News


Update: Alpine Road fatal crash is third for truck driver

In an unusual set of incidents, the Nov. 4 collision of a bicyclist and a tractor-trailer at the Alpine Road/Interstate 280 interchange was the third time since 2003 that the truck driver had been involved in a fatal accident.

An attorney representing the family of the victim said in a Nov. 22 interview that he has hired "a team of experts" to investigate the physical evidence of the accident.

In the first two cases, the driver was found not to be at fault, and preliminary findings from the Nov. 4 accident investigation suggest he wasn't at fault in that incident, either.

In December 2003, a woman died after her vehicle crossed the center line on Highway 1 near Moss Landing and collided head-on with a truck being driven by Gabriel Manzur Vera, 44, said Officer Robert Lehman of the California Highway Patrol.

In August 2007, a bicyclist died as a result of a collision with the right side of Mr. Vera's truck as it was making a turn at an intersection in the city of Santa Cruz, CHP Officer Art Montiel said.

In the Nov. 4 incident, in which Los Altos Hills cyclist Lauren Perdriau Ward, 47, died after colliding with the left side of his truck, the preliminary indications are that Mr. Vera was not at fault, Mr. Montiel said.

Mr. Vera, who drives for Monterey-based demolition contractor Randazzo Enterprises, had been headed onto southbound I-280 from a job in Menlo Park, Mr. Montiel said. CHP investigators have not yet determined what happened.

"That's very unfortunate: same driver, similar situation," Mr. Montiel said about the two bicycle fatalities.

In the Santa Cruz incident, a video originating either from a surveillance or street camera showed that Mr. Vera was not at fault, Mr. Montiel said. A call to the Santa Cruz Police Department has not been returned.

The CHP keeps records for four years, so details of the 2003 incident on Highway 1 have been purged, said Mr. Lehman of the Monterey office of the CHP. That section of the highway is two lanes and runs through a marshy area without much shoulder, Mr. Lehman said. "There's not a lot of places to go if someone's coming into your lane," he said.

With truckers on the road so much longer than the average driver, do they have a greater likelihood of being involved in an accident? "They absolutely do, just because that's just their job, to be out on the road," Mr. Lehman said.

They are also held to a higher safety standard and are expected to drive more defensively, he added. In an accident, professional drivers are evaluated as to whether they were getting enough sleep, eating adequately, "things that you normally don't think about, but we want to double check in their state of mind," Mr. Lehman said.

Mr. Vera's series of similar incidents "is uncommon (but) I wouldn't doubt the integrity of the investigators in the fault that they found," Mr. Lehman said. "Some individuals are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Lawsuit ahead?

The family of Ms. Ward is apparently considering legal action and has retained San Francisco-based attorney John Feder, of the firm Rouda Feder & Tietjen.

While the CHP has yet to finish its investigation and may never definitively determine who was at fault, that will not necessarily deter legal action. "I have a team of experts helping me analyze the physical evidence," Mr. Feder said in a phone interview.

Once his facts are in order, Mr. Feder said he may request a deposition in which Mr. Vera would be required to answer questions under oath. Depositions are usually videotaped and can be used at trial.

In the 2007 incident, the CHP used a video tape of the actual incident to support their contention that Mr. Vera was not at fault. Nevertheless, that incident could be useful in building a case for negligence, Mr. Feder said, adding that it happened "in broad daylight."

"I think his sworn testimony indicates that he was inattentive to traffic conditions and he failed to see the bicyclist before striking him," Mr. Feder said. "His failure to see the bicyclist is supportive of the fact that he was careless and inattentive."

Witnesses to the Nov. 4 incident, if there are any, have yet to come forward, Mr. Montiel of the CHP said.

The fact that Mr. Vera was involved in similar accidents in the past does not automatically trigger an investigation into his driving habits, Mr. Montiel said. If he had been found at fault, then investigators would begin to look for similarities.

In the Nov. 4 incident, the truck was found to be in its own lane and preparing to make a right turn onto the freeway; investigators found nothing to indicate a leftward turn into the cyclist, he said.

Does the configuration of this particular truck warrant special precautions? "There's really only so much (drivers) can do," Mr. Montiel said. Cyclists and operators of other small vehicles should take it upon themselves to make sure they are seen, he said.

"If you can't see me, I can't see you" is a sign, in the voice of the driver, that is commonly seen on big trucks, referring to the rear-view mirrors. Such signs should be taken seriously by cyclists, Mr. Montiel said.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Gerard
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Nov 19, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Three accidents in a seven-year period is too many, even if there's no evidence of illegal driving. Obviously, this is not a defensive driver. Time for him to find another occupation.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by MenloShopper
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 19, 2010 at 12:29 pm

I saw the big rig and trailer and it was one of the longest I've ever seen.
That in itself is important and has not been mentioned in the coverage.
In addition, then was it the same or a similar rig involved in the SC
accident. And how often are big rigs involved in bike incidents,
and what are rules applying to drivers involved in two? The reporting
on this accident needs to address these basic issues.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Nov 19, 2010 at 1:42 pm

The facts are that this man, unfortunately, was involved in two fatal accidents previously, neither of which were even remotely his fault. THe only "basic issues" that should be involved here are those pertaining to this unfortunate accident.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 19, 2010 at 1:56 pm

I couldn't agree more.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by MenloShopper
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 19, 2010 at 3:02 pm

A 'basic issue' is whether the type of vehicle, more than the driver,
is a significant cause here. Of course there is also the roadway
configuration, but one can hardly see why the type of information
mentioned would not be useful. It sounds like some people have
figured it all out already. Good for you.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of another community
on Nov 19, 2010 at 7:23 pm

Is the atrocious record of this driver just phenomenally bad luck, or is he basically sloppy in an extremely dangerous vehicle. I don't know of anybody who has been involved in 3 fatal collisions and continues driving as if it was everyday business. The attitude of the CHP in this case is despicable. "There's really only so much (drivers) can do," is a rationalization of crappy driving. There is, in fact, a lot more that drivers can do to drive safely. We just don't have the will as a society to require drivers to do that much.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 19, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Donald:

have you even considered the possibility that the bicyclist might have been at fault? Didn't think so.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by David
a resident of another community
on Nov 19, 2010 at 11:37 pm

So sad that this happened. That interchange is scary. When we cyclists leave the stop sign we have a choice of moving to the right, which means crossing the lane of traffic getting onto 280 southbound just when drivers are starting to accelerate, or holding our line and aiming for the line dividing the thru lanes from the entrance ramp. Either way, you also have a serious visibility issue with the light change from the shadow of the bridge at that hour on a sunny day. The trucker had to have been moving towards the right at that point. At any rate, I don't think we should judge the driver until all the facts are in. He is on the road all day for a living and more likely to have an accident. Not much a trucker can do when a car crosses the center line as in one accident and it sounds like there was video evidence that he he was not at fault in the other bike crash.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Nov 20, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Why do cyclists insist on riding in dangerous areas, as David mentions above? When I cycled a lot, I did whatever I could to avoid dangerous conditions and areas prone to accidents. We will continue to have tragic accidents since cycling has become so popular and this area's population has increased, which has increased driving traffic. It doesn't matter that cyclists have rights when they end up injured or dead.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by David
a resident of another community
on Nov 21, 2010 at 12:48 am

@Hmmm:Unfortunately, almost every public road has a dangerous spot. Alpine Rd. itself is busy, but for the most part is great for riding as it has good shoulders and visibility. So does Juniper Sera, but getting from Junipero to Alpine involves a tricky intersection, too. It is just a reality of road riding and it requires attention on everyone's part. Unfortunately, some cyclists push their luck and ignore the rights of drivers and all too often drivers are distracted by phones, text messaging, food, gps systems and the like. I am not saying that is what happened here, but they are problems I see every time I get on my bike. Everybody needs to slow down a little and remember that the road is not our own private entitlement.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by marty
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Nov 24, 2010 at 12:21 am

Perhaps it is time Mr. Vera to sue the estates of careless cyclists. He must be suffering emotionally as the consequence of this tragic accident. It is absurdly precipitate for Lauren Perdriau's family to be suing. What happened to innocent until proven guilty?

Families always want to believe that their loved one was innocent of making a mistake. In real life, even experienced cyclists make mistakes, especially if tired after a long ride.

It is also incumbent upon both drivers and cyclists to be careful, but there is an extra burden for cyclists because they must always remember that truck drivers can't see them!

I know this intersection well, and, in my opinion, anyone on a bike can clearly see it is hazardous for them.


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