Guest column: Pam Leven’s last ride

I hate wrecks like this.

Not just because a popular local cycling leader died far too early. Or because people I care about have been hurt so deeply by such an unexpected loss.

But also because details in the death of LA Wheelman president Pam Leven last month have been so hard to come by. And what little we knew just didn’t seem to add up.

Like how such an experienced rider could suffer such devastating injuries in what seemed like an everyday collision between two bike riders.

I could only explain it by assuming they had crossed wheels while riding at speed. However, a rider named Ann, who was on the ride with Leven, left a comment claiming Leven was crossing on a green light at 5 mph when she somehow came in contact with another rider and went down with what turned out to be fatal injuries.

I offered to let her explain what she knew about the collision. While she didn’t actually witness it, she knew more about this troubling case than anyone other than the two people involved, one of whom will never tell her side of the story.

Or at least anyone who has yet come forward.

And let’s be very clear.

While she criticizes the prior behavior of the other rider involved, she makes it very clear that she does not know what actually happened in those fateful few moments. And is not blaming either Pam, the other rider or anyone else for what happened.

Though I might point a finger at the slow emergency response time, which has been a chronic problem here in LA.

………

Sunday, December 15, 2013.  Pam Leven’s Last Bike Ride

It was our usual Sunday Corner Ride (we start from the corner of Olympic and LaCienega in Los Angeles).  Part of the Los Angeles Wheelmen Bike Club, the Corner Ride starts at 9 AM and is easy going, not a racing ride.  We have some strong and some slow riders.  Usually, the same group rides in the Brentwood Hills, Hollywood Hills, Santa Monica, Griffith Park, or the South Bay.  The rides are between 30 to 50 miles long.  This particular Sunday was one our Newcomer Ride which Pam, an experienced and safe rider, was leading.  As usual, however, there were no “newcomers,” except for a woman who, although a long-time, skilled rider who completed many “double-centuries,” was returning from a long hiatus.

The ride was easygoing and uneventful.  Pam and the newbie were riding together in the back of the group.  Instead of climbing the hills of Beverly Hills and Brentwood, they took a more flat route, but we all pretty much stayed together.  At various places we stopped to wait for slow riders to catch up.  This is our custom and is always insured by our wonderful Corner Ride leader.

When I arrived to the corner of Sunset and Amalfi, most of the riders, including the experienced rider involved in Pam’s accident, crossed Sunset and were waiting on the southwest corner for the rest to catch up.  It was a long light.  Finally the light turned green, and I and another rider crossed the intersection heading south on Amalfi descending the slopped street at about 5 miles an hour.  Not far behind me, Pam was crossing the same intersection riding south on Amalfi at a similar speed.  Suddenly, I thought I heard Pam yell “Oh! Oh!”, and then there was a horrific sound of the crush of metal.  When I stopped and looked back, I saw Pam lying in the middle of the street on the pavement facing downhill.  The other rider involved in the crash, who had a large bruise or road rash on his left cheek, was kneeling at her side calling her name, and squeezing her hand.  She was not responding.  Someone called 911 for help.  Pam was lying on her stomach, her head facing right, and blood was flowing downward from her left ear or mouth, and her arms were resting along the sides of her body.  Her helmet was partially broken, but remained in place on her head.  The few of us gathered around her did not attempt to move her fearing possible neck injury.  As a registered nurse, I noted a strong radial pulse and she was breathing normally.  The paramedics arrived about 12 to 15 minutes later.

I did not see what had happened, but it appeared to me to be an obvious impact, and apparently, no one else witnessed what happened either.  Only the other rider and Pam know what happened, but Pam never regained consciousness and died a few days later.  The kind of “accident” that led to Pam’s death will never be fully understood.  Apparently, there are no guidelines or rules that require any investigation about such accidents.  Even if someone tried to figure out what happened, it would be difficult because someone moved both bikes to the sidewalk.  I did not see Pam’s bike after that, but I did notice that the other rider’s shifters were both facing outward.  Based on what I saw, it is my assumption that as Pam crossed the street they began to ride too close together.  It seems that when both bikes came into contact with each other, the handlebars became interlocked and the bikes came to a sudden stop.  It is possible that his curved handlebars might have hooked on Pam’s straight handlebars.  As they fell, it is quite possible that the other rider, who weighs about 200 pounds, may have fallen on top of Pam, a much smaller woman.  This scenario is suggested by the extent of Pam’s injuries; in addition to skull fractures, she also sustained a shoulder and hip fracture.

(Editor’s Note: It’s also possible that Leven’s bike may have flipped up and over the other bike if the handlebars became locked, which could also explain her injuries.)

If this accident had involved anyone else, I would not feel as angry as I do.  I have been riding with the Corner group for about ten years.  During this time, this rider was known to have a record of reckless riding.  This includes riding too fast and aggressively, riding too close to other riders and cars, listening to music while riding, rude behavior such as flipping off car drivers and verbally antagonizing other riders and belittling slower riders, and encouraging the group to ride ahead and not wait for them.  Last year, he made an unsafe move which caused another club rider to fall off the bike.  Luckily, they were riding along the bike path.  Had the other rider fallen on pavement and not on sand, this rider might have sustained severe facial injuries.  And not long ago, he broke his collarbone when he flew over his handle bars riding too fast downhill and hit a hump on the road.  As president of the Los Angeles Wheelmen, Pam had several discussions with him about his riding etiquette and style, but apparently, this is where it ended.

During a recent club meeting, I was told that the club does not keep an incident record of accidents or unsafe behavior.  I also learned that members of the club had noted that he had been on “good behavior” for some time, and in the end, accidents just happen.  Yes accidents do happen, and bicycling is a dangerous sport.  Riders assume a risk every time they get on their bike.  And in spite of the obvious dangers, we often feel omnipotent on our bikes, some of us ride too fast and ride too close to one another, we engage in conversations, multitask, listen to music while riding, ride on bad roads, and sometime share the roads with careless and impatient drivers, and some riders do not wear a helmet.  Needles to say, we all need to be more careful and pay close attention to our actions and surroundings, and reckless riders should not be allowed to ride with a group.

Pam did a great job as the President of the Los Angeles Wheelmen Bicycling Club.  She encouraged and welcomed new and old riders.  She listened patiently and always had a smile on her face.  She was a thinker, a reader and a writer and volunteered for many community organizations.  She will be missed very much.

As for me, I will not ride with the Los Angeles Wheelmen if any riders I consider reckless show up.  I am rethinking riding my road bike at all.  At home, I have a great stationary bike and with the right music, I get a wonderful workout.  Maybe, I’ll ride my mountain bike instead.  Riding with a friend or two on easy fire roads and trails away from cars and other bike riders might be more prudent.

Maybe I’ll just put my boots back on and start hiking again.

5 comments

  1. […] Harrowing Account of Death of L.A. Wheelman President on Group Ride (Biking in L.A.) […]

  2. […] few weeks after the crash, a guest column on the blog where I originally saw this story provided some background about the incident, but not […]

  3. Bruce Steele says:

    Her is another horrible, senseless accident caused by a hit and run driver who has since been apprehended. The victim is a popular 60+ Masters Racer. He remains in critical condition.

    The posted link to a Sheriff’s press release reads,

    http://www.riversidesheriff.org/press/cab13-1229.asp
    On December 29, 2013, at about 12:25 PM, Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputies, assigned to the city of Calimesa, were dispatched to a traffic collision that occurred near the intersection of Calimesa Blvd and Singleton Rd. Upon arrival deputies located a male bicyclist injured and lying on the roadway, on Calimesa Blvd, just north of Singleton Rd. The vehicle involved did not stop and left the scene. According to witnesses, the bicyclist was traveling southbound and the vehicle was traveling northbound, both on Calimesa Blvd. For unknown reasons the vehicle crossed the center divider and drove head on into the bicyclist’s path of travel. The vehicle hit the bicycle with the front left of the vehicle, causing major injuries to the bicyclist. The vehicle was seen with damage to the front headlight and front left side of the vehicle.

  4. Calla Wiemer says:

    I am a regular on the LA Wheelmen Corner Rides, although I was not there the morning of the fatal accident. It’s a great group of people riding under excellent leadership. The other rider involved in the accident has a wry sense of humor that I, for one, appreciate. He has chided me for my kickstand, for example, threatening to remove it and toss it into the ocean. I am amused by this, in the spirit it is meant. I’m sure he is devastated by what happened. My heart goes out to him, and I hope he will find the fortitude to return to our rides soon.

  5. Tony Michaels says:

    I don’t ride with any group, but this sort of senseless accident makes us want to find a cause. And it sounds like that will never be the case here. I love cycling and would never enjoy cycling on a stationary bike anywhere near the enjoyment I derive from riding the streets. I’ve told my wife that if the worst ever does happen, she should take solace from the fact I died doing what I love. My only “serious” accident over 17 years of riding did come from another cyclist riding around a blind curve on the wrong side of the road. Luckily enough, after a ride with the paramedics to Santa Monica Hospital, there was no real damage done (although I did break my helmet). My heart goes out to Pam’s husband, family and friends. But this won’t stop me from riding. I think Pam would understand and concur. RIP

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