Victims and driver identified in San Diego bike path collision; speed may have been a factor

One was a 40-year old father of two small children; the other is a 51-year old father of a college age son. One was an executive with a bioenergy company; the other is president and CEO of the YMCA in San Diego County.

One was a bike commuter on his way home; the other an avid triathlete who rides several times a week.

Both are married; neither one knew the other.

Yet yesterday, both men were the victims of a possibly speeding driver who lost control of her SUV and ended up flipping over on the bike path they were riding on.

Now bioenergy executive Nick Venuto of Poway is dead, while YMCA CEO Baron Hederlin-Doherty is in stable condition, his body shattered with broken hips, ribs and arms, according to the North County Times.

The San Diego Union Tribune’s SignOnSanDiego reports that 27-year old Sheena Saranita was driving her Ford Escape at an estimated 65 – 80 mph when she attempted to change lanes. She overreacted after seeing a vehicle in the right lane and went off the road, climbing the 15-foot embankment, blowing through a chainlink fence and flipping over onto the bike path; her SUV landed on its side, hitting both riders in the process.

Police don’t think drugs or alcohol were factors in the collision; no word on whether Saranita may have been texting or otherwise distracted behind the wheel. However, the nature of the collision would suggest that either excess speed or some sort of distraction could have been a factor.

According to the Union Tribune,

Dr. Dave Chotiner, a dentist from Carmel Valley, witnessed the accident and was the first to render aid. He said Venuto, who appeared to have been hit first, died within minutes. Herdelin-Doherty was lying on his back about 40 feet behind Venuto.

He said Saranita was out of her SUV near Venuto and was yelling hysterically, “you have to help him.”

Both papers feel compelled to report that the riders were each wearing helmets, despite the fact that bike helmets can’t, and were never intended to, protect against a multi-ton vehicle travelling at highway speeds.

And as Hederlin-Doherty’s injuries make clear, helmets can do absolutely nothing to protect against injuries to any other part of the body.

Don’t get me wrong.

I’m a firm believer in wearing a helmet every time I ride. But in a collision like this, they would have been of little, if any benefit.

And whether or not the victims were wearing them is truly irrelevant in this case.

My heart and prayers go out to the family, friends and loved ones of Nick Venuto, and best wishes to Baron Hederlin-Doherty for a full and fast recovery.


On a related subject, I’ve received word from a source who doesn’t wish to be identified that cyclist Richard Lauwers is doing very well, back on his bike and is now a firm believer in the power or prayer. As you may recall, Lauwers was critically injured last January when a driver went off the road and hit him while he was riding on the Huntington Beach Bike Path; the driver, Glen M. Moore of Newport Beach, was allegedly intoxicated and racing a BMW driven by Michael D. Roach.

And a memorial will be held this Sunday for Nick Haverland, the 20-year old Ventura College student killed last month in an allegedly drunken roadway rampage. Driver Satnam Singh was reportedly  involved in three separate collisions in a matter of minutes, injuring five other people.

Update: Jim Lyle forwards some good news about Adam Rybicki, the cyclist critically injured when he was hit by an underaged, allegedly drunk driver in Torrance in April. While he has been unable to respond to verbal commands, he is now moving his hands and responding to commands and questions written on whiteboard. Clearly, he faces a long road back, but this is the first news that offers real hope for his recovery.


  1. Cristy says:

    My husband lost his best friend in the San Diego accident. This is a crushing blow to the hundreds of people who knew and loved Nick. In the ongoing debate of bicycles and cars sharing the road (or even the general vicinity in this case) it comes down to responsibility, usually on the part of the driver. Nick was vigilant about safety. He rode hundreds of miles a week. But he didn’t stand a chance against a flying, rolling SUV crashing through safety barriers onto the path. The police need to take a long, hard look at what happened here….tox screens, text/phone records etc. Distracted drivers are deadly drivers and other people, people with lives, families and friends, are paying the price.

    • bikinginla says:

      I’m very sorry for your loss, Cristy. This case is so far from the norm, it’s hard to know what to make of it; no one should ever have to fear for their life on a separated bike path.

      You’re right about the dangers of distraction. Somewhere along the line, our society has lost the awareness that motor vehicles are big, deadly machines. And people are dying needlessly as a result.

      • The Trickster says:

        Sadly I think that is Anglo-centric society as a whole.

        Actually reading this story scares me, especially seeing I’ve seen places along one of our major off-road paths where the fence has been punched through by a car crashing off the motorway.

        I almost wonder if its about time to ask Transit to put barriers up the length of it.

  2. SharHoll says:

    I ride that bike path all the time…with great saddness I saw the memorial where the crash happened. I give my sincere condolences.

    I do hope they do a very careful analysis of how the cyclists and pedestrians on the bike path can be protected better. A guard rail at the right edge of the shoulder might possibly help deflect an out of control vehicle. I realize the likely hood of this accident recurring is simular to being struck by lightening, but still, if more precautions can be taken…it would be well worth the cost.

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