Update: Tour de Palm Springs rider killed in Thermal collision

Up to 30,000 riders participated in today’s Tour de Palm Springs.

One less will be returning home tonight.

According to the Desert Sun, 55-year old Alta Loma resident Lavonne Koester was in the 67th mile of the century ride when she was struck by a Dodge truck at the intersection of 60th and Harrison Street in Thermal, south of Coachella.

The collision occurred at 12:12 pm; she was pronounced dead at 1 pm at JFK Memorial Hospital in Indio.

No information is available yet on how the collision happened. According to the site, the driver remained on the scene and no arrest was made; drug or alcohol use was not suspected.

Like many such fundraising rides, the Tour de Palm Springs takes place on public roadways that remains open to vehicular traffic. There’s no word on whether the intersection was controlled in any way, or if drivers were warned of the presence of bicycles in the area.

According to the website, the ride raises funds for over 150 non-profits in the Coachella Valley.

This is the 13th bicycling fatality in Southern California this year. Remarkably, her death is the 4th in Riverside County already this year, compared to 12 for all of last year.

My deepest condolences and prayers for La Vonne Koester and all her family and loved ones.

Thanks to Zak for the heads-up.

Update: In a follow-up story, the Desert Sun corrects the spelling of the victim’s name as La Vonne, rather than Lavonne.

According to the paper, she was riding west on Avenue 60 when she crossed Harrison Street in front of a southbound 1999 Dodge truck; it’s unclear if speed may have been a factor. 

In a comment below, Aaron Hultin describes coming on the scene shortly afterwards.

My son and I road the 100 yesterday and came upon this tragedy minutes after it happened while the medics where attempting cpr. It was a bleak reminder of our fragile nature on a bike as well as a reminder to follow the road rules. This was a 2 way stop with the opposing traffic having no stop sign and there was no police control as there was at many of the major intersections.

Just to be clear, that does not necessarily mean Koester ran the stop sign. She may have stopped before proceeding through the intersection, unaware of the oncoming truck or the lack of a stop sign on the cross street.

The Desert Sun reports this appears to have been the first fatality or serious injury in the event’s 16 year history. Participation was estimated at nearly 10,000 riders, a significant decrease from the up to 30,000 predicted in pre-event news stories.

The paper also quoted a portion of the standard waiver form signed by participants in which they waive the right to damages against the firm hosting the event or any of its employees in the event of injuries or other damages.

However, a waiver like that can be often invalidated if it is shown they were negligent in some way, such as failing to direct traffic or offer warnings at intersections such as the one where this collision took place.

Update 2: The Inland Empire Biking Alliance quotes a witness explaining how the collision happened. 

We have a statement from a witness of yesterday’s collision that killed La Vonne Koester. She was crossing the intersection at 60th and Harrison Street. It was a 2-way stop with her direction having to stop. A motorist was kind enough to stop and let the cyclists through. Unfortunately the truck coming from behind swerved to miss hitting the stopped car and hit La Vonne. There is no statement yet that speed played a factor. We will be waiting for the police report.

If the police investigation bears out that description, authorities will be hard-pressed not to charge the driver with vehicular homicide. There is simply no excuse for going around a car stopped at an intersection without knowing why the car is stopped, or having to swerve to avoid a stopped car other than in a panic stop situation.

Thanks to IE Bike for the heads-up.

Update 3: Well, that didn’t take long. Despite the comment above suggesting that the driver was clearly at fault, it only took the CHP two days to blame the victim in this case.

As usual.

According to the Desert Sun, CHP officials now say La Vonne Koester ran the stop sign, and the driver was not speeding. And apparently, did not do anything else wrong in fatally running down a bike rider.

Another Facebook post I read earlier today, which I have unfortunately lost, said Koester was part of a group of riders that stopped at the stop sign before proceeding across the intersection. As the trailing rider in the group, she was a sitting duck when the driver went through the intersection. 

Either way, at least two witnesses say she stopped at the intersection, and the truck driver either swerved around a stopped car ahead of him, or was somehow unable to see a large group of riders crossing the road ahead of him. 

All I can say is that if I am ever hit by a car, I pray that the CHP is not involved in the investigation.

16 comments

  1. JD says:

    Our prayers go up for the family, friends, and fellow riders in the event which shared the road with Ms. Koester.

  2. Aaron Hultin says:

    My son and I road the 100 yesterday and came upon this tragedy minutes after it happened while the medics where attempting cpr. It was a bleak reminder of our fragile nature on a bike as well as a reminder to follow the road rules. This was a 2 way stop with the opposing traffic having no stop sign and there was no police control as there was at many of the major intersections.

    • ValleyBall1 says:

      Based on that alone, there should have been SOME control at that stop.

      God bless Lavonne and the Koester family. Everyone’s worst nightmare realized.

      • bikinginla says:

        Agreed. I realize the enormous difficulty in placing volunteers at every intersection. However, given that many, if not most of the participants would be unfamiliar with intersections like this, something should have been directing traffic, or guiding riders in when it was safe to cross. At the very least, there should have been signage telling riders that cross traffic was not required to stop.

    • David says:

      Regarding the comment: “…there was no police control as there was at many of the major intersections.”

      I was on this 100 mile ride last weekend, and this was my third Tour de Palm in past 7 years.

      There were not on Saturday and are never “many police controls” anywhere on a Tour de Palm Springs ride after you leave the starting area, and until you are close to the finish.

      This ride is a ton of fun with many great people participating including a group of active and retired firefighers from the LA area that I rode with for a while.

      However, the rules of this ride are that you conduct yourself as you would if you were riding alone or with your club. It is no different, and almost no more protection from cars than your Sat morning ride with your friends on the streets except that there are 5000+ riders.

      I was riding approx. 28 minutes ahead of the accident so I did not see it, but I expect that it will be fully investigated by CHP and my condolences go out to her family.

      I hope that this tragic incident does not result in irrational reactionary dramatic changes we sometimes see from politicians that will alter the great spirit and excitement of this century ride. It’s a great fast ride with speeds over 40 MPH at times. The folks and groups that come out to this ride are some the nicest and mist interesting non-competitive cyclists you will meet, and I have been to many a charitable ride.

      We saw in the Tour de Tucson last year and in prior years that even in the best produced and rider protected century event, cars can veer off into cyclists causing death and serious physical injury. It should not happen and it does.

      To prevent car cyclist collisions during a cycling event, you need to ban cars from the road-way where cyclists travel like in the former 26 mile LA Marathon Bike Ride or 26 mile Long Beach Marathon Bike Ride. But closing the streets for 100 miles for 4-8 hours though a dozen cities and communities in the desert–I would love to see it in my lifetime.

  3. Scott H. says:

    I did the century ride yesterday. I heard about the accident. Very tragic. For the most part there was a lot of support for the route, and even the drivers were being very gracious about letting us all through at a four way stop. It may just have been very unfortunate misinterpretation of right of way. In any case, my heart goes out to her family.

  4. Bruce says:

    Stated above: “At the very least, there should have been signage telling riders that cross traffic was not required to stop.”………. Must there be extra signage in addition to the STOP sign to make it clear that we cyclists must stop at ALL stop signs?

    • bikinginla says:

      I didn’t suggest that we needed to tell cyclists they have to stop; I have no idea whether the victim came to a stop or not. And as you suggest, a stop sign should be sufficient.

      My comment was in reference to the fact that cross traffic wasn’t required to stop. It’s entirely possible that someone who was unfamiliar with the intersection could come to a full stop, then begin riding again on the assumption that cross traffic had a stop sign as well.

      Observe any intersection with a two-way stop, and you’re likely to see drivers come to a full stop on the uncontrolled street, or proceed in front of cars that aren’t required to stop.

      Call me crazy, but I’d rather see ride organizers go the extra mile to ensure safety than write about the results of not doing it.

  5. Martin Blount says:

    La Vonne Koester was an experienced cyclist who used her love of the sport to support many worthwhile causes. For four years
    she was a wonderful supporter of my personal cause, the American Diabetes Association Tour de Cure – Ship to Shore. She was by all accounts a very wonderful person – wife, mother and friend. My most sincere condolences to those who are left to mourn her loss.

  6. JP says:

    I rode the 100 mile route yesterday. I will say the start, end and a couple of the intersections a ways out had a good amount of police/CHP support. Drivers tended to be courteous and patient with all of the bikes on the road.

    There were a few two-way stops that had to be crossed. You really had to come well up to the stop line before you had a good view of traffic in both directions, especially given their speed. The roads did get busier as it got later in the day and you started to head back into town.

    Sad to hear about this. I can’t imagine coming up on a scene like this. It makes me feel lucky. There was a large number of riders out there. I’d be surprised if other riders weren’t around at the time it happened. I hope help got there as soon as it could.

    Be safe out there.

  7. Greg Raven says:

    “A motorist was kind enough to stop and let the cyclists through.”

    I never like it when a motorist fails to fall normal traffic rules to “allow” me to go out of turn. This is one example of why this can be a bad practice.

    • ThePigLA says:

      I agree 100%. I dislike it intensely when a driver is being “courteous” by waving me through when it is their turn to go. In fact, I usually stop, put both feet on the ground and refuse to make eye contact with the driver until they go. I can tell this exasperates them, because they feel like they are being nice, but they do not have control of other drivers on the road and should not presume that they do.

  8. Judy says:

    he driver would have had to pass in the intersection in a left turn only lane as it was only a 2 lane highway.. definitely illegal to go straight through in a left turn lane. It was a truck and trailer.. driving too fast for conditions if it could not stop behind a stopped vehicle: http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/d11/vc22350.htm

  9. Coco says:

    Here’s the comment you were looking for on IEBA’s Facebook. I haven’t seen the photo of skid marks this person is referring to though.

    ——————————————-

    Inland Empire Biking Alliance More info from the witness right behind La Vonne: My account differs from the statement posted by IEBA. I have posted two photos of the scene. Three of us (last of the peloton of approx. 23-30 cyclist), chose stop at the intersection due to oncoming traffic in both directions, however, LaVonne continued to cross along with the main body of cyclist. A car was in the left turn lane at a stop, and as evidence by my posted photo
    showing the start of the skid marks, the truck and horse trailer had his own lane. His attempt to stop was futile striking LaVonne who was still crossing. She was struck full force. She and the bike disappeared engulfed by truck and trailor. I witnessed this happening right in front of me!
    Like · Reply · February 9 at 8:05pm

  10. Brien Miller says:

    I live here. I ride/race 15,000 miles/yr. I have no love for the authorities and how they treat cyclists generally. But sometimes we make mistakes. That intersection sucks and has been the site of horrible car accidents. The driver was not at fault, period.

    Fellow DBC member, Dave Hilts, was in a peloton of around 60 riders. The front of the peloton stopped at the stop sign to cross Harrison and continue west on Avenue 60 and then proceeded through. The large peloton continued crossing Harrison when it became unsafe to do so. Dave who was near the back of the peloton noticed traffic coming down Harrison at a high rate of speed and realized it had become dangerous. Dave yelled out and came to a stop and the rider in back of him almost crashed into him. The truck with a trailer who hit La Vonne had no way to stop.

    The intersection in question can be dangerous if not crossed thoughtfully (coming to a stop and looking both ways). It is a two way stop, not four way. The road also has a curve that makes it difficult to see vehicles coming from that direction. Vehicles on Harrison have the right of way and are not required to come to a stop.

  11. […] tellim wrote: first time heard ppl die in non-competitive cycling event. got but not local races Update: Tour de Palm Springs rider killed in Thermal collision | BikinginLA […]

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