Tag Archive for Orange

Update: Guilty plea in case of fallen OC cyclist Joseph Robinson

A source calling from the courthouse in Orange County has just reported that the driver who killed 21-year old Jax Bicycle Center employee Joseph Robinson has pleaded guilty to hit-and-run and drug charges, and will face significant jail time.

Sommer Niclole Gonzales, just 18 at the time of the collision, was sentenced to spend the next 11 years of her life behind bars after she admitted responsibility and waived her right to appeal.

Robinson was taking the long way to work on a sunny February morning last year when he was run down from behind while riding in the bike lane on Santiago Canyon Road.

He was hit with enough force to knock him and his bike completely off the roadway; his body was only discovered because an off-duty fire captain spotted a car with a shattered windshield speeding in the opposite direction, then saw a single shoe lying on the side of the roadway.

Gonzales was arrested in a parking lot a short time later as a friend helped her transfer her belongings into another car, in an apparent attempt to cover up her responsibility for the crime. She was found in possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia at the time of her arrest.

No word on why her friend wasn’t charged for assisting in the attempted coverup.

The victim’s family was reportedly in tears following the sentencing.

According to the source, the judge’s final words to her were “What a tragedy. Just because you wanted to do meth.”

Update: I corrected the above quote from the judge, which was off slightly due to a bad phone connection.

Gonzales will get credit for 888 days served, reducing her sentence by nearly two-and-a-half years; she’ll also serve three years parole upon her release.

Update 2: According to a press release from the Orange County DA’s office, Gonzales was found guilty of:

  • Felony vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence while intoxicated
  • Felony hit and run with death
  • Misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance
  • Misdemeanor use and under the influence of a controlled substance
  • Misdemeanor count of possession of a controlled substance paraphernalia
  • Along with a sentencing enhancement allegation for fleeing the scene of a vehicular manslaughter

Robinson’s family offered emotional impact statements, including this video from his mother showing him riding in happier days.

Then there’s this moving quote from his sister.

“My heart literally hurts when I think about my brother, I can’t think about him without crying. My drive to work takes me right past the accident site where his ghost bike is still hanging. Every morning and night as I pass that spot, I tell Joey aloud that I love him and cry.”

If you’ve ever wondered what harm driving under the influence can cause, that pretty much sums it up.

Thanks to Jeffrey Fylling for the press release.

Update 3: My News LA adds more details, including quotes from Robinson’s family members and his girlfriend. 

The story also quotes Gonzales’ attorney explaining that she had first tried marijuana at age 12, and quickly moved on to meth, which she had been her drug of choice ever since.

According to the attorney, she knew she had hit something, and stopped to see what it was, but continued on when she didn’t see Robinson or his bike. 

A rider fallen, family and friends shattered, and a young woman on the verge of hard time

It’s hard to believe it’s been a full year.

Yes, all traffic deaths are tragic.

But some seem more troubling than others, haunting the edges of memory until something — an anniversary, a ghost bike, a news story — brings it back full force. And you’re struck once again by the incredible waste of it all.

A life taken for no reason.

Other than a driver’s carelessness and — alleged — criminal behavior.

A 21-year old bike shop worker taking the long way to work early on a Sunday morning, run down from behind by an 18-year old girl accused of having meth in her system from the night before.

It was exactly one year ago today that Joseph Robinson was killed by a hit-and-run driver while riding in a bike lane on Santiago Canyon Road in Orange while on his way to Jax Bicycles in Irvine. Sommer Gonzales was charged with the crime after being arrested in a parking lot not far away on Santa Margarita Parkway, reportedly while hiding evidence in a friend’s car.

It was thanks to an off-duty firefighter that Robinson was discovered off the side of the road, on the verge of death. And that a police officer had the information he needed to spot Gonzales’ car and make an arrest.

OC Battalion Chief Mark Stone was on his way to work when he spotted the badly damaged car traveling in the opposite direction, and began looking for what — or who — the car had struck. The only visible sign of the crash was a tumbleweed smashed against a guardrail, and a single bike shoe resting on the road.

Evidently, I’m not the only one who’s been haunted by Robinson’s needless death.

A memorial ride was held in Irvine this morning; hundreds of riders were expected to participate, escorted to the site of his ghost bike by Irvine police and CHP officers.

Meanwhile, Gonzales faces felony charges for vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence while intoxicated, driving under the influence of drugs causing bodily injury, hit-and-run causing death and possession of a controlled substance.

In addition, she’s charged with misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia, with sentencing enhancements for inflicting great bodily injury and fleeing the scene of a crime, according to the MyNewsLA website.

The site reports she could spend over 15 years in state prison if convicted on the felony charges, with an additional six months in county for the misdemeanor count.

Our anonymous South Bay correspondent was in the courtroom recently for the preliminary hearing for Sommer Gonzales.

………

The preliminary held Wednesday, January 21st, was lengthy and at one point during some protracted questioning by the defense, the judge interrupted to remind him that the purpose of the prelim is to present only the most germane facts.

And the facts appear to be these:

Sommer Nicole Gonzales had been hanging out at a private residence in Anaheim on Saturday night. About 3 am on the morning in question, she allegedly smoked meth. A couple hours later, she began her drive to visit a 24-year-old gentleman friend in South County, taking a route familiar to her. Her undamaged vehicle is seen on the video surveillance of a Villa Park 76 Station shortly before she reached Santiago Canyon Road. At 6:47 am she texted a reply to the persistent gentleman friend, saying she was going through Santiago Canyon.

At approximately 6:55 am, she left a frantic message on another friend’s mom’s voicemail, stating that she had “hit something” and needed help. (The mom, for the record, disapproves of her son’s acquaintanceship with Gonzales, and immediately deleted the message.)

Although video surveillance from the gated entrance of the nearby Loma Ridge Emergency Operations Center didn’t capture the impact that flung Joey’s body 200 feet through the air, it shows that Gonzales stopped and exited her damaged vehicle. She did not walk back towards the site of the collision. Instead, twenty-five seconds later, she got back in the driver’s seat and continued driving southbound on Santiago.

OCFA Battilion Chief Marc Stone, commuting northbound, noticed the smashed hood and shattered windshield of Gonzales’ car as it passed him by the south entrance of Irvine Lake. The magnitude of the damage to her windshield initially, very briefly, made him think the car had struck a deer, but his intuition instantly put him on alert. Three miles up the road, he spotted crunched-up tumbleweeds and a lone bike shoe nearby. The same surveillance video shows his truck slow and flip a U-turn. Off camera, he found Joey’s body and dialed 911. Just up the hill, the dispatchers at the Loma Ridge Facility, which houses the county’s emergency communications bureau, relayed the description of the damaged maroon Toyota to law enforcement.

A sharp-eyed Sheriff’s deputy located the suspect’s vehicle, along with the suspect and her 24-year-old gentleman friend, in a parking lot. She had burn marks on her lips and paraphernalia in her purse. She had all sorts of nystagmus and was uncooperative with officers who attempted to administer a field sobriety test. After very few questions, she was taken into custody.

The judge listened to both sides impassively, examining all the exhibits and asking pertinent questions. Throughout the hearing, he was observant, neutral and unreadable, even during the defense’s closing arguments that dropped jaws in the audience.

The defense, possibly sensing the hopelessness of requesting a dismissal of charges, contended that Gonzales’ behavior that night did not meet the definition of gross negligence. The judge disagreed, and stated several reasons to support his opinion: She was high. She was texting. She was on a road familiar to her as one popular with cyclists. She, for whatever reason, maneuvered her vehicle straight into a marked, eight-foot wide bike lane. She failed to investigate the cause of the damage to her vehicle. Fifteen miles away from the scene, she parked her car head-in so that the damage would not be so visible to passers-by. She called pretty much everybody except 911. She made conflicting statements to law enforcement. Her “credibility,” concluded the judge, “is a question for the jury to decide.”

And, despite his calmly expressed finding that the evidence in the case clearly merits a more thorough examination by trial, there was no mistaking his own incredulity at the defense’s claims. I’m fairly sure everyone else in the courtroom (with the exception of Gonzales and her lawyer) wanted to yell “YESSS!” and add a fist pump for good measure.

………

She goes on to offer her personal take on the case:

Gonzales is an idiot for not taking whatever lenient plea deal she was offered, because it’s off the table now. Let alone for not learning anything about how to manage her addiction during three (count ‘em, three) stints in rehab as a minor.

And it’s disgusting that her gentleman friend hasn’t been charged as an accessory after the fact. He was helping her remove her possessions from her damaged vehicle when the two were discovered. He’s also the brilliant mind who suggested that she reposition her vehicle so that the damage would be less noticeable, and “accidentally” deleted the texts he sent and received that morning (it took a subpoena to his carrier, but the DA has them all).

Meanwhile, Orange County traffic engineers still think 55 mph is an acceptable speed on a downhill stretch with a blind vertical curve. And the tower visible off in the distance from where Joey was killed, the one that looks like a steeple?

It belongs to the county’s 911 dispatch center.

………

Two lives were destroyed that morning; two families shattered and countless friends shaken.

Sommer Gonzales may have a chance to rebuild hers once she finally gets out of prison — assuming she’s convicted, of course.

Joseph Robinson will never get that chance.

 

 

Bike rider killed in Orange; OC bike deaths match total for all of last year

Bad news from Orange County, with very few details.

According to the Orange County Coroner’s office, a male bike rider was hit by a car at the intersection of N Glassell Street and E Chestnut Ave in the City of Orange last Friday morning.

The collision occurred at 8:36 am; he was transported to UCI Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead 45 minutes later.

No other details are available at this time. The Coroner’s report doesn’t give an age or city of residence for the victim, which suggests they haven’t been able to identify him yet — another reminder to always carry ID whenever you ride.

This is the 56th bicycling fatality in Southern California this year, and the 12th in Orange County, which matches the total in the county for all of last year.

And it’s the second cycling fatality in the City of Orange this year, following the death of Joseph Robinson on Santiago Canyon Road in February.

My deepest sympathy and prayers for the victim and his loved ones. 

Thanks to James Johnson of the Johnson Attorneys Group for the heads-up.

Update: 21-year old bike rider killed by 18-year old drunk driver in Santiago Canyon hit-and-run

Scene of the collision, looking back towards oncoming traffic; photo by Biking Brian.

Scene of the collision, looking back towards oncoming traffic; photo courtesy of Biking Brian.

More bad news from south of the Orange Curtain, as a bike rider lost his life on Santiago Canyon Road.

According to the Orange County Coroner’s office, 21-year old Irvine resident Joseph Robinson was riding on southbound Santiago Canyon in Orange around 7 this morning when he was struck by a car south of Loma Ridge Road. He was pronounced dead at the scene at 7:04 am.

Unfortunately, no other information is available at this time.

Google’s street view shows an unprotected bike lane next to a two lane 55 mph speedway, with limited side access, suggesting the rider was most likely struck from behind. Although it’s always possible that he was sideswiped, or that the driver drifted over from the opposite side of the road.

At 55 mph, any collision is likely to be fatal.

Hopefully, more information will be available soon.

This is the 12th fatal bicycling collision in Southern California this year, and the first in Orange County; there were at least 12 bike-related deaths in the county last year.

My deepest prayers and sympathy for Joseph Robinson and his loved ones.

Thanks to the Seegmiller Law Firm for the heads-up. 

Update: The story gets worse.

According to the Orange County Register, Robinson was killed by an 18-year old drunk driver. 

Yes, 18-years old, drunk and behind the wheel at 7 am. And apparently speeding, despite the already high 55 mph speed limit.

The paper reports Sommer Gonzales was driving south on Santiago Canyon at an unsafe speed when she turned to the right, suggesting that maybe Robinson was killed in a right hook. (Update: It appears the reference to an unsafe turn refers to a deadly swerve into the bike lane, rather that a turn onto another road or driveway.) 

Unfortunately, the rest is trapped behind their paywall. (Update: The Register has remove the paywall on this story.)

Ghost bike installed by coworkers at Irvine Jax; photo courtesy of Biking Brian.

Ghost bike installed by coworkers at Irvine Jax; photo courtesy of Biking Brian.

Update 2: The story just keeps getting worse.

What was hidden behind the Register’s paywall was the news that Gonzales had fled the scene. According to the paper, she was arrested a short time later on suspicion of felony driving under the influence and felony hit and run; sounds like a charge of felony vehicular manslaughter would be in order, as well.

She’s expected to be in court today.

A comment from Dom below says she was seen fleeing the scene at high speed.

I am a rider and was second to come upon the crash site. An off duty fire fighter was on the phone with 911 as he saw the car that killed Joseph speeding and badly damaged just a mile or so from the crash, the driver was fleeing.

Joseph was deceased when I arrived just minutes after the hit and run. My deepest condolences go out to Joseph’s family and friends. May god have mercy on the murderer as I have none for her.

A post on the SoCal Trailrider’s forum identifies Robinson as an employee of the Jax Bicycle Center in Irvine. 

This morning a friend of mine was hit and killed while riding his Road Bike on Santiago Canyon Rd by a hit and run driver. Joey worked with me at Two Wheels One Planet in Costa Mesa for about a year and was currently working at Jax in Irvine. He was 21. Joey was a really good road cyclist and one of the safest riders I know of. The woman who hit him fled the scene but we were told she was later caught. I don’t have a lot of information about it right now but Joey will be missed. Be careful out there!
http://theseegmillerlawfirm.com/blog…ad-loma-ridge/

Thanks to Lois, Ann, Dom and Brian for adding to this story. And thanks to the Orange County Register for making their story available to the public.

Update 3: If there’s a hero in this heartbreaking story, it’s OC firefighter Marc Stone. 

According to a gut-wrenching, non-paywalled story in the OC Register, the paper tells how the off-duty Battalion Chief spotted a car with a smashed windshield driving in the opposite direction, and thought it may have hit a deer.

But this was Stone’s regular Sunday morning commute, and he knew bicyclists frequent the scenic road on weekend mornings.

“My gut instinct was just, ‘No one drives with a crunched-up windshield like that,’ ” he said. “I kept thinking, who would keep driving after hitting a person?”

He slowed down, and about three minutes later saw tumbleweed against the guardrail, damaged and smashed as if someone had hit them.

That’s when he saw a black bicycling shoe sitting on the road, next to the tumbleweed.

“Please tell me it isn’t so,” he said to himself.

After determining that the victim’s injuries were probably fatal, Stone called 911 to report what he’d seen.

An OC deputy spotted the car shortly afterwards, as Gonzales attempted to transfer her belongings to a friend’s car in a parking lot, where she was arrested by CHP officers.

The paper also reports that she was found in possession of meth and drug paraphernalia.

Update 4: Friends and coworkers remember Joseph Robinson in the latest Register piece, which is once again available to the public.

According to the Over the Hump website, there will be a memorial ride for Robinson this Wednesday evening. 

Memorial Ride “Ghost Bike”

In honor of Joseph Robinson Jax Bicycle Center is holding a memorial ride on Wednesday, February 5th.  We will be meeting at Jax Bicycle Center – Irvine at 6:30 am to ride to Joseph’s “Ghost Bike” memorial site on Santiago Canyon Road / Loma Ridge Jeep Trail in Orange, CA.  For those of you who don’t wish to ride, you are welcome to drive to the “Ghost Bike” memorial which will take place at 7:15 am.

Memorial Ride
When:  Wednesday, February 5th 2014 at 6:30 am
Where:  Jax Bicycle Center – Irvine
14210-6H Culver Dr., Irvine, CA 92604
Ghost Bike Memorial Ceremony
When:  Wednesday, February 5th 2014 at 7:15 am
Where:  Santiago Canyon Road / Loma Ridge Jeep Trail in Orange, CA 92869
Thanks to Biking Brian for the head’s up. Update 5: Unbelievably, the driver, 18-year old Sommer N. Gonzales has been released without charges. 

According to Rancho Santa Margarita Patch, prosecutors have asked the CHP to investigate further into the case before filing charges. California law only allows police to hold a suspect for 48 hours without filing charges.

She had been held without bail.

Why they can’t file preliminary charges to keep her in custody while the investigation continues is beyond me.

The site also clears up the confusion on how the collision occurred, saying Gonzales’ car drifted into the bike lane due to her impaired state.

OC Cyclist Sherri Norton has died from her injuries in the Santiago Canyon crash

Sherri Norton; photo from Cycles Veloce website

My apologies.

I’ve been tied up with the California Bike Summit this weekend. And while I was trying to keep up with the news, I missed the notification from Cycles Veloce that Sherri Norton died over the weekend.

It is with the greatest sadness that we must report that Sherri will not win this, her most important battle on a bicycle.

Sherri was a beam of light to many of us and will remain the beautiful person we knew; living on in our hearts and minds – an angel to watch over us all!

Our deepest sympathy to Mark – we can only imagine the emptiness you must feel and hope that you find peace and warmth in your family & friends.

As you may recall, she was critically injured while riding in the bike lane on Santiago Canyon near Jamboree Road in Orange on Thursday. She reportedly turned into oncoming traffic when she attempted to ride back to a friend who was trailing behind.

Her husband Mark is attempting to organize a memorial for next Saturday, November 12th, as well as a memorial ride Saturday morning. He also asks for donations to a pair charities she supported in lieu of flowers.

This is the 9th confirmed traffic-related cycling fatality in Orange County this year, and the 61st in the greater Southern California area.

My prayers and sympathy to her family and loved ones. Between her death and that of Robert Hyndman, my heart is broken right now.

Orange County cyclist on life support following Santiago Canyon collision

Sherri Norton; photo from Cycles Veloce website

I was hoping I wouldn’t have to write this.

According to the Orange County Register, a female cyclist is now on life support after being struck by a car on Santiago Canyon yesterday afternoon.

I received word of the collision on Thursday shortly after it happened; even then, it didn’t look good. The Register reported that the rider was eastbound in the bike lane on Santiago Canyon near Jamboree Road when she was struck by a Lexus sedan traveling in the same direction at 12:47 pm.

According to the paper, she suddenly made a 90 degree turn directly into the path of the oncoming car and was struck at a speed of around 50 mph, which is the speed limit in that area. She was apparently she turning around to go back to her riding partner who trailed behind. Photos from the scene show her Look frame snapped in two, and the windshield of the Lexus smashed.

She has not yet been publicly identified by authorities; however, the Cycles Veloce website identifies her as Sherri Norton, a member of the club and a frequent participant in local century rides. She was transported to Western Medical Center in Santa Ana in critical condition, while the driver and passenger remained at the scene.

As of this morning, she remained on life support.

While the news is not good, it is not a death sentence; other riders have defied the odds to come back from similar circumstances. However, whatever prayers and good wishes you feel comfortable offering would be appropriate.

As with so many other stories like this, the Register feels the need to note that she was wearing a helmet, even though no bike helmet made that could protect a rider from injuries in a collision at that speed.

Thanks to Lois, Frank Peters and Michael Byerts for links to the story.

Update: Sadly, Sherri Norton died from her injuries on Sunday. Her husband offers his thoughts, and is scheduling a memorial service, and a ride in her memory for this Saturday; donations are requested in lieu of flowers for a pair of charities she supported.

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