Seth Vidal, creator of “yum” open source software, killed in bike accident off Hillandale Rd.

Seth Vidal, a long time Durham resident most well known for creating the “yum” software used by several Linux distributions, was killed in a hit and run accident last night near Hillandale golf course. He was 36 years old.

The accident apparently occurred after dark, when a driver swerved off the road to avoid traffic and ran into Seth’s bike from behind. Seth was pronounced dead after being transported to Duke University Hospital. The driver sped away, and police are requesting that people call in if they have any information on the suspect’s identity.

I had the privilege of meeting Seth a few times, and although I did not know him well I have been a long time user of his software and have always held him in the utmost regard. He developed yum initially at Duke University, and the software evolved to become an integral component of various Linux distributions, including Red Hat’s Fedora and RHEL. After leaving Duke, Seth went on to work at Red Hat, where he continued to develop yum and various other projects.

Editorializing even more than usual: as a fellow bike commuter, this story has impacted me more than I would have anticipated. I commute by bike, I get around a lot by bike, and learning that somebody I admired was killed in this way so close to my home has really struck a nerve.

I didn’t know Seth well, but I know he will be missed.

EDIT: new developments will be added to the list below as I learn of them.

  1. The Herald Sun is now reporting that the driver has turned himself in. He is being charged with felony hit-and-run and driving while his license was revoked.
  2. WRAL now reports that the suspect’s license had previously been revoked for a DWI.
  3. Red Hat has posted some words.
  4. The Herald-Sun has posted an editorial on the state of cycling in Durham.
  5. Seven Stars Cycles has dedicated its group ride this weekend to the memory of Seth.
  6. Details on the service, this Saturday.
  7. The Herald-Sun has an article on the service. Watts-Hillandale will hold a vigil tonight at the site of the incident.
  8. Indy Week has a brief article on the incident.
  9. A “ghost bike” memorial has been placed at the site of the incident.

EDIT: Maceo Christopher Kemp Jr. has been found guilty of felony hit-and-run and driving with a revoked license. He will serve 12-24 months minus time served (6 months).

49 thoughts on “Seth Vidal, creator of “yum” open source software, killed in bike accident off Hillandale Rd.”

  1. why is this being referred to as an “accident” this is a CRIME committed after a “fatal collision” not by any means an accident.

    1. Would you like to make a case that it was intentional murder? As horrific and awful as this death is, and as criminal as the subsequent fleeing is, it is reasonable to assume at this point that the actual collision was indeed an accident unless you have a compelling case to make to the contrary.

      1. Leaving the scene is a crime. Intentional or not, the driver fled, therefore a crime has been committed.

      2. Seth didn’t die to the crime, he died to the accident. It is correct though that it is a crime

      3. To Jeff Jefferson, Richard Masoner (and apparently several others who don’t want to read) —

        “… and as criminal as the subsequent fleeing is …”

        Is the above ambiguous in any way? We are not in disagreement that this hit-and-run is a crime, and no one is trying to excuse the driver for what he did by calling it what it almost certainly is: an accident.

      4. “Accident” is a popular euphemism for collision, used without malice. But if every unintended collision is “just an accident”, there’s no room for negligence, and no moral standing to demand that responsibility be taken for putting others in danger so that *things like this happen less*.

        When I read the headline “killed in bike accident” to describe someone being killed by a motorist having intentionally driven off the road and unintentionally over his body, I’ve been mislead about what happened and who behaved dangerously. As far as I could tell the cyclist rode off a cliff. It’s wrong, and it’s absurd. If the victim were walking, would the headline read “killed in walking accident”?

        Both “accident” and “murder” assume facts we can’t immediately know. The former softly absolves, the latter harshly condemns. “Collision” is neutral: it is a sensible default. And whether or not people like me are weird for giving a shit, we did succeed this year in forcing the NYPD to officially change from “accident” to “collision”. We’re making progress.

    2. I agree that the word accident carries the wrong message. And that is a general problem with road casualties. The term accident is especially inappropriate in cases where a person going about his active and benign transportation ( cycling, walking etc) is killed by the mass, speed and size of a motorized vehicle. In most cases there was no intent on behalf of the driver but there is often negligence and there is often something inherently wrong with roadway design, speed limits and provisioning for cycling and walking.
      Many organisations, like RoadPeace in the UK, urge society to rather use words like “crash” or “collision”. I understand official bodies in some countries have changed their standard vocabulary.
      RIP Seth Vidal

  2. Does anyone else find the “Be the first to Like this” button inappropriate on sad news?

    RIP Seth. Your legacy will live on in perpetuity.

  3. Just as reasonable to assume the actual collision was indeed negligent homicide unless you have a compelling case to make to the contrary.

    1. Without any evidence to swing either way, I would postulate that the more reasonable assumption falls inline with what the statistical average is. Seeing as how most hit and runs are accidents, where people are trying to avoid responsibility for a mistake, then it is actually quite reasonable to assume that this tragic event is indeed an accident.

      RIP Seth, I didn’t know you at all except through your software.

      1. Negligent homicide doesn’t mean the perpetrator intended to kill. It means their negligence caused a death. We don’t know what led the driver to “swerve off the road to avoid traffic.”

        Was it because someone was passing unsafely? Was the driver going to fast to stop or slow down for a car in front of him or her and took the shoulder instead? I don’t know, perhaps we will find out soon. But if the driver was speeding, driving aggressively, or drinking negligent homicide is not an unreasonable charge.

  4. I worked at a bike shop in Durham for many years and, while I didn’t know Seth particularly well, I do know that he was a valuable and vital member of our cycling community. Through our interactions over the years it was clear the he was a safe and experienced cyclist and will no doubt be deeply missed. Love to his friends and family.

  5. May he RIP. Prayers for his family & friends. “Hit and Run” accidents are becoming an all to common occurrence in Durham. Hopefully the person who caused this will be caught & justice will be served.

  6. Ugh. This is so sad. I didn’t know Seth well, but had chatted with him numerous times. If open source is a forest, Seth was one proud standing oak that, now toppled has left a huge vacancy in his stead. As a fellow biker this makes me very mad as I’ve found biking on public roads to be a huge gamble any more (compared to when I last did it routinely 25+ years ago). Whether driver inattention or intoxication, there’s absolutely no excuse for this.

    RIP Seth.

  7. Citizens of Durham, Seth’s friends, and anyone who can make a difference: Don’t let this issue go unresolved. Find out what happened; watch the court case proceed. Report back.

  8. Just to let you all know, an arrest has been made. The driver turned himself in. My condolences to those who knew him, and RIP Seth Vidal.

  9. My husband and I were 3rd on the scene. I was the first one to his side. It was so sad. I kept my hand on his back and told him that help was on the way and to be still. He wasn’t breathing. We’ve been praying for him and his family. It wasn’t until we just got back home to GA and i looked up the Durham news to see if they found the jerk that left him on the side of the road, that i learned who this victim was. I am sorry this happened to your friend.

    1. Lee Ann,
      Thank you for going to his side. I’m his partner and it gives me comfort that someone was there with him as he was dying.

    2. Lee Ann,
      Thank you so much for your help with Seth. He is my son. Like Eunice, we didn’t know if there had been anyone with him and if he had been in any pain. I have read some of the above entries and no matter what side of the debate you are on, it doesn’t heal the pain of losing one. I, once again, would like to thank you for your kindness. My family is forever grateful to you.

  10. Set is the second computer enthusiast I know from Duke/Durham to die in a biking accident.

    Many years ago Ames Schrader of the Duke Computer center was killed in a bicycle accident on Erwin Road.

    More than about time that Durham (and Duke) get serious about making bicycle safety safer in west Durham.

  11. This is terrible news. The cruelty of a sudden, violent death for such a person is profoundly numbing. You were a pillar in the open source community and your legacy will be perpetuated in every release of yum. Rest in peace, Seth.

  12. Very sad news. Farewell Seth Vidal. Thank you for contributing Yellowdog Updater, Modified (YUM) to the world.

    Cyclist should have their own dedicated cycle lanes. It is too damn dangerous for cyclists to share the same road with vehicles weighing tonnes.

  13. Seth certainly will be missed… by all the people who use Fedora. But commuting by bike in the US is quite dangerous, much more than in other countries with comparable wealth and car traffic. There are nearly 1000 bikers killed per year in the US, even though just 1% of the population commutes by bike (compare: Germany 20%, ~500 bikers killed per year; even though the population of the US is 4 times bigger, so the expectation would be just 100 bikers killed for the US, not nearly 1000!) – most bikes in the US are only used for recreation, and not on the road.

    Well, as this case shows, it doesn’t even help to stay off the road. Some mad driver is going to hit you even when you aren’t on the road. In the US, 90% of all accidents with bicycles are caused by the car driver. Compare Germany: about 40% of all bicycle accidents (including bicycle-bicycle and -pedestrian accidents) are caused by the bikers; for bike-car-accidents, the car driver is accountable for 70% of the accidents (still too much; showing that this “aggressive biker” thing is a myth).

    And this case is extremely reckless; hit-and-run, driving without license, driving outside the road.

    BTW: It is more dangerous to have separated bicycle lanes than sharing the traffic, as car drivers very often oversight bicycles on the lane when turning off. The risk of being hit that way is 4 times higher as if there was no bicycle lane at all. That’s in Germany. There are two safe bicycle lanes: Those on the road, but dedicated (like a bus lane); that way, the cars can see the bikes, but there’s no dangerous overtaking; and those without any intersection with the car traffic – those are the safest, but as you can guess, without intersection is quite difficult. Usually, only bike lanes along rivers or on lakesides have this property.

  14. The driver who was charged is nephew of State Rep Floyd McKissick. I am sure their family is devastated also.

  15. In my experience, when a driver flees the scene of a serious accident, it’s to sober up before they talk to the police (or to get someone else to claim they were driving). It’s possible that this driver fled only because his license was suspended, but I’d be awfully suspicious.

  16. I never met Seth personally but I used his software and I was on some of the same mailing lists, and I often read his blog posts. I can’t believe he’s gone. Best wishes to everyone who knew and loved him.

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