Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Cycling Tragedies Hit Close to Home

Sunday before my fourth ride of the week I found out that two cyclists were killed on Friday and Saturday within miles of where I live, and on the very roads that I ride nearly every single time I go out on my bike. Not to mention, the same roads that most my friends, family, training partners and fellow local athletes ride on too. Of course, any time I hear of any cyclist who was killed or injured by a driver is tragic news wherever it happens, but the news of these two deaths really hit home being it was my home turf.

In one incident, a 29-year-old girl was hit by a flatbed truck at an intersection and killed instantly. I looked her up, and she seemed like a super cool chick -- a nutritionist, full of life,active, very pretty, and obviously very well-liked. Terrible.

The other incident was just as horrific, if not worse: A 57-year-old woman was hit from behind by a truck, and the truck fled the scene. She later died at the hospital. This occurred on a well-known hill in our area, Newport Coast Drive, a hill I climb multiple times a week -- I had been on it just last Wednesday for hill repeats, and several times before that in the past week and a half. It's my go-to hill, as it is for many local cyclists.

Yesterday all of this was still heavily on my mind as I rode again, this time about 60 miles around Orange County. Then when I got home, it got even more personal....

My sister called and told me the 57-year-old woman who was killed on the hill was OUR family doctor of nearly 30 years, Dr. Catherine Campion (or Ritz, her married name). She had been such a huge part of all of our lives in one way or another -- from delivering my sister, to being someone who's helped my mom, dad, grandma, uncle, and myself with our health issues from the minor to serious throughout our lives. I couldn't believe such an amazing, stand-up citizen who was the epitome of health and wellness had her life taken from her. I also know that she was a very accomplished cyclist (she's done 12 double centuries among other accomplishments), and a huge advocate of SAFE cycling. Her husband is also a cyclist, and this was a sport that they shared together. He was riding with her at the time of the accident... I can't even imagine....

Yesterday, I visited both of the accident sites where the women were killed. I went with my mom and sister to our doctor's site, and it was tough. Later on, my dad visited as well while driving on business. In fact, this is a photo of my dad at the site that The Daily Pilot took and has on its website today: 
The Daily Pilot, Newport Beach newspaper

The site of my doctor's death really got me wondering. The accident did not occur at an intersection -- as it did with the 29y/o girl -- it was a long stretch of straight road after you crest the hill. It has a clearly marked bike lane, and I know it's usually a low-traffic area. (Click here for a picture.) It honestly makes me feel like the driver of the truck probably wasn't paying attention (texting, on the phone, or who knows) and swerved into the bike lane, hitting Dr. Campion. Again, knowing her, I highly doubt that she was at fault by being outside the bike lane or something. Plus, since the murderer fled the scene, that's even more reason to believe he made a big mistake by driving while being distracted and causing harm.

The good news, if any, is that the hit-and-run driver was caught last night. I hope he's in jail forever.

The other comforting thing I noticed is that both sites have white-painted bikes (as you can see above) that have been locked to the sites with a sign that reads the victim's name, date of death and the words "A Cyclist Was Killed Here." This is comforting to me because it shows that someone or some group is trying to increase awareness of these tragedies -- tragedies that often slip under the radar if you're outside the cycling/triathlon community.

In researching these deaths, I also read that another woman was hit and seriously injured in the area last Thursday! Thankfully she is still alive. But in her case, a passenger van (one of those big ones) hit her and kept going!!!

To be honest, this time, after these deaths, I'm ready to start being more active however I can in helping to make cycling safer, prevent accidents and to just increase awareness of this problem of vehicles vs. cyclists. Nine cyclists have been killed in Orange County this year, and that doesn't even include all those who were hit, injured and survived -- and that's just in one county in the US!

It just doesn't feel right that we as athletes need to fear for our lives every time we hit the road for a ride. Most of us who ride are trying to make this world a better place by being keeping our bodies healthy, helping the environment, and by setting good examples for others. We should feel safe in doing so!

Please be safe out there.


  1. This is the very reason I spend most of my time on the trainer. Another 2 women I know were hit this past weekend and severely injured. I literally got home from my long run Sunday to see 4 women hit, 2 killed this weekend on their bikes. It scares me!! And what scares me is watching negligent riders get by NOT following the rules of the road.

  2. My buddy is an EMT and a cyclist and said to stay out of Laguna Cyn for the same reason as the doctor probably got hit. He said the cops told him that people are texting and naturally always drift to the right. So many people get hit in the canyon, which sucks because it's a great stretch to speed through.
    One person suggested those bumps on the bike lane that warn the driver they've drifted. I see this or a very expensive set of separated lanes all over the state.

  3. Very sad, and even more "human" and tragic when you learn what great people and citizens these cyclists were. Sorry to hear that your family knew the doctor as well.

    The bikes are "ghost bikes," in case you weren't aware of the term and history.

  4. Elizabeth, I totally agree that the trainer is a great and safe alternative. But when you're trying to geth in 100-200 miles a week, that's just hard to do it all on a trainer. Plus, there's something about riding outside that's so refreshing and special. There's MTB too, but sometimes that's logistically more difficult to do and usually harder riding that I don't always feel like doing :/

    It is very disturbing to think that the canyon is also so sketchy too (as is Santiago Canyon). For many of us there are our go-to routes--any time of day, seven days a week there is someone out there riding! Whether I'm riding or driving, I see sketchy driving by others all the time... ugh. Those bumps do help to some degree I'm sure.

    Thanks for the clarification on ghost bike! I saw that term on one of the articles, and now it makes sense.

  5. We went to the meeting last night in Newport Beach and while a lot of local riders showed up, the council members (and in particular the mayor) didn't seem to be super motivated to make any changes. Hard to believe but the mayor of NEWPORT BEACH had the nerve to say they didn't have enough money to go around. Ummm come again? What?! Even when cyclists asked how much money they needed, and volunteered to paint the roads or put up signage they weren't very interested. They just kept talking about how their hands are tied by "policy". It made me sick and it made me angry. I ride these same roads every other day. I'll be adding my bright bike light on the back of my bike even during day time rides, but that won't stop people who aren't even looking at the road :(

  6. Enraging. As an avid cyclist, this just crushed me to hear about these two wonderful people. Yet, were the ones who have to turn the other cheek when someone beeps from behind or shouts nonsense out there window for fear of retaliation against us or the next rider these jerks come along. My only hope is that people learn from these acts and that the swift and powerful hammer of justice does not fall lightly on these two drivers.

    Rest in peace ladies and know your deaths were not in vain, we are sharing your story here in Ohio and beyond reminding people to share the road and look out for cyclists.

    Ride safe out there everyone! Like Rose mentioned I use my rear light flasher at all times on the road. Coming in and out of the shade where I ride makes cyclists hard to see and I don't want anyone standing over me on the side of the road saying, "he came out of nowhere".

  7. I made a tough decision not to train on the road after a couple of friends were hit: one died, the other broke his neck. An older father and son on PCH. I ride short stints to the bike paths. Not nearly as pretty for scenery. I go long on bike paths or trade out time for long mountain bike rides, usually at El Moro. I know my fitness would be better if I trained on the road, but I don't want my destiny determined by some distracted driver. Really sorry for your loss! I'm not optimistic that we'll have any other options in the near future. It's a personal decision that just got a whole lot more personal for you.

  8. It's getting harder and harder to ride outdoors in Austin. If I'm not on an early morning group ride, then I pretty much stick to the trainer. Boring, but safe.

  9. Sorry to hear of this. We have the same serious problem in my area. Last year a group of riders went for a ride and a truck ran into the entire group and killed an army doc who was also a husband and dad. Some day driven with cell phones will be like DWI. We need a device which keeps cell phones from working while in the drivers seat!!!