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.
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.