Tag Archive for L.A. Wheelmen

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.

Update: Cyclist dies from injuries received in solo Redondo Beach collision

One of the metal objects that may have caused Larry Schellhase to fall.

I’ve just received word that a long-time member of the Los Angeles Wheelmen died on as a result of a solo collision last week.

According to an email that was forwarded to me, Larry Schellhase was riding with his wife Cathy and some friends in Redondo Beach on Thursday. As they were riding on Catalina just south of Emerald, not far from the pier, Larry apparently hit some metal debris that was laying in the roadway and went over his handlebars.

The writer reports that he landed face first and motionless on the roadway, bleeding from the nose and barely breathing. Paramedics arrived within minutes and began manual CPR before taking Larry to the hospital, along with his wife.

Were these clamps used to secure a nearby termite treatment tent?

Unfortunately, he died on Sunday, reportedly as a result of a broken neck.

What appears to be Larry Shellhase’s Facebook page lists him as a graduate of Lynwood High and Cal State LA in 1961 and 1966, respectively. Meanwhile, the L.A. Wheelmen’s website shows him as the 2008 winner of the Jack Flynn Trophy for “long-time service to the club and to cycling.”

I’ve reached out to the author of the email for permission to use what he wrote, as well as photos of the debris that apparently caused the collision.

This is the 12th cycling fatality in Southern California this year, compared with 20 traffic-related cycling deaths this time last year, and the second in Los Angeles County.

My deepest sympathy and prayers for Larry Schellhase, and all his family and loved ones.

Update: Redondo Beach Patch confirms that the 68-year old Schellhase died as a result of injuries to his head and neck. Police are seeking witness; anyone with information is asked to contact Investigator Bill Turner at 310-379-2477 extension 2721 or email him at bill.turner@redondo.org.

Jim Hannon, president of the South Bay Bicycle Coalition, forwards word that one of their members thinks the metal objects that Schellhase ran into may have been clamps used to secure the tent for a recent termite treatment on Catalina Ave.

Update 2: I mistakenly wrote that this was the 10th cycling fatality in in Southern California this year; it’s actually the 12th.

Update 3: The Daily Breeze reports on Schellhase’s death, placing the time of the collision at 12:40 pm; he was on his way back from a regular Thursday morning ride from the Marina to Rat Beach in Torrance when he fell.

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