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On Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2007, Mark Lee Snopek, 53, was killed by a hit-and-run driver while riding his mountain bike on a favorite 16-mile loop on Boone County Highway R18 near his rural Boone home.
According to Boone County Sheriff Ron Fehr, a “small dark-colored vehicle” traveling northbound on Highway R18 struck Snopek from behind at approximately 8:53 p.m. and continued driving north as Snopek lay alongside the road.
Witnesses in a southbound vehicle said the dark-colored car’s headlights were “briefly eclipsed” just seconds before it struck Snopek. The witnesses alerted authorities via cell phone.
The county road, also known as “L” Avenue, is between 290th and 300th streets.
The Boone County Sheriff’s Office, along with the county ambulance, the Woodward Fire and Police Departments and the Iowa State Patrol responded to the scene, where Snopek — who worked as a wetland ecologist for the Iowa Department of Transportation — was pronounced dead.
Since then, investigators have followed up on several leads but have not found the car that hit Snopek.
In the Iowa DOT’s July 2009 newsletter, the last page featured a tribute to pay respect to those injured or killed while cycling on public roadways.
The article began with how Kay Snopek’s life forever changed the night her husband Mark went out for a bike ride and didn’t come home.
Initiated in Dallas, Texas, after Larry Schwartz was killed on his bicycle May 4, 2003, Schwartz’ friend Chris Phelan formed a concept for a bike ride in Schwartz’ honor.
On May 21, the first Ride of Silence took place in Dallas with more than 1,000 in attendance. By summer 2009, 10 Iowa Ride of Silence events were registered at the Ride of Silence web site, with thousands of bikers riding public roadways in silence to honor the memories of those killed in bicycle crashes.
Five years after it started, the Ride of Silence organization was in all 50 states and 18 countries, with rides in 296 cities accommodating nearly 8,000 riders. In addition to honoring those injured or killed, the event is also intended to raise awareness of cyclists’ legal rights to use the roads. See Bike Laws by State
“It is very powerful to see 80 to 100 bicyclists on the streets, riding in silence,” Snopek’s wife of 28 years, Kay (Milinovich) Snopek, said in the Iowa DOT July 2009 newsletter. “There are no signs, no fanfare, but it certainly does get people talking when they see the riders go by. It’s so sad that there is a need for an event like this.”
In an August 2010 interview with the Ames Tribune, Kay Snopek said her husband always wore a reflective vest and helmet and practiced safety while riding.
“Mark was good rider. He loved exercising, bicycling, getting outdoors,” Kay, 56, said in the Tribune’s August 19, 2010 story. “He was struck from behind. He was wearing a flashing red (warning safety) light. It was flashing red in the dark. You could see it from a couple of hundred yards behind him.”
The Tribune also reported:
Iowa state law requires the driver of any vehicle involved in an accident that causes injury or death to remain at the scene. Leaving the scene of a fatal accident is a Class D felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of $750 to $7,500.
Lead investigator Sgt. Kenny Kendall, Investigations Specialist with the Boone County Sheriff’s Office, told the Tribune “several leads were called in” the day following the fatal hit-and-run.
“Everything is investigated to the end,” he told Tribune reporter Jon Lloyd. “We interviewed a lot of people in the county. All (leads) were chased to the end. We’ll chase every lead. We chase it down until we find out if it’s relevant or not. All proved to be not relevant.”
Kay told the Tribune there is no curve in the road that might have been a factor in the accident.
“R18 is one of the straighter stretches of road around our home,” she said. “It’s exceedingly straight for several miles, like an arrow.”
Mark and Kay Snopek were high school sweethearts in Cudahy, Wisconsin, where both were born and raised. They’d been married 28 years, loved the outdoors, and rode together whenever they could.
The Tribune also reported: Mark’s work as a limnologist for the City of New York — limnologists are scientists who study inland waters — took the married couple from Wisconsin to the small town of West Shokan, near Kingston, in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. After several years there they returned to the Midwest when Mark was hired as a wetland biologist by Kevin Griggs of the Iowa Department of Transportation in 2001, where he worked until his death.
Griggs came up with the idea for a reward, made in pledges, for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of the hit-and-run driver who killed Snopek. Fifty pledges amounted to $15,000, and Griggs, 39, told the Tribune if someone was caught and convicted, the money would be sent to the tipster.
Griggs said he was sure the case would break open and someone would talk, but no one ever did. He’s kept the pledges toward the reward fund open.
To make a pledge, Griggs asks that people contact him by email at Kevin@griggs-strategies.com and indicate their name, address, telephone number and amount they wish to pledge. Griggs said all information will be kept confidential, although Kay Snopek sends personalized thank you notes to each person pledging.
On Tuesday evening, June 28, 2016, a ghost bike honoring Mark Snopek’s life was erected in rural Boone County. Ghost bikes — painted all white — are installed where bikers lost their lives as a memorial to the rider and a reminder to others passing by to share the road.
Mark Lee Snopek was born Feb. 10, 1954, in Milwaukee, Wis., to Leland and Irene (Rostkowski) Snopek. He married Kay Milinovich on April 28, 1979, and worked for the Iowa Department of Transportation as a wetland ecologist.
Mark enjoyed canoeing, especially the boundary waters, bicycling and hiking. He was a voracious reader of natural history.
In addition to his wife, Snopek was survived by his parents, Lee and Irene Snopek of Minocqua, formerly of Cudahy; a sister, Jill Kotke; two nieces, Lindsey Lang and Alyssa Kotke; two nephews, Grant Lang and Taylor Kotke; a special pet cat, Spot; and a host of family and friends.
He was preceded in death by his sister, Amy Lang, in 1985.
Anyone with information regarding Mark Snopek’s unsolved hit-and-run homicide is asked to contact the Boone County Sheriff’s Office at 515-433-0524.