Photo by Magnus Sheen Nihilus; click photo for other shots from the crash scene on his Facebook page.
The most dangerous intersections aren’t always the junction of two streets.
Even here in L.A., where the safety of cyclists has long been little more than an afterthought.
The events of early this morning clearly proved that, as a popular weekly bike ride intersected tragically with a suspected drunk and/or distracted driver, leaving 11 cyclists injured, six of whom reportedly suffered serious injuries. LAPD bike liaison Sgt. David Krumer reports that two of the injured are in critical condition.
The incident occurred at around 1:49 am on the 5900 block of West Jefferson Place in the Blair Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles, near the border with Culver City.
The Midnight Ridazz weekly Koreatown ride had just visited the Baldwin Hills Overlook, which often offers spectacular views of the L.A. Basin, and were paused on the street to regroup when the riders reportedly saw a white car approaching.
According to KABC-7, the driver, who appeared to be using a cell phone — or possibly texting — slowed down, then sped up and plowed into the group.
“We were by the bike lane, waiting for more people to come down. Out of nowhere, I saw the lights coming fast,” said Mario Cruz, who was hit by the car. “It looked like she was stopping, but she kept going.”
Another rider said he warned others to get out of the way.
“I saw her first, and then I started calling everybody out, ‘Hey everybody, merge right, get out of the bike lanes to the sidewalk,’” said one bicyclist. “She slows down. She sees us, I think, and I could see her engine rev, and she just takes everybody out.”
While there are no bike lanes on Jefferson, a satellite view shows a wide shoulder indicated by painted hash marks on the side of the road.
A report on KTLA-5 says at least one rider was trapped under the car for a time.
The driver revved her engine, hopped a curb and “just took everybody out,” Alex, a cyclist, said.
Witnesses say one cyclist was dragged by the car.
Meanwhile, MSNBC suggests the car may have been speeding, as well.
“We were all just chilling right here … she merges in and takes everybody out,” one rider told RMG News.
Another rider estimated the car was traveling at more than 60 miles per hour. “I saw everybody flying towards me. Luckily I didn’t get hit … one of the guys got dragged by the car,” he said.
According to cyclist Eric Bruins, who lives in the area, drivers frequently pass through that section at over 60 mph, despite a 40 mph speed limit and a wide turn offering limited visibility.
The L.A. Times cited a televised witness as comparing “what happened to a bowling ball knocking down pins.”
Of course, it didn’t take long for the media to shift blame from the driver to the cyclists.
KABC reports that at least some of the riders may have been wearing dark clothing, and were stopped under a non-working streetlight. However, other reports indicate that the riders were using lights, as required, while the witness statement that the driver jumped the curb suggest at least some of the riders were out of the roadway at the time of the collision.
And while it might not be smart, I know of no law forbidding cyclists from wearing dark clothing after dark.
Bizarrely, the KABC report goes a large step beyond rational reporting by saying beer and condoms were found in the area, evidently implying that the riders were engaged in a drunken orgy in the middle of the street.
And the auto-centric L.A. Weekly lumps the Ridazz in with Critical Mass for committing the unforgivable crime of being in the way while having fun on two wheels.
The Ridazz, along with sister bike group Critical Mass, are a controversial L.A. institution: Many car-bound Angelenos complain the cyclists are rowdy and in-the-way, whereas Ridazz generally feel the cars are the real problem.
Yes, that certainly justifies an allegedly drunk, speeding driver plowing into a group of stationary bikes and riders, regardless of where they might have been stopped or what they were wearing.
So much for that other intersection, the one where we often find ourselves waiting in vain for good reporting and common sense to somehow collide.
Though I suppose, that may be asking a little too much from the local media under the circumstances.
Fortunately, word is that the LAPD is focusing on investigating the actual incident to determine what happened and who is at fault, rather than getting distracted by the irrelevant matters that seem to fascinate some members of the press.
Like whether there may have been condoms at the scene.
Thanks to Will Campbell, Al Williams, Michael Byerts, Karen Lai, Sgt. Krumer, Alexis Lantz, Alex Amerri, Richard Risemberg, Rex Reese, Richard Masoner, Todd Munson and Eric Bruins for the heads-up; my apologies if I left anyone out.
Update: The Times reports that 27-year old Christine Dahab has been booked on a charge of misdemeanor drunk driving, with $15,000 bail — which would seem exceptionally low under the apparent circumstances, given the number and seriousness of the injuries.
Update: Patrick Miller clarified that neither the Koreatown ride, or any of the rides organized on the Midnight Ridazz site, are sponsored directly by the loosely organized group. Rather, it’s a site where individuals can post their own rides, not unlike posting your own ride on Facebook or some other site.
And apologies to Alex Amerri, whose name I misspelled in my rush to get this story online.
The LACBC’s Alexis Lantz sent the following email to Sgt. Krumer this morning in response to these events:
Good morning Sgt. Krumer,
I’m assuming you’re probably already pretty busy with the collision that occurred last night with a drunk driver and the K-town group ride.
We are hoping you can keep is in the loop on this issue, we have some issues with the way the news has been reporting the incidents – as with so many stories involving people on bicycles – misinformation and blame is often placed on the victim, even when a drunk driver, distracted driver, and speeding are involved.
In particular we’re concerned about folks focusing in on what people are wearing – this should not be a discussion item, whether or not the cyclist had lights, which are required by law is justified – but questioning the color of people’s clothing really shouldn’t be where folks focus their discussion.
While we don’t know the particulars of where exactly the group was in the roadway we hope that the fact that the driver was speeding, drunk, potentially texting at the time of the collision, and failed to slow, change lanes or do anything to avoid a collision will be taken seriously and be the focus of this investigation and reporting. If a car was stopped in a travel lane due to mechanical problems and the same thing happened – the onus would be on the drunk driver, not the driver with mechanical problems. This collision should not be treated any differently and I have complete faith in you and the officers at LAPD that this collision will be well investigated and the driver will be held accountable.
Please use this opportunity to try and further educate the media and public about the rights and responsibilities of all road users.
Thank you for your constant hard work and dedication.
Planning & Policy Director
Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition
On an unrelated subject, Byerts also reminds us that current Congressman, future New York mayoral candidate and all around schmuck Anthony Weiner is resigning his office after revelations that he texted images of the little Weiner to a number of women, none of whom his wife.
Considering this is the same guy who famously promised to tear out all of the city’s new bike lanes, I say it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving