A Fatal Bike Crash Plays Out — 2 Years Later

On Monday, an 87-year-old man pled guilty to criminally negligent homicide in a crash that killed a cyclist. The crash happened in April, 2012. I wrote about it at the time, and about a memorial ride several area bike clubs staged some weeks later.

We all knew at the time that an older man had been driving the car that killed Verter Ginestra, 54. Verter had been riding on the shoulder of Loop 360, a popular biking route just west of Austin. The road is also a high-speed route that gets drivers through the western suburbs. We were convinced the case would be a slam dunk for the local prosecutor. The driver had pulled his car out of the traffic lane onto the shoulder, because he was upset about having to wait in traffic. He sped up, and hit Verter from behind.

But as weeks went by, nothing seemed to happen. I checked in with riders who were friends of Verter, and they said they had no information about the case. The driver had been charged with criminally negligent homicide with a deadly weapon. But after time passed with no resolution, the case dropped off my radar.

Now, its turns out his attorney and the prosecutor worked out a plea agreement. The driver hasn’t been sentenced as of this writing, but newspaper accounts say he is expected to get five years’ deferred adjudication. In other words, probation.

One of the things the incident spurred on was an increased effort by local cyclists to get the authorities to levy tougher penalties on drivers who kill cyclists. That didn’t seem to happen here, although given the age of the driver, it might be the best that could be hoped for.

Since that fatality, we’ve had others in town. We’re still waiting for stiffer sentences for drivers.

 

Slick Streets – And Not From Rain

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I got home from work early Wednesday, and made ready to knock out some quick miles on the bike. It was a hot one — 98 degrees (37C) at 3:30. I dressed in my loosest, lightest weight jersey, some old lightweight bike shorts, and filled my water bottle with ice.

When I reached the Veloway, I was the only one on the three-mile track. Not a car in the parking lot. Not another bike to be seen.

I decided this was not a day to do fast laps. Just maintaining a steady cruising speed would be a challenge this day.

After three laps, I decided to head home. That would give me a 15-mile ride — just about one hour on the bike. Plenty for these conditions. I crossed the gravel parking lot and pointed the bike up LaCrosse.

About a mile from the Veloway, I turn off LaCrosse onto Escarpment to make the last stretch home. Would the stoplight be green or red today? It’s usually red. Today, it was red again, but the cross traffic had a left turn arrow, and that meant I could go ahead and make my right turn without interfering with any cars.

I turned — slid — and the next thing I knew, I was on my stomach in the intersection, with my bike clattering over me. WTF?

The drivers around me just kept going. I got to my feet quickly, and picked up my bike and carried it to the curb. I had some road rash on my right shin, and blood trickled down into my sock. I felt a tingle on my right hip where it had hit the pavement. The shorts were still in one piece.

A glance at the intersection showed me the problem. Some oil had thinned out under the bright, hot sun, and spread a small slick right in the intersection. I must have hit that slick just as I applied power to the pedals to turn the corner. Although I could see the slick clearly now, when I walked over to where I had been when I slid, it wasn’t obvious at all. The sun didn’t reflect off its surface from this angle.

My right shifter was bent inwards, and I couldn’t pull it back to its normal position on the handlebar. I would have to ride the last two miles home with my right hand at a funny angle. I could get out an Allen wrench and adjust it later.

And as I was preparing to get back on the bike, I noticed one other casualty. My bike computer, lying in the intersection. I would have to get it, but now cars were turning across my path. I had to wait. I did — and I watched as one car made its right turn, right over the computer. On my way home from work Friday, I’ll stop at Wal-Mart and get a replacement. It’s only $12.

Now that we’re in the hot part of summer, take care on the roads. Rain won’t be a problem, but oil slicks can be.

The Dangers of Cycling

“While I was lamenting my problems with my sore ribcage, something a lot more serious happened to a good friend of mine. It was last Saturday morning, on one of our club rides.

A group had gone out to Kyle, about 23 miles south of town, and made their usual turnaround stop at a gas station/convenience store. The road through Kyle was repaved about a year ago, and is quite smooth, with a generous shoulder. The Line was moving at about 20 mph, according to one of the riders. It had started to rain. The road was slick. The day was chilly. Because of the wind, the group formed a sort of paceline.

Just before reaching a stoplighted intersection, the lead rider saw two obstacles in his path. One was a car bumper, the other something unspecified. The rider pointed out the car bumper on the right, but did not point out the object on the left. He led the way between the two, expecting those behind him to follow in his tire tracks.

Apparently, the rider behind him braked. The third rider in line swerved. The front tire of the fourth rider, Jerry, touched the rear tire of the third bike. Jerry went down in a heap, and the next four riders went down in a pile.

Jerry suffered a broken femur. A passer-by who turned out to be a nurse treated him for shock until paramedics arrived, and he was taken to an emergency room in Austin. On Sunday, he underwent surgery to repair the break, and is getting close to leaving the hospital as this is posted.

The experience triggered a flurry of posts on the club’s Yahoo group. Debra, whom I ride with on B rides out in the country, had some simple, straightforward advice: “Don’t ride in pacelines.”

The second rider in the line posted that no single thing caused the crash, but suggested some lessons to be learned from the mishap:

  1. Avoid riding in the rain if at all possible (not an option in this case)
  2. Provide more buffer space from other riders (in front and laterally)
  3. Ride slower – not a race – especially in inclement weather
  4. Yell out any road debris and signal behind you

To which, the club president reminded everyone that our club rides are not races, although they might assume an “aggressive” pace from time to time.

Others cited communication as being the most important factor. The lead rider called out the road debris, but did not signal. The second rider signaled, but did not call out. Another member pointed out that calls don’t travel very far anyway.

One of our more experienced members advised that the rider in front should stay focused on the road and try to lead the group around the hazard, rather than point it out and miss it by an inch or two.

Still another said the leader shouldn’t be too diligent at pointing out trouble. “Pointing out every gum wrapper will make your little ducklings less likely to notice the massive boulder they’re about to endo over,” he wrote.

The club president noted that there are only a few group riding configurations. Since it’s inevitable that we will line up behind each other at some point in a group ride, it’s important to be able to handle those situations.

He’s going to arrange for a cycling coach to conduct some paceline drills for the club.

I’ve written before of my aversion to pacelines. But if the paceline drills happen, I’ll probably sign up.

Slow Recovery

It’s been a disappointing week. I thought I had been making a good comeback from my fall two weeks ago. Last Sunday, I did an easy 32-mile ride with no bad consequences. But Monday, I developed some pains in my side.

I had been having these feelings pretty much since the fall, but they were minor. I mostly concentrated on that huge bruise I blogged about last week, and then a hip pointer made itself known. Football players (American football) and hockey players get these, from banging the point of their pelvis bones against something hard. Most of the time, it’s not there, but when I bend my left leg a certain way, the pain is enough to make me jump.

Then on Tuesday, I decided to do my after work ride. It’s a 19-20 mile jaunt through my neighborhood. This time, as soon as I got on the bike, I could feel that pain in my side again. It feels as though something under my ribs is bruised, and if I bend at the waist a certain way, it’s quite painful.

On the bike Tuesday, that ache was with me throughout the ride. Instead of 19 miles, I cut it short and did only 12.

“You should see the doc,” said my wife, when I told her what had happened.

Luckily, my doctor keeps evening hours on Wednesday, and booked me an appointment that evening. He’s always been supportive of my biking, because of the changes it’s made in such indicators as blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Of course, this is a negative effect.

He had me do some stretches, which didn’t hurt. He poked and prodded my sides, and found the quarter-sized spot on my left ribcage that triggered the pain. It’s where the rib meets cartilage, and he told me the cartilage is the damaged part.

“In my professional opinion,” he said, adopting a pedantic tone, “you’re banged up.”

There is nothing to be done. “Even if you had a broken rib, we wouldn’t do anything,” he said. “We’ve stopped wrapping ribs. It turns out that can cause pneumonia.”

He did recommend heat. And anti-inflammatories, which I’d already been taking. But it looks like it will be several weeks before the aches and pains go away.

I dug out the heating pad, and it does work. Saturday, I got on the bike and repeated the ride I had started Tuesday. This time, I did the whole 19 miles. My torso felt fine.

I rode again today. The only time it feels sore is when I stand to pedal up a hill, so I rode a mostly flat course. But I can ride without pain.

I’m looking forward to riding again Tuesday after work. My time in the saddle is really down this year. I’ve got some catching up to do.

 

Biking Through a Bruise

My fingers next to the bruise give an idea of its size.

My fingers next to the bruise give an idea of its size.

I’m still feeling the effects of that fall I had a week ago. I’ve got the biggest bruise on my hip that I’ve ever had, and it was quite painful to start with. However, one nice aspect of our sport is that it seems to help in recovery from these kinds of injuries.

The crash was odd in that I wasn’t moving all that fast. In fact, I was just slowing to make a turn when the rear wheel slid out from under me. But the full force of the impact fell on my left hip. I must have hit the pavement a lot harder than it first seemed, because two days after the crash, I had trouble rising from a chair. It felt like the whole left torso was bruised as well, although I could find no marks.

How did I treat the big bruise? It turns out that I did everything wrong. The recommended treatment for a bruise is to stretch and ice the affected area after the workout. In my case, I felt so good after riding this week that I did nothing except shower. For pain, acetaminophen is the recommended treatment — not ibuprofen. I gobbled ibuprofen two or three times a day.

Sitting for awhile, while watching TV, exacerbated the pain. Moving eased it. Except for Sunday, the day after the crash, I have been on the bike every day — sometimes pushing myself to climb a small hill a little bit faster, or do some intervals. Without fail, I felt better once I got home.

In one regard, I was lucky. I wasn’t bruised anywhere that came into contact with the bike. So when I ride, I feel like a normal person. It’s only after I’ve been stationary for an hour or more that pain becomes a problem.

Bruises heal themselves in seven to 10 days. My bruise is still impressive, in terms of the area it covers, but I can tell the coloring is already starting to fade. I expect to be back to normal in another couple of days. But in the meantime, I think I’ve healed a little faster by exercising those muscles under the bruise than I would have if I’d done nothing.

You and a Car Have Collided. Now What?

This is a guest post by attorney Mike Bomberger, who practices bicycle accident law.

In almost every state a bicycle is considered a “vehicle,” therefore just like motorists, cyclists are required to follow the rules of the road. Unlike pedestrians, bicyclists do not always have the right-of-way and must adhere to all signs and signals. The issue of liability lies with whichever motorist or cyclist failed to obey the law.

iShareTheRoadSignContrary to popular belief, only 11 percent of bicycle accidents involve a collision with a car. The other 89 percent either involve other bicyclists, pedestrians or are due to cyclists losing control of their bikes because of hazardous weather or road conditions. If you are ever part of that 11 percent it is important that you know your rights and the proper steps to take after the accident:

  • Remove yourself from any additional danger. Be sure to get yourself and your bike out of the road to ensure your safety, and to prevent any additional vehicles from hitting your bicycle.
  • Notify the police. You and the motorist are legally obligated to remain at the scene if you or anyone else has been injured, or if there has been any property damage.
  • Gather as much information as possible after the crash. Take photos, preserve evidence, write down the driver’s license plate number, note any road hazards and traffic signs that may prove liability and obtain the driver’s insurance information. You should also check for witnesses and obtain contact information and/or written statements form them.
  • Never negotiate with the motorist. With your adrenaline running high, your body may be masking the extent of your injuries and you could have more bodily damage than you think. Even if the driver accepts blame at the scene of the accident, they could later change their mind and deny blame, or even the accident altogether.
  • Although insurance companies may appear to be on your side, never negotiate with them or admit any fault. They can use everything that you say against you in order to avoid paying out.
  • Be sure the police take your report, and not only the motorist’s. Have the police document any injury or damage to yourself or your bike, regardless of how minor it may seem at the time.

Before contacting your insurance company, you should speak with a personal injury attorney who can advise you on how to deal with them. An attorney can also help you receive compensation for medical bills, lost wages, bike repair, pain and suffering and disfigurement.

Mike Bomberger is a seasoned litigation and trial attorney, who has been involved in numerous multi-million dollar recoveries for his clients.  He is a founding partner of the California bicycle accident law firm, Estey & Bomberger, LLP.  http://www.esteybomberger.com  

Bicycle Injury Study

This blog is aimed primarily at road bikers, and based on the comments and feedback I get from readers, most fit that description. However, I think it’s also safe to say that lots of road bikers don’t stick exclusively to road riding. They might engage in other types of riding, too, such as commuting or utility biking.

That kind of riding is usually done on city streets, and transportation cycling garners a small share of overall trips — as low as one to three percent in the United States, Canada, the U.K. and Australia. One reason often cited for this is safety. Bicyclists tend to be injured more often in countries where transportation cycling is less common.

Examples of cycle tracks in Holland.

A study done in 2008-09 in Canada has gotten some renewed attention here. It’s called the “BICE” study — for “Bicyclists’ Injuries and the Cycling Environment.” The study — of 690 bicyclists who had been hurt in bike crashes — found that the kind of infrastructure available for cyclists is associated with the risk of injuries from bike crashes.

The highest risk infrastructure was a city street with no bike lane and with parked cars. Other high-risk features included train or streetcar tracks, downhill grades, and construction.

Lower-risk features included off-street bike paths, major streets with bike lanes and no parked cars, and residential street bike routes. But the safest bit of cycling infrastructure was the “cycle track.” That’s a segregated bike lane adjacent to a street. They’re not seen much in the United States, but are quite common in the Netherlands.The authors of the study suggest that transportation planners can use the results to help pick cycling structure that will improve safety, and thereby, promote transportation cycling.

The University of British Columbia has a synopsis of the study on its “Cycling in Cities” website, and a complete version of the study can be found as it was published in the American Journal of Public Health.

How is safe cycling infrastructure being incorporated into your area?