Update: USC professor seriously injured in early morning PCH collision; CHP blames the victim

Very few details are available yet.

According to the LA Times, a female bike rider was rushed to the hospital with critical injuries following a collision on PCH in the Malibu area this morning.

The collision occurred sometime before 5 am near PCH and Coastline Drive, which may be just east of the city limits. The CHP stopped traffic in both directions for at least two hours to conduct their investigation, which is never a good sign.

The Daily News reports officers are interviewing the driver of the car, while the Times says a big rig truck remains at the scene.

There’s not enough information available to speculate on what might have happened. However, it sounds like prayers may be in order; let’s hope this doesn’t turn out to be more serious than it already is.

Thanks to Rick Risemberg and Jim Lyle for the heads-up.

Update: Good news from KABC-7, which reports the victim is expected to survive.

Update 2: I’m told a writer on the Velo Club LaGrange news group reports coming on the scene at 7 am, and watching a Sheriff’s Deputy remove the remains of a black and white carbon road bike, which was in several pieces. He reports the rider was hit by a truck.

Update 3: According to the Malibu Times, the victim is 33-year old Maija Iris Heller, a professor of oceanography at the University of Southern California. Heller’s driver’s license lists a Pasadena address, but police speculated that she lived in the area and was out for early morning exercise. 

The paper quotes CHP spokesperson Leland Tang as saying she was riding downhill on Coastline Drive in Pacific Palisades when she ran the red light at PCH, and was hit by a westbound flower delivery truck at 4:41 am.

She was transported to UCLA Medical Center with major injuries, where she reportedly remains in serious but stable condition. 

Which begs the question, who, exactly, witnessed the collision at that hour and saw her go through the red? 

Given her critically injured state, it’s highly unlikely that police were able to talk to her before she was transported to the hospital. Let alone that she would have been capable of describing how the collision occurred and whether the light was red or green when she went through the intersection.

It’s also questionable whether any independent witnesses were at the scene at such an early hour, and just happened to be looking in the right direction to observe the collision, and at the same time, notice what color the light was.

In all likelihood, the only witness capable of speaking to the police was the driver of the truck that hit her, who has an inherent interest casting events in a favorable light.

If there were any independent witnesses, police should let the public know, if only for the sake of credibility.

At the very least, no conclusion should be made in this, or any other collision, until police speak with all the surviving participants — even if that means waiting days or weeks until the victim recovers enough to present the other side of the story.

That is not to say that the driver was lying. It’s human nature to recall events in a way that casts our actions in the best possible light.

It’s also entirely possible that the collision occurred exactly the way the story describes. 

Heller may have picked up too much speed on the steep downhill and been unable to stop in time. Or, like too many bike riders, she may have simply blown through the light, thinking it would be safe so early in the morning — though it’s questionable whether she would have intentionally run the red with a large truck bearing down on her at highway speeds, regardless of how Tang casts the collision.

“One of the biggest things we are having a problem with is bicyclists are not following the rules of the road,” he said. “Bicyclists have to stop at stop signs, they have to stop at red lights. [Heller] ran a red light.”

I believe he left out the word, “allegedly.” 

I could be wrong.

Maybe there were multitudes of people milling about that corner before 4:45 am. Or maybe the CHP found security video that clearly showed the light was red when she attempted to go through the intersection.

But we should always take such victim-blaming conclusions with a grain of salt until we hear both sides of the story.

And so should the police.

Update 4: Wayne Gunn offered the following update in a comment on another page, including a link to a Caring Bridge page to raise funds for Heller’s recovery. 

Update on Maija Heller, the USC professor injured on PCH at this site set up by her roommate:  http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/maijaheller/mystory She rides to USC daily from home near the accident site and started in early that day (and in the dark) to help load instruments for a two month trans-Pacific research cruise. Needless to say, she will be on a different journey- of recovery.


  1. Steve says:

    B.L.A., It is too bad this happened. Once again an accident in dark conditions. People who are not clearly seen are subject to being hit. Maybe a good time for more awareness on the issue–don’t you think? Steve

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. anthony says:

    Prayers out to the rider and the family for a full recovery.

  3. […] first link I opened in my Feed this morning was a report on a serious bike wreck from BikingInLA. Breaking news: Bike rider critically injured in early morning PCH collision and Pacific Coast Highway closed south of Malibu after accident The location points to a […]

  4. fsethd says:

    I see this all the time. Driver makes up a story that blames the cyclist, who is carted off in an ambulance. No one questions the driver.

  5. David Huntsman says:

    The first Malibu-bound MTA bus (534) was not scheduled to arrive at Sunset Blvd until 5am, so I doubt there would have been (m)any people waiting at the Coastline Dr bus stop at 4:45.

    • Diana says:

      It is very likely that the police were given access to The Getty Museum’s security tapes as the Getty Villa is at the corner of PCH and Surfview… Bicyclists make me crazy! I live on a two lane canyon off of Sunset Blvd. in Brentwood and unfortunately for all the residents on our street, it is very popular with So Cal cyclists… They are unbelievably rude, arrogant, and do not obey traffic laws (run all the stop signs). Rather than staying on the right side of the lane and riding single file, they ride in packs and take up the whole street, even intentionally spreading out so that cars are unable to pass them safely. I would love to get them banned from the street! Unfortunately, we did have a bicycle fatality on my street several years ago… The bicyclists drove the driver behind them over the sanity cliff and he raced around them and hit his brakes causing a cyclist to hit the back of his car causing his death… The driver was a doctor.. While I do not condone his actions (and it could have been an accident given the amount of wildlife crossing the road) I do understand why and can empathize with him…. Also, we have a fairly large horse population on my street and the street next to ours and the bicyclists ride right up behind the horses spooking them and in several instances causing injury to horse and/or rider…

      • bikinginla says:

        Actually, it sounds like you’re describing the Mandeville Canyon incident in which Dr. Christopher Thompson slammed on his brakes in front of two — not group — of bicyclists, seriously injuring both. However, neither was killed. Dr. Thompson was sentenced to five years in prison, and was just released after serving four. And it was no accident, as the doctor admitted to the first police officer on the scene that his actions were intentional.

        If the incident you describe had occurred the way you say, it would have been second degree murder and could have resulted in life in prison.

        As for those large groups that spread out to keep drivers from passing, that is, in fact, exactly what they’re trying to do. That’s because it’s very unsafe when drivers attempt to pass within the same in lanes that are too narrow for a car and bike to safely share — which is almost every right lane in Southern California, and most likely the case on the narrow two lane road you describe.

        By riding side-by-side — which is legal in California, as long as the lane is too narrow to share — or even riding solo in the middle of the lane, drivers are forced to go into the other lane to pass, or wait a few moments until it is safe to do so. That said, polite riders will notice when there is a car behind them, and make room to pass when it can be done safely.

        In addition, if they are riding below the speed limit, they are required pull over if — and only if — there are at least five vehicles stuck behind them and unable to pass, just as a slower car would. However, they are under no obligation to pull over for impatient drivers attempting to exceed the speed limit, as was the case in the Mandeville Canyon incident.

        And yes, bicycles are required to stop for stop signs, just as cars are. However, set your anger aside for a moment and consider the chaos that would occur if the front riders in a large group suddenly braked to a stop for a stop sign the riders in back may not even be able to see.

        I can empathize with your frustration — though how you could empathize with a supposed killer, no matter how angry you may be, is, frankly, very disturbing. However, if you would try empathizing with the bike riders for a moment, you might understand why they ride the way they do. And discover that it only takes a little bit of patience and cooperation on both sides to improve everyone’s day.

  6. kdbhiker says:

    That’s why I put a video camera on my bike to record my commute or recreational rides regardless of the distance and at what time of the day. Even in the dark a GoPro or a Contour is going to pick-up headlights or streetlights.

    • picayune says:

      Thank you for posting your method i.e., camera on the bike. Yet it doesn’t seem right that a professor would be careless and run a red light. On the other hand, doesn’t law enforcement have the authority to examine digital devices to extrapolate as to whether the driver was distracted? Also, does law enforcement have the authority to check (or inquire) whether the driver or cyclist had any levels of sleeping medication in their systems? I’m just saying that at that time of the morning it may have been a factor? You got a driver and a professor, with both early commutes. Something about this accident does not right right.

  7. […] USC Professor Killed in Early Morning Crash on CPH, CHP Blames Victim (Biking in L.A.) […]

  8. jg says:

    One isn’t even safe on the roads of cycling-mad Belgium.

    US cyclocross pro Amy Dombroski was killed in a collision today in Belgium during a training ride.


  9. John says:

    I think the wording is interesting, as according to the paper, the CHP spokesperson didn’t say the truck hit her. Instead, the wording is she “collided with a two-axle flower delivery truck traveling”. When I read this it sounds as though she hit the side of the truck. And it’s odd because that light won’t change unless there is a car on Coastline Drive to trigger it (at that hour). But frankly, I agree 100% with Ted that it’s far too easy to jump to conclusions at this stage, without knowing all the facts.

    My heart goes out to her. We really don’t stand a chance when going up against the mass/weight of vehicles like cars and trucks. Ted’s westside video from the other day is all too familiar to me riding my bike each day…it’s frightening enough in the best of situations and leaves little room for error before our bodies are crushed…

  10. Joe B says:

    “‘One of the biggest things we are having a problem with is bicyclists are not following the rules of the road,’ [CHP Spokesman Leland Tang] said.”

    Really? That’s really one of your biggest problems? How many crashes are the result of bicyclists not following the rules of the road? And how many are the result of aggressive, inattentive, or drunk motorists? Isn’t one of those numbers much, much, much bigger than the other?

  11. kdbhiker says:

    Maybe that cop should tell this cop how to park http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDiPpZsM3OU

  12. Wayne Gunn says:

    Maija’s roommate has set up a Caring Bridge info site:

    Dearest friends and family~

    At this time it is difficult to keep up with the requests for information on Maija’s status and my goal is to be sure each of you have up to date info.

    We have created a site for you to get updates and post well wishes. While she may not be able to read your posts right now, I will read them to her when the moments present themselves and they will be saved for her to look back on as she makes progress. Click on the link below.


  13. Wayne Gunn says:

    PS- Maija rides to USC daily from home near the accident site and started in early that day (and in the dark) to help load instruments for a two month trans-Pacific research cruise. Needless to say, she will not be able to go on that voyage, rather a different journey- of recovery.

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