On September 20, 2007 Lloyd Clarke was killed while taking a bike ride. Lloyd was a good man - a loving husband to his wife, Sherol - a wonderful father to his 10 year old daughter - a solid co-worker - a strong, fit and experienced bicyclist who was well-liked by his fellow rides in Maryland. Lloyd's death struck his family and friends very deeply. What happened in the days following Lloyd's death shook them even harder.
Lloyd was traveling on business to Incline Village, a picturesque little city that sits on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. Lloyd always traveled with his pedals & riding clothes in his luggage so he could rent a high end bike and ride on business trips. Lloyd also used a GPS to track his rides in tremendous detail.
Lloyd rented a bike from a shop in Incline Village early in his week-long stay and rode every day. At 6,330 feet up in the Sierra Nevada mountains and roads with 8 or 9% grades, or more, Incline Village provides the bicyclist with some particularly challenging routes. Lloyd was more than up to the task. As a man who had once taken his bike from sea level to a point 10,000 feet UP the mountain in Hawaii that many choose to ride DOWN, Lloyd was known as a powerful rider.
On September 20, 2007, Lloyd was riding a loop of around 8.8 miles. As Lloyd came down Country Club Road into the intersection with Village Blvd., a pick-up truck driven by a 17 year-old local boy was coming up Country Club. The juvenile made a sudden left turn in front of Lloyd as Lloyd pedaled into the intersection. Lloyd was unable to stop before crashing into the side of the pick-up truck and suffering fatal injuries.
Lloyd clearly had the right of way. There were no traffic controls at the intersection. Lloyd was proceeding straight through and the truck turned left in front of him. Seems like an open and shut case, right? A classic "left hook" in bicycle accident reconstruction parlance caused by the juvenile's failure to yield the right of way to oncoming traffic?.
Sadly, the police on the scene didn't see it that way. For reasons known only to them, local police at Incline Village immediately took blame AWAY from the young motorist and placed it on the cyclist! According to comments published in the local paper and attributed to Brooke Keast, a public information officer with the Washoe County Sheriff's Department, "It looked like the cyclist was going too fast. It's so hilly up there that sometimes you might not be able to stop." Capt. Steve Kelly, commander of the Sheriff's Incline Village substation, said, "Tentatively, it looks like the cyclist was exceeding the speed limit,"
Huh? Welllll, certainly such a bold and official statement from the police was based on some actual evidence. right?
Not exactly.According to Keast, ".witnesses at the scene said they saw the truck going up Country Club Drive and turn left onto Village Boulevard. They said the cyclist was going too fast to stop." How fast was the bike going? What was the speed limit? Does "too fast to stop" mean speeding?
According to Capt. Kelly, ".it looks like it was simply a very unfortunate accident..If speed was the main contributing factor the juvenile most likely isn't to blame." Huh? But.didn't the kid turn left in front of the bike??
What about that juvenile, what was he saying? According to Keast, the juvenile was ".real cooperative, and we don't expect to have any issues with him." Keast again, "It's just one of those unfortunate things that happen . From what I hear he [Lloyd] was a experienced rider, but possibly he wasn't in that area."
Lloyd's friends and family read those comments in the local paper and reacted quickly. They added comments to the online version of the newspaper article. They contacted the writer. They contacted the police department. They tried to get some sort of retraction published.
A few days later, more inflammatory comments arose. Capt. Kelly acknowledged that ".his office has received phone calls from upset citizens, asking why the juvenile driver isn't being blamed for the accident." However, Kelly stressed that ".it was an unfortunate accident in which no one should be blamed."
Kelly then strung together an entire paragraph of ridiculous comments for the paper:
"One thing I will say - the fact of the matter is, if we find he was exceeding the speed limit in a low-light situation, how do you expect the driver to see him?" Kelly said. "It was dark. It was probably hard for the driver to see him, he had no lights on the bicycle and he probably was not familiar with the area. Now obviously, I don't think it was a deliberate attempt to disregard the law. We don't have a final finding yet, but those are possible reasons why."
Isn't that special. The police are saying ".we don't have the final finding yet, but." we think the cyclist was speeding and besides it was dark and the rider was unfamiliar with the area and thus the rider caused his own death by slamming into the car that turned left in front of him. [forgive me, I'm paraphrasing here.]
What a load of . well.
The Sheriff's Major Accident Investigation Team [MAIT]was called in and a THOROUGH accident investigation was then undertaken. This included TALKING to witnesses, ANALYZING data, taking measurements, performing a RE-CREATION of Lloyd's ride down Country Club, accessing the GPS data, looking at Sunset/daylight records and more.
I was called into the case by Sherol Clarke, Lloyd's widow, and I traveled to Lake Tahoe in October. Standing at the scene I was shocked - I couldn't imagine how ANYONE could possibly determine that the bike was "not visible." The sunset records I looked at told me it was still daylight at the time of the crash. Even if Lloyd was going 40 mph, the oncoming motorist would have been able to see Lloyd for several seconds before impact. There was just no way I could see this being Lloyd's fault. I took photos and video of the scene, spoke with a witness, met with Sherol and took some measurements. The police, by this time, had decided to back off and refused to speak with me about the case.
The Final MAIT report supported my "seat of the pants" analysis based on standing at the site.
When they looked at Lloyd's GPS they found a treasure trove of data. Turns out Lloyd was tracking his ride - he had made two previous loops before being hit and killed the third time around. According to the GPS data, EACH TIME he entered the intersection of Country Club and Village, he had slowed down. He was riding WITHIN THE SPEED LIMIT, and had slowed down.
The scene photos showed that the path taken by the pick-up truck was improper. The driver clearly tried to "cut the corner" and started making the turn about 15 feet before a spot on the roadway that would have been appropriate to start the turn. The investigation team concluded that had the juvenile "gone another 15 feet up to make a proper turn, the collision would not have taken place and. [the juvenile]. would have had a better opportunity to see the cyclist."
Bottom line - the police report debunked each and every comment made by Capt. Kelly in the days immediately following the crash.
-- Too dark to see? Sunset was at 7:01 and the accident occurred at 6:55. Weather was "partly cloudy."
-- Too Fast? Re-creation by police cyclist estimated speeds between 35-40.
--Didn't know the area? GPS data confirmed that Lloyd made 3 loops over the same route and
that Lloyd "slows at major intersections.This shows that Clarke had knowledge of the area and his route."
Why would local police make such WRONG statements to the press before the investigation was over? Why would they seem to aggressively protect the local juvenile against any claim that the boy might have caused the crash? Why were the police so quick to blame the cyclist, an out-of-town African-American businessman?
We will never know the true answer to these questions. Bob Mionske, former Olympic cyclists turned lawyer, wrote a column in Velo News recently detailed several recent cases in which either the cyclists were improperly blamed for causing crashes with motor vehicles or the motor vehicle drivers got off with no ticket or a "slap on the wrist." This is becoming widespread.
The verdict is still out on the Lloyd Clarke case. The police report was only recently completed [January 2008]. Sherol Clarke had to file a motion in court to get a copy, despite the fact that it is a public record.
Did the fact that Lloyd was an African-American visitor from Maryland into a virtually all-white very affluent Lake Tahoe city play a role in the police department's immediate and vehement defense of the negligent motorist? Were the police protecting the boy for some reason? Did they really feel they had conducted a complete and thorough investigation before they began issuing statements to the press about the bicycling who was going "so fast" that he "couldn't stop" before crashing into a car that turned left in front of him?
Sherol Clarke stood up and fought for her husband's legacy and good name. Her young daughter understood completely what the police were saying and what that meant. She knew her daddy to be a good and cautious man. Sherol and her daughter kept pushing police for more information, a better investigation, a better public statement. Finally, in the MAIT report, it appears they are getting it.
Too little, too late? That remains to be seen. On March 7, 2008 there is a hearing at which the juvenile is expected to be charged with more serious crimes based on the MAIT report. The Sheriff's Department may have more to say at that time. For now, we sit and wait.
Capt. Kelly DID have something to say about the MAIT report before it came out: According to an October 7, 2007 article, ". while Kelly said he still is waiting on the official investigation, he said it could come to a "convoluted conclusion, which may not include the entire logistics of the accident." Forgive me if I continue shouting expletives here.%&&$**(#
For now, we continue to sit and wait and see what happens. The simple facts are still true: Lloyd Clarke had the right of way and Lloyd Clarke is dead. Keep Sherol and her daughter in your thoughts!
Good Luck and Good Riding