60-year old cyclist killed in San Diego; police and press fall over themselves to blame the victim

Excuse me if I’m a little livid.

But once again, a cyclist has been killed. And once again, the police — and the local press — have fallen all over themselves to blame the rider.

Let’s start with official version first.

Around 11:50 am Saturday, a pair of cyclists were riding in a designated bike lane on eastbound Friars Road in San Diego, near the off-ramp for the northbound I-15 freeway. The riders attempted to cross the off-ramp; one made it, one didn’t. The victim was described only as a 60-year old white male who lived with his wife in San Diego.

According to some reports, he was hit when he attempted to ride in front of a truck; according to other reports, he hit the side of the truck and fell beneath its wheels.

No, he didn’t.

There are very few cyclists anywhere who don’t have a healthy respect for — if not fear of — large trucks. The chance that anyone would actually ride into one is somewhere between slim and none.

Then there’s the comparative speeds. The rider would have likely been travelling at somewhere around 15 – 20 mph, possibly a little more or less, while the truck would have been exiting a major freeway at highway speeds.

So who exactly hit whom? Saying the bike hit the truck is kind of like saying you hit Mike Tyson’s fist with your face.

Meanwhile, according to the San Diego NBC station, a spokesman for the police suggested that the cyclist was clearly at fault.

“It appears at this time, that the bicyclist traveled in front of the truck violating his right-of-way and was struck by the commercial vehicle,” said San Diego Police Lt. Dan Christman.

Maybe it’s me. But one of us seems to misunderstand the most basic concepts of right-of-way law.

I was taught that merging traffic must yield to through traffic. Which means, unless the intersection was clearly marked to the contrary, the cyclists should have had the right-of-way, not the truck.

There is nothing in the law that says that the larger vehicle — or the faster vehicle — has the right-of-way.

Then, in an astounding demonstration of failing to understand the most basic traffic concepts, the officer points out that the bike lane the cyclists were riding in stops just before the off ramp, then begins again in the far right lane on the other side of the junction.

So what, exactly, were the cyclists supposed to do when the bike lane ended? Magically levitate to where it starts up again?

Or maybe they just weren’t supposed to be there in the first place?

As the satellite view clearly shows, cyclists using the bike lane have no choice but to ride across a busy, high-speed off ramp, hoping against hope that exiting drivers will yield to them.

Maybe the police should try riding across that off-ramp themselves.

So rather than the fault lying with the cyclists, it would appear to be a case of exceptionally poor road design, combined with the driver’s failure to yield to oncoming traffic — in this case, a bike. And an investigation by a police department that could use a little more training in the rights and responsibilities of cyclists.

I hope his family has a very good lawyer.

It looks like they’re going to need one.

Update: The victim has been identified as Marberry Ben Acree of San Diego; his brother-in-law writes to note the family is still in shock, as would be expected, while friends express their grief.

A couple of the news reports indicate that satellite photos show the bike lane runs along Friars Road as the off-ramp merges with the through lanes. I relied on Google’s satellite photos because I’m over 125 mile from the scene of the collision; there’s no excuse for any San Diego-based station relying on satellite photos instead of taking news van over there to look at the damn road themselves.

A man was killed; isn’t that worth a little actual reporting?

 

53 comments

  1. Wow…this is very upsetting. The bias against bicyclists is crazy. Good luck to his family!

  2. David Kelly says:

    Here we go again another life lost and a family torn apart. And as always its the bike/cyclists fault. Who would be at fault if it was a police officer on a bike that was hit? The drivers fault I would saym. My condolences to the family. It a shame how everyone is quick to point out how it’s everyone else’s fault and don’t want to take responsibility for their actions. What’s going to happen to the driver who hit the cyclist (a slap on the wrist). And to the cycling community a big slap in the face. What a shame, what a shame

  3. On behalf of my brother in law and our family, thank you for your insights. We are still in shock.

    • James Esther, MD says:

      Dr. Alters,
      I am the one in the cycling jersey that assisted with the CPR on your brother in law. I did not have a chance to say how very sorry I am for your loss and the ordeal your family is going through. You and your family are in our prayers. Our deepest condolences to you.

      • Dear Dr. Esther,

        Thanks so much for your assistance. Do you have any information about the accident. We are in disbelief and shock. It doesn’t seem quite real yet. Thank you for your kindness and prayers on behalf of our family.

        Sincerely,

        Dennis Alters, MD

        • bikinginla says:

          Dr. Alters, I am so sorry for your loss. From what I have read, it sounds like there was no excuse for this collision, and it doesn’t appear that your brother-in-law was at fault, despite what the police have said.

          My heart goes out to you and your family. Let me know if there’s something I can do to help.

          And Dr. Esther, thank you for doing what you could.

  4. The road design has to be as bad as it can get. A block before, cyclists have to leave the bike lane and edge across two right-turn lanes (with not even a crosswalk), get to “safety” for a few feet, and then merge across another lane of high-speed traffic exiting the freeway. I can’t tell who had what right-of-way, but the governing authority should be thoroughly ashamed of making what appears to be a cyclist death trap. (By contrast, here’s a Dutch design.) I hope the family does everything it can to fight the police version and find some justice in this tragedy.

    • bikinginla says:

      I hope so too. It can be hard to think about at times like this, and I can understand how some families just want to put it behind them. But as you said, this interchange appears to be a death trap and clearly needs to be changed — as does the apparent bias on the part of the police.

  5. Peter Schrock says:

    This is so sad and so frustrating, and is bound to keep on happening. What can we do to change things?

  6. I’m very sorry to hear about this. Condolences to the family. It does indeed sound like a “cyclist death trap”.

    Peter Schrock asks “what can we do to change things?” People will disagree with what I’m about to say, and accuse me of using this tragedy to advance an ideological agenda, but I’m trying to reply sincerely to the question.

    Cycling educators know that the safest way to cycle on a high speed multilane road is NOT in fact to stay on the side, but to control the rightmost lane, so that overtakers have to change lanes to pass. This makes you more visible from further away, and reinforces to overtakers that they have to take you into consideration. I know this was not an overtaking collision, but in fact a lane control position MAY also have made this cyclist more obvious to the trucker when he presumably looked behind him to merge, and would also have given the cyclist more maneuvering room if the trucker still didn’t see him soon enough.

    Am I blaming the victim? NO! Most cyclists understandably believe they are safest on the side of the road, and the building of many bike lanes only reinforces that view. Motorists also routinely bully cyclists who seem too “uppity”, especially when a bike lane or shoulder is present, and on car-centric roads like this one. Both the traffic engineering and the law enforcement communities need to understand traffic cycling better than they do, and bicycle educators have to do a better job making their education appealing to the public.

    In my opinion, that’s the answer to Peter Schrock’s question. I know it’s a harder answer than building more bike lanes, and many people disagree with me. But it’s what I believe, since he asked.

    OR, build completely separated facilities that avoid the need for any car/bike interaction whatsoever, which requires mucho money and political will. And it’s an open question whether that’s physically possible in all places even where money and political will may exist, which these days is iffy most everywhere.

    Again, my condolences to this cyclist’s family and friends.

    • bikinginla says:

      I fixed the typos, John, Can’t argue with anything you said. My personal take would be for cyclists to band together to demand change. Here in L.A., we’ve have good luck pressing for change with a responsive mayor and City Council, as well as catching the ear of the new police chief. I can’t speak to the situation in San Diego; however, I do know that if you want things to change, you have to demand it.

  7. Jim Lucas says:

    As advised by Tempe & Scottsdale (Arizona) LEO’s I ride just to the right of the centerline of the rightmost lane. I have been reported to be riding in the center of the road, a lie. In Scottsdale a LEO who was former bike moun ted officer told me and the investigating officer that that is the safest place to ride a bicycle and is therefore as close to the curb as I should ride. A Mesa LEO, on the same kind of a call, told me that the law requires me to ride as close to the curb as possible. My definition of as close to the curb is as close to the curb as I can and not be in constant danger, therefore to the right of the centerline of the right-most lane. I will not argue with the LEO, however, if I am written up will have an attorney argue the position in court.

    • bikinginla says:

      Smart response. My advice is always say yes sir and no ma’am to the officer, as the case may be, and take the ticket. Then take it up with the higher ups in the department to try to get the policy changed. And definitely get a lawyer if you can afford one.

  8. thom says:

    The SDPD has a history of blaming the bicyclist/victim. In November 2009, Walter Freeman was struck and killed by an SDPD cruiser supposedly traveling the posted 45 mph speed limit, responding to a non-emergency call without lights or siren activated. Freeman was an experienced and safety-conscious cyclist riding in his own neighborhood on a route he rode every morning. The SDPD’s internal investigation (the only one conducted) concluded that Freeman rode directly into the path of the cruiser, and exonerated the officer involved. Based on news reports at the time, Freeman was probably making a legal lane change into a left turn lane and the officer did not see him and struck him from behind. But will they ever admit that? Of course not, because who’s going to call them on it if they don’t?

    • bikinginla says:

      I remember that case well. Sounds like local cyclists need to use whatever political pressure on the department to force change. It may take a long time and a lot of effort, but cyclists have a legal right to road — but that right is easily taken away by biased or uninformed law enforcement.

  9. Linda Sweeney says:

    This is a tragedy. The bike lane did not provide a safe route for the cyclist. Blaming the cyclist, when clearly the bike lane is inadequate as designed, is just shameful. My heart goes out to Doc Alter on the loss of his beloved brother-in law.

  10. spat says:

    Ok, here we go….dude, you weren’t even there, how do you feel you can say what the rider did and didn’t do? Far too often, you clown’s wearing your matching jammies, acting like you are in the “Tour de France” feel that you own the road and everyone should bow down to you because you are all a bunch of Lance Armstrong wannabe’s. I am sorry the guy got killed, i really am, and feel for his family, but don’t make up stories about what happened, none of you were there.

  11. spat says:

    This is what i am refering to
    “According to some reports, he was hit when he attempted to ride in front of a truck; according to other reports, he hit the side of the truck and fell beneath its wheels.
    No, he didn’t.”

    No he didn’t ? Was the author there? How dare you make that assumption.

    And suggesting the Police department needs more training is appalling. And based upon some of the comments being thrown around here, the driver of the truck should be sued? for what? he wasn’t at fault, but now he will have to pay thousands of dollars in legal fees win or lose to defend himself. Ridiculous.
    Again, i am horrified this happened, but let’s not blame an innocent guy for a tragic accident. His life is forever changed also. yes he is still alive, but he will never forget this day i am sure.

    • bikinginla says:

      Sorry Spat. I stand by my conviction that no cyclist would willingly put himself into a position to run into the side of a truck. Any sane person knows the danger big trucks pose, and would go out of their way to avoid it. That suggests that the collision occurred in some other way, and in fact, more recent reports say the bike was hit by the front of the truck.

      I never blamed the driver or suggested he should be sued; he may or may not be at fault. I do believe whoever is responsible for the road design bears at least some culpability for Acree’s death. And I strongly believe the family should get a good lawyer.

      And if suggesting that the police need more training is appalling, then I and a number of other cyclists have been wasting our time working with the LAPD over the last year to improve training in bicycle rights and responsibilities. The fact is, very few police officers anywhere receive sufficient training in bike law, and still fewer have been trained in investigating bike collisions, which is significantly different than investigating car collisions.

      The police spokesman’s comment about the bike lane stopping and restarting suggested that he had little understanding of cyclist’s right to the road. And no one has yet explained why the driver did not have to yield to through traffic, as the law requires.

      I do thank you for dropping the insults and addressing specific issues. You or anyone else is free to disagree with anything I say here. All I ask is that you do it politely.

    • @SPAT: our family has made no such decision nor if you check my statements have I suggested this re: lawsuits we are in shock. We don’t know who was responsible at this point. You seem to have your mind made up on this. You don’t know us.

  12. spat says:

    Dennis, the comments were not directed at your family. It just seems that right off the bat, everyone is saying to lawyer up. Let the family go through the mourning process, sadness anger etc. and sit back and look at the whole situation. but too often these days it is immediatley recommended to get a lawyer. will money bring him back? No. So IF, and i am saying IF, the driver was not found to be at fault as it states he was not cited, what the heck is getting a lawyer going to do? Again, this was a generalization based upon numerous post’s, in no way directed towards you or your family. You have way too much to deal with besides this nonsense. just aggrevating the abuse of the legal system nowadays with people trying to make a fast buck is all.

    • bikinginla says:

      Spat, I don’t recall anyone on here — other than yourself — discussing a lawsuit. It may eventually be appropriate to sue the driver, it may be appropriate to sue the city or state agency responsible for designing what appears to be a very dangerous intersection. All that will be determined down the road.

      However, judging from the initial news reports and statements from the police, it appears that there was a misunderstanding, at the bare minimum, of the rights that cyclists enjoy under the law, as well as a rush to blame the victim. And let’s bear in mind that even if the police investigation exonerates the driver, that doesn’t mean their conclusions are correct — under our legal system, that’s for a judge to determine.

      A good lawyer can do a lot more than file suit. In a recent case here in L.A., the police initially recommended against filing charges against a hit-and-run driver; after examining the evidence, the victim’s attorney was able to convince the City Attorney to file charges against the driver, which resulted in a conviction and restitution for the victim. No lawsuit was ever filed.

      I don’t think anyone here is after a fast buck. My only concern is supporting the rights of the victim and his family, and ensuring a fair and honest investigation. What they decide to do is entirely up to them, and is neither your concern nor mine. My heart goes out to them, and I will support them in whatever they choose to do.

      And quite frankly, there is nothing frivolous about the death of another human being, legally or otherwise.

  13. Y.N.TTEE says:

    My condolences go out to the family of Ben Acree. I know too well how tough this must be for this family to make sense of this tragic accident. We lost our father in the 2009 cycling accident in U.C. When the family gets past this stage of shock, they will sort out what they need to in order to make sense of what happened.

    May your hearts heal and may you find peace over time by the gestures of your friends, family, and advocates during this difficult time.

    • bikinginla says:

      Sorry for your loss, Y.N. I know myself that the pain eases after awhile, but the hole in your life never heals. My best to you and your fmily.

  14. Thank you YN for your sympathies and to you as well bikinginla. YN I am sorry for your loss as well.

  15. zunkr says:

    Dr Alters,I, as well, have been a victim of being wrongfully blamed through a poorly investigated police report, for an (car)accident that was obviously not my fault. I may be mistaken, but when this accident happened, I believe I read about it on sigalert.com and it was posted that a “truck hit a bicyclist”. Am not sure if those postings come from the 911 calls nor am I sure how or if they are archived, I believe it would be worth checking out. Am so sorry for your family and this senseless loss. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  16. this is crap. operating a motor vehicle is a privilege. I believe that Strict Liability should always be at hand. Public by ways are for the public.

    my condolences
    and I hope there is enough public outcry to help make a change.

  17. thank you both on behalf of my family

  18. Jim Lucas says:

    Until Law Enforcement Officers start enforcing the laws designed to make bicycling safer, no bicyclist will ever be safe.

  19. Nor will motorists. Check this out. Today about 10:45am, only one week after my brother in law was killed, I was driving east on El Camino Del Norte. Approaching in the opposite lane were two cyclists on the right shoulder in single file heading west followed by a blue large SUV and then another cyclist. The oncoming westbound riders and drivers were rounding a turn banking south so I could see the last rider.

    The impatient SUV swerved into my lane forcing me not only into the bike lane on my passenger side also but into a shallow ditch off road. Who passes on a turn?

    My wife and I would wager that the SUV driver would blame the cyclists.

    • bikinginla says:

      I have no doubt you’re right. For some drivers, there seems to be an unwritten law that they can’t follow a bike, even for the few moments it takes to pass safely. I’ve been in situations where I was traveling at or above the speed limit, and drivers have still gone onto the other side of the road to pass me, even if it means getting stuck behind the care ahead of me.

      I doubt you reported it to the police, but perhaps you should have. The driver could have been held responsible for a non-contact hit-and-run; a driver who causes a collision has just as much obligation to stop as one who is actually in the collision.

      I’m just glad you both came out of it okay.

  20. Beth Gosselin says:

    I had the great pleasure to work for Ben over 5 years. He and his wife were both at my wedding, so the news of his untimely death was very upsetting to me.

    Stating that it was Ben’s fault, I find it hard to believe. Ben valued his life and I know he was always extremely careful. Whatever the case, we have lost a great person and I will miss him deeply. My heart goes out to his wife and his family during this difficult time.

    • I have known Ben Acree since the mid-80s. We were close personal friends. He was an extremely experienced and accomplished bicycle rider. He was also a very careful person. Beth, I agree with you.
      I just found out about this because it is about time for Ben and I to meet for lunch, which we did about every 6 months to catch up.
      I am devastated by this, and my heart goes out to Helen and Ben’s family. He was much loved.
      Doug Harry

  21. Thanks so much Beth. Ben’s character, integrity and intelligence as well as cycling experience are quite impressive. It is a tragedy that is beyond comprehension.

  22. Geoff Hunkin says:

    I am saddened to hear that Ben has passed. He was my college roommate at NMSU and we played lots of guitar together as well as lots of crazy times. We kind of last touch over the years, but I received updates occasionally from mutual friends. I considered him one of my closest friends in College. I am very sorry for his wife and family. Blessings to you all.
    Geoff

  23. Blessings to you Helen and Dr. Dennis.

  24. CJ says:

    I’m sorry that the cyclist got killed, but this blog post is irresponsible. The bike lane there appears to only serve the purpose of telling riders where they should be. After that first onramp, it’s non existent, after that point it’s a shoulder, not a bike lane. While yes, merging traffic generally has to yield, it’s also OUR RESPONSIBILITY AS CYCLISTS to do what we can to not get hit. Just because you have the right of way doesn’t mean that people will see or expect to encounter you in a specific place. It also doesn’t necessarily mean that we should go. We all say things about drivers, like why can’t you just wait an extra minute to get where you’re going so you can safely pass, WE NEED TO DO THE SAME SOMETIMES. Your post comes across as stressing that if we have the right of way it’s 100% the other driver’s responsibility to avoid the crash. We need to avoid the SITUATION. Especially on a road like that. Pedestrians also have the right to cross the road in a crosswalk. But you don’t just jump out in front of a speeding car do you? If you do, you generally don’t come out of the situatiion well.

    I’m also a boater, and while there’s rules on the water as to who has the right of way in most circumstances, there’s also the rule of gross tonnage, if you’re gonna lose out in the collision, look out for your own ass and get out of the way.

    • CJ says:

      Let me also add, blaming the road design might just be the worst part. There’s only a short bike lane to define where cyclists should be at the first off ramp. After that point, the through lane should be maintained to allow for merging traffic to merge. Once you start to change lanes, you no longer have the right of way.

      • CJ says:

        I saw better maps, I’m 100% wrong about the bike lane, I see that it’s there the whole length now. But we still need to be more diligent in not just going and assuming people will do what they’re supposed to simply because we have the right of way.

    • bikinginla says:

      CJ, don’t get carried away. Of course it’s the cyclists’ responsibility to ride safely and carefully in this situation, just as it is in every other situation. Regular readers of this blog would know that I stress that on a frequent basis.

      Traffic laws are written to protect all road users, not just the big, fast and deadly ones. If we all observe the right-of-way, few if any collisions would occur. While we all need to be careful and ride defensively, it is the responsibility of everyone — not just the driver — to observe the right of way.

      In this particular case, the cyclist clearly had the right-of-way; the driver should have slowed down. It is also the responsibility of every driver to see and avoid vehicles that are directly in front of them. This driver didn’t, and a man died. Yet both the police and press jumped to the false conclusion that the rider was at fault.

      We can’t improve safety or get justice for anyone by blaming the victim.

  25. W. Douglas Harry says:

    That is so well said. The fault lies either in the design of the bike lane and street, or the truck driver who ddn’t see, or ignored, the bike rider.

  26. Jim Lucas says:

    It seems to happen all the time. Yesterday on a club rideas I was riding in a no passing section, on a two lanes road, with no other vhicles going in my direction, two vehicles were coming towards me. The first vehicle was a pickup truck pulling a trailer, the second and SUV. The SUV was attempting to pass the pickip pulling the trailer. The pickup swerved to its left trying to block the SUV from passing, the SUV accellerated more and swerved to its left, so that it was using all the space including the gutter which was filled with rain water. I saw a driveway on my right, and rode into it to avoid being hit headon by the SUV. I would have been as dead as the 60 year old man in this story. A rider behind me later remarked, “I bet that had your adrennaline pumping,” and that rider was of course so right. The only real damage was all the muddy water splashed from the gutter, all over me and my bike. What is it about some people, who when they get behind the wheel of anything larger than a typical car, they seem to turn into unthinking murderers?

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