in peace.

Allyson Bernard-Church

Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 3:03 p.m.

Thank you for a wonderful article on Pete and expressing his life so well. I will always be thankful to Pete for introducing me to my husband, Bud, through our mutual friend. I know when Pete toasted us at our wedding Bud was a little nervous as Pete got that sly smile on his face..... but he was on the mark for the occasion and "behaved himself". That memory helps me smile during this grief. Love to Dan, Amy, Sue and the girls ........ we will see you soon. Ally


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 2:10 p.m.

A heartbreaking story . . . Pete Cornell was a vibrant and vital man. . . He will be greatly missed by those that were fortunate to know him. . . He was a kind person to those who didn't know him. . . Condolences to the Cornell family and friends. . .


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 1:01 p.m.

Thoughts and prayers to the family and friends of the bicyclists. It seems like there have been a LOT of car-bike accidents in the local news this year, but maybe it's just my imagination. I admire people who set out with a goal to do these types of trips, but am always sad when it costs one of them their life.


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 11:56 a.m.

My thoughts are with the family. He enjoyed what he was doing, let us rejoice with that. Risks are worse sitting at home doing nothing. Probably should change the title!


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 11:30 a.m.

So sad! My dream is for bike trails across America someday. Then maybe I'd bike cross country, too. I really hate that while cyclists are living their dreams they are also risking their lives. Condolences to family, friends, and pets.


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 10:55 a.m.

Dan,I am so sorry to read about this tragic event that has happened. I only meet him once,but took him as kind and gentle person who loved life and had a passion for it ! I kept thinking,this guy is in his 60's? He looks 40 and thought he set a pretty high standard for all to live up to ! There isn't any rule book to show you how to handle a tragedy, you just do the best you can and thats good enough. Your Friend, Michael


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 9:31 a.m.

My condolences, too. However; riding east just before dawn is extremely high're riding into the sun, and vehicles traveling east can easily "loose you" in the morning light they're driving into, too. It is possible and it has happened before. Advice: NEVER ride west on a busy road in the late afternoon, or east in the early morning. Install LED, i.e. extremely bright, flashing lights on both the front and rear of all bicycles. Wear bright clothing; NEVER black or anything other than yellow or bright green or bright multicolored jerseys. Tragic, tragic event.


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 7:21 p.m.

@Kea. Sheesh...splitting hairs on this subject..... Okay, here's the deal from an experienced cyclist (that would be me): "around" dawn, when the sun DOES pop over the horizon, it's smack in my eyes. Hypothetically; IF I were riding east when this occurs, any traffic also traveling east can become nearly blinded by either the low-angle sunshine or a dirty windscreen, or both...and inadvertently hit me from behind-----even though I am hugging the right hand white line or riding on the shoulder if there is one. Doesn't happen too often, but when the scenario accidentally sets itself up, I take immediate action to get on a less traveled road or slow down and ride through residential areas to absolutely avoid this high risk situation.


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 11:13 a.m.

"before dawn is extremely high're riding into the sun," Before dawn there is no sun.


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 6:42 a.m.

Sincere condolences to Peter Cornell's family. Here's hoping Thomas Clark recovers from his injuries quickly. It's too bad we can't be safe while riding our bikes around the country. Say what you will, but it's an innocent, non-offensive activity. There are few cyclists who have travelled as much as 50 miles in one trip who don't have hair-raisng tales of near misses and motor vehicle harassment. It wasn't that long ago that a family man was killed here while making a commute on his bike to work. A few seconds of distraction or inattention is all it takes to make a motor vehicle a deadly weapon.


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 8:08 p.m.

Unfortunately, we can't be safe walking, driving, or riding our bikes. It wasn't that long ago that a family was killed here while driving.


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 11:19 a.m.

A few seconds of distraction or inattention is all it takes. On the part of the driver or cyclist unfortunately. Condolences to all involved.


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 1:35 a.m.

Where did this happen. I don't see it anywhere in the article and yes I see the map.


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 1:46 a.m.

I was wondering the same thing, but then I noticed that if you click where it says "view larger map" (underneath the map, in the lower left corner), it takes you to a map of Dawson, GA.

Cindy Heflin

Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 1:42 a.m.

It was near Dawson, GA. That's been added to the story.


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 12:48 a.m.

This Pete, you were one hell of a man and I have many fond memories of our friendship.

Craig Lounsbury

Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 12:27 a.m.

"..... just before daybreak when the truck struck them,...." I once knew a guy who went in to long distance trucking. He once told me (A few years back) that he was told/taught to keep 2 different log books. The one you showed the authorities when asked and the one you showed the boss to get paid. The unsaid assumption was they weren't the same.


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 7:29 p.m.

I do not believe there is, at this time, any relationship between the accident and the trucker's logbook. A well-rested vehicle operator, whether a long-haul trucker or a private citizen, could be involved in this tragic scenario because they "lost" the cyclist in the early morning (or late evening) eastbound / westbound light.


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 5:04 p.m.

This article states "charges are pending".

Craig Lounsbury

Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 4:20 p.m.

I''l further add that anyone who thinks every trucking employer is happy with the Government HOS regulations your mistaken.

Craig Lounsbury

Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 4:13 p.m.

If you read the regulations for hours of Service it will become obvious why 2 logs are often kept. Maybe you only took 7 1/2 hours instead of 8. Maybe you only took 31 hours off instead of 34 hours off before you restarted your 60 hours /7 days cycle.

Craig Lounsbury

Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 4:02 p.m.

I could be wrong on the following but here goes..... I don't believe there is any GPS mandate by the Government. Truckers are required to have a written log if pulled over by any authority. GPS if any is for the use of the employer. Some employers that use GPS do so to insure the trucks are where they are supposed to be, NOT as a log book substitute to insure compliance with Hours of Service regulations. And if a driver owns his own truck and is self employed nobody requires him/her to have a GPS. The federal government requires him/her to have a written log book. If one is self employed owning ones own truck there is nobody requiring a GPS.

Lynn S

Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 3:19 p.m.

Someone already said this, but fleet carriers use electronic monitoring of drivers. It is extremely difficult for a driver to fake a log today. Many years ago, when drivers used handwritten logs it was possible to keep a double book, but handwritten logs have gone the way of the dodo. Your comment is based on out-of-date information.


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 1:37 p.m.

@Fat Bill Before we go assuming the biker is at fault, we need to be sure that the trucker had gotten enough sleep, all his lights were in order, and he was alert and un-distracted. Just before daybreak is a tough time to see; I have encountered truckers who don't pay attention and drive tired/distracted.


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 1:30 p.m.

That is and old assumption, nowdays with gps and onboard computers that would be hard if not impossible to do.

Angry Moderate

Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 12:54 p.m.

"The unsaid assumption" "I'm not assuming anything"


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 12:13 p.m.

Thoughts and prayers for the Cornell family and Mr. Clark and Mr. Muscato. Fat Bill: Before we go assuming the cyclists are at fault, we need to be sure that the driver's rig had proper headlights in working order. Just before daybreak is a tough time to see. I have encountered drivers driving without headlights on, exceeding the speed limit, driving while not wearing a seatbelt, falling asleep at the wheel, driving while intoxicated, texting, eating, drinking, and talking on cell phones.

Craig Lounsbury

Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 11:30 a.m.

Fat Bill, I'm not assuming anything. Just stating what I was told by a trucker.


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 10:59 a.m.

You are insinuating that the trucker, or most truckers, kept false log books based on what one person's experience was? Really?

Fat Bill

Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 2:34 a.m.

Before we go assuming the trucker is at fault, we need to be sure that the bicyclists had proper lighting on their bikes. Just before daybreak is a tough time to see; I have encountered bicyclists who wear dark spandex or sweats and have zero lights or reflectors.

Craig Lounsbury

Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 12:23 a.m.

prayers for comfort to family and friends