Update: Seven high school students injured in Arkansas while biking to Santa Monica

Last night I linked to a horrifying story from Arkansas.

Multiple press reports indicate that a motorist plowed into a group of 13 bike riders from behind, injuring seven — three seriously enough to require helicopter evacuation to nearby hospitals.

News reports indicate they were on an organized tour riding from Charleston SC to Santa Monica. Now one of my regular contributors has dug a little deeper to get the full story.

That group of thirteen cyclists that was hit from behind are high school kids on an epic summer vacation! The tour company, Overland Summers, provides all sorts of adventures, including cross-country bike trips.

Several kids are still in the hospital, and one is in ICU, as of 7am this morning. According to Evan at the head office, parents of most of the injured are with them, having arrived by chartered plane late last night. The uninjured ones haven’t yet decided whether they’ll continue to Santa Monica. There’s another group of Overlanders two days behind, and they’ll probably make the determination whether to join with this second group once it arrives.

If the kids in this party are brave enough to push on, I totally want to meet them.

Unfortunately, the company’s website is down as I write this.

There’s no word yet on how this tragedy occurred. Distracted or drunk driving would be an obvious guess; however, we’ll have to wait for more details before we know for sure. So let’s hold off on organizing an online lynching party. It’s always possible, though unlikely, that a medical crisis or some other factor may have caused this collision.

But one thing is certain. With 13 riders on the roadway, the driver can’t make a legitimate claim he didn’t see them. If he — or she — didn’t, he certainly should have.

Meanwhile, I can’t imagine parents allowing their kids to continue on following something like this. But if they do, I hope the company lets us know.

Like my source, I want to meet them when they get to Santa Monica.

And give them a round of applause they’ll hear back in Charleston.

Let alone Arkansas.

Update: Overland Summers has issued an official statement in response to the collision, and promises to provide updates as things progress.

Newport, Arkansas – On July 2, 2013 seven individuals on an Overland bicycle touring program were injured when a car traveling on Route 17 struck the group. Police and paramedics responded to the scene. Three of the individuals were airlifted from the scene, including one individual who is in critical condition. The remaining four individuals were transported by ambulance and were being treated at local hospitals. Of these four individuals, two have been released. At this time, we at Overland would like to express our deepest concern for those injured and our gratitude to the emergency response teams.

Update 2: More detailed information from the Boston Herald.

The victims were participants in a Williamstown MA summer camp, when they travelled down to Charleston to begin the ride. The riders were hit from behind around 4:35 pm on a straight section of State Highway 17 offering clear visibility just two miles north of McCrory, Arkansas

Charges are possible against the 21-year old driver. 

Update 3: Sadly, the Overland Summer website reports that the critically injured rider, 18-year old Merritt Levitan of Milton, Massachusetts, has died of her injuries. Thanks to Andy R for the heads-up, and deepest sympathy for the victim’s family and loved ones. 

And there won’t be any welcoming party in Santa Monica for the surviving riders; perhaps understandingly, the company has cancelled the remainder of the tour

17 comments

  1. Mark Neumann says:

    A friend of mine’s daughter rode this trip with Overland three years ago. To see the group reach the Santa Monica pier and dip their wheels in the ocean is a truly inspirational. Try to see them when they arrive.

  2. Michael M says:

    Let me know when they get here. I want to meet them too. Praying for quick and complete recoveries to those injured.

  3. grrlyrida says:

    I don’t understand the rash of cars hitting bicyclists from behind lately. It has to be drivers looking at their cell phone, falling asleep or drunk. I’m getting more nervous when I’m on my bike lately, listening is every car is gunning for me from behind.

    • bikinginla says:

      To me, that’s the best argument against wearing earpieces. I want to hear if a vehicle is coming to too close or too fast so I can get the hell out of the way if I need to.

      • grrlyrida says:

        The exact reason I haven’t worn earphones in 5 years. When I first started bicycling in 2006, I wore them everywhere for 2 years. Then I took one of Ron Durgin’s Confident City Cycling classes and I haven’t brought earphones on a ride since.

        • bikinginla says:

          Yeah, that Ron’s a troublemaker. Seriously, though, you couldn’t learn from a better teacher.

  4. D. D. Syrdal says:

    I hope they will all recover to ride again. Horrifying.

  5. Susan S says:

    My nephew is a member of the Overland group coming up on their heels so this story is near and dear to me. Upon hearing about this tragedy I immediately looked up the roadway where the accident occurred. It appears there are no less than 7 turns on highway 17 that are 45-90 degrees and the area appears to change frequently from farmland to homes to deserted areas. My thoughts and prayers are with the injured and their families as well as those who were a part of the group. May they all recover from the accident and may Overland find another route for subsequent groups.

    • bikinginla says:

      My best to your nephew and his fellow riders. Let’s hope they make a safe and triumphant arrival in Santa Monica.

  6. The Trickster says:

    Nasty! We had a similar one here the other day, sadly one of the riders died.

    Single file, in fluero, brightly lit on a straight piece of road, and yet they still got cleaned up 🙁

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/waikato-times/news/8875525/Hit-group-riding-cyclist-dies-in-hospital

    • bikinginla says:

      I will never understand why people become invisible when they get on a bike. Keep yourself safe over there, my friend.

  7. urbanhumanist says:

    See, this story; the road appears to have been straight at the scene of the accident. http://bostonherald.com/news_opinion/local_coverage/2013/07/5_hospitalized_after_car_hits_cyclists_from_mass_summer_camp.My daughter is on another overland trip this summer, and our family’s thoughts and prayers are with the riders and their families.

  8. Andy R says:

    My 17 year-old son is in the Overland group a few days behind. This is his fourth Overland trip. Last summer he rode from Amsterdam to Barcelona. Yes, his group travels on toward Santa Monica. If you want to see the group spacing and visibility, here is a photo taken in Mississippi: http://photos.overlandsummers.com/2013/Biking/ac-4/29823646_xcz8H6#!i=2612738769&k=P9FZZG7&lb=1&s=O
    As you can see, there would have been no non-medical excuse at 3:45 pm on a bright afternoon on a flat road with no other cars around.

  9. JD says:

    Our sincerest heartfelt prayers go up for the victims, and the courageous riders who continue on.

  10. Andy R says:

    A very sad update. Overland notified us today that the injured young man who had been in critical condition has died.

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