Six days ago, on my way to work at 8:05 in the morning, I witnessed an accident involving a car and a bicyclist. Or, as I've said to a number of friends, "The MOST ghastly thing I have EVER seen!!" I pulled into a gas station on busy TIburon Blvd., also known as Highway 137 here in the Bay Area. This Chevron station is south-faceing on Tiburon Blvd, and is bordered by N Knoll Rd. on it's east side. There is a vet's office we've started using one block up N Knoll behind the Chevron, and we love them because they love Apollo, our beloved rescue pup, but I digress. I pulled out of the station onto N Knoll, then waited behind another car to turn right onto Tiburon Blvd. When at the stop sign a moment later, I said to myself, "I'll turn after that cyclist rides through the intersection. The next moment I was saying to myself, "Why is that car going to ram that bicyclist?? There's a left-hand turn lane for the people driving east on TIburon Blvd so they can get onto N Knoll heading northward.
Stop sign at N Knoll where I was waiting to turn right.
OH MY GOD! Those were truly the first three words out of my mouth. . .I mean, it was so unbelievable to witness. The cyclist was smashed into by a Toyata Avalon, he hit the windshield, resulting in a large crack, flipped a 360, and landed in the middle of the street 5 feet from where I was stopped with my window down. I shouted "Stay there, I'm calling 911," then whipped my car into the shoulder of the hwy, grabbed my phone and called 911. While making the call, the victim was coming to, and when we made eye contact something compelled me to say "I'm a Trainer at Bay Club Marin, and I'm actually on my way there to teach a cycling class." I think it was my way of letting him know I had a clue.
The 911 dispatcher started in with the usual questions after I'd filled my opening statement with as many adrenaline-breathed details as I could: exact location, victim is conscious, no I won't let him move, yes the driver of the car is here, it's greyish green, and as I saw the Sherriff's vehicle approaching she said "I'm letting you go, officer is on scene." Very quickly two fire trucks also arrived, and a couple of minutes later the CHP showed up as well. This is who I gave my statement to.
The highway patrol officer was friendly, knew I had a studio of 40 people waiting on me, and asked some very specific questions, including: did the car hit the cyclist or the cyclist hit the car? car. was the cyclist speeding at a high rate? no. When we were talking, we had to turn ourselves to get the sun out of our eyes, and I'll bet the driver stated the sun was an issue for him. If you know something about driving due east or west at sunrise or sunset in Marin County or maybe your county, then you know of what I write. As shocking as the sight of it was, this seemed to be purely an accident. The driver appeared responsible, remorseful, and worried for the cyclist. He didn't engage with me in take charge mama mode, nor the victim, and could surely see the emergency response system was in place and he just needed to wait for the authorities.
When I'd phoned my workplace to let them know I was coming but would be late, I started crying uncontrollably when my front desk pal answered the phone. I calmed myself enough to tell him what was up, would someone please go communicate with my waiting room of cyclists, and then hung up and made sure nothing more was needed of me at the scene. I had to go say goodbye to the victim I didn't know at all, but to whom I felt slightly bonded now. Plus, although I had a good idea he had a broken collarbone or shoulder when he said he couldn't move his arm, I kinda wanted to know how ok he was going to be. If you could have seen it how I saw it, in the same almost slow-motion frame by frame moment, you'd be as amazed as I this guy wasn't more broken. I mean he was smacked by a car, went flying, and landed in a heap let me remind you. And now I'll add one crucial detail to this story—especially for this guy's life story moving forward. He was wearing a properly fitted helmet. I don't know if it saved his life, but it saved his skull in a very basic way. I know, such an obvious choice, right? Umm, no.
I'm always quietly appalled when I see a bicyclist without a helmet on their head. And I don't need to hear about your short trip distance, bike handling skills, helmet hair, or personal right to freedom. Accidents happen. I'm not paranoid. They happen. If Spencer—I discovered his name later—had been 5 seconds earlier or later on his bike, or the motorist had been delayed at home by the dog he had in his car (going to the vet?), I'd have no tale to tell. A couple of days after the accident, I thought I'd get an idea of bicycle helmet safety statistics. I did your typical Google search and the first five entries were as I'd expected— links to government and safety study databases. The sixth was a link to a cyclist-blogger's piece, the subject being his opposition to mandatory helmet laws. A little wordy, but I read it. Intrigued when I finished, I clicked over to the home page to get some info on this strong-opinioned rider named Ken Kifer. Here's what the banner at the top of the page said:
Note: Tragically, Ken Kifer was killed by a drunk driver in September 2003. He is missed more than words can say. [UPDATE: Read about the trial outcome.]
You can check out the story for yourself, read about the outrage around the drunk driver, how he was hours out of prison on a DUI offense. But was Ken wearing a helmet? They do not make a point of saying he was or wasn't, which combined with his statement would lead me to doubt it. Would one have saved his life? I don't know, but it is a cruel world, and accidents will happen, so isn't your life worth $45? I bet your friends and family and co-workers would say it is. Wear a helmet riders.
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