News


Investigation leads CHP to change findings on Alpine Road fatal bicycle-truck accident

Human DNA found near the front axle of a tractor-trailer truck has led investigators from the California Highway Patrol to conclude that the November 4, 2010, collision and death of Los Altos Hills cyclist Lauren Ward was not the fault of Ms. Ward, authorities said.

The accident re-enactment and subsequent investigation, which has been ongoing since December and is now over, does not conclude that the driver of the truck is at fault, Mr. Montiel told the Almanac.

Ms. Ward died at the intersection of Interstate 280 and westbound Alpine Road. The driver has not been charged but no longer drives, this having been his third accident that resulted in a fatality.

The CHP initially determined that Ms. Ward had struck the side of the truck, in part because the truck showed no damage from the collision, Mr. Montiel said.

The discovery of the DNA and its position near the left side of axle is what prompted investigators to reconsider their findings and conclude that Ms. Ward was struck by the left front of the truck cab.

Her bike was upright at the time of the collision, according to a CHP statement.

Though investigators had Ms. Ward's DNA, they have not concluded that the DNA found is hers, Mr. Montiel said.

Comments

Posted by Donald, a resident of another community
on Sep 19, 2011 at 8:14 am

Finally, a CHP report that is believable. Instead of blaming the victim they have finally admitted that they don't really know what happened and that they missed critical evidence in their original investigation. Too bad it took so much effort to get to that point.


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Sep 19, 2011 at 8:40 am

Those of us who have been saying "let's wait for the FINAL report" feel a small sense of vindication. We didn't say who was at fault, just to be patient and don't accept preliminary findings.

Turns out that the initial fact pattern was incorrect. While the driver is still not cited, his story of hiw this happened is clearly in error.

Others may feel free to apologize anytime.


Posted by WONDERING, a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Sep 19, 2011 at 5:15 pm

So, now will San Mateo or CalTrans reconsider figuring out how to keep bicyclist on the north side of Alpine Road safe as they pass under 280??

Have they considered removing the sidewalk that is sitting there for absolutely no good reason?? Perhaps way way back in time someone thought there would be a side walk on that side of Alpine so they paid to install it. It would be nice to have that 3-4 (5?) feet of extra space to keep bikes separate from cars!

Or... we can wait before someone else is killed.


Posted by Joe, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Sep 19, 2011 at 5:29 pm

I have gotten off my bike and walked through that intersection using that bit of sidewalk. I never felt endangered, I had the rights of a pedestrian -- which are generally more recognized than those of a cyclist -- and I got back on my bike having experienced no worries about being run over.

Sidewalks are valuable wherever they are, not least for people in wheelchairs. To remove a sidewalk to accommodate bicycles strikes me as well beyond the pale.


Posted by pedestrian in traffic, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Sep 19, 2011 at 6:11 pm

Wondering says to remove the sidewalk. Really, am I allowed to walk and use it at my discretion or are bikers trying to steal pedestrian's walkways? There is already little opportunity for walking or jogging along roads without encountering bikers or cars.

On the matter of the accident, the conclusion is that CHP doesn't know what happened, if it was anybody's fault or simply an accident , so blaming the truck driver or Mrs. Ward is wrong. CHP doesn't know and we don't either. It's a tragedy and that's as much as we know.

Now please don't try to take away my right to walk in safety. Pedestrians have as much right to safe walking as bikers have to safe biking.


Posted by Susan Smith, a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Sep 19, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Nothing will stop the family from suing as if human life actually has a price tag attached to it,no doubt


Posted by Donald, a resident of another community
on Sep 19, 2011 at 6:51 pm

If the family had not pursued this so aggresively the CHP would not have re-opened their investigation and the victim would still be blamed. It is unfortunate that they need to do so, but I agree 100% with their pursuit of the suit.


Posted by Robbie, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 19, 2011 at 7:14 pm

Or, as a civil rights lawyer said recently "Bikes are the ni**ers of the road". The law says they have rights, but the system discriminates against them and they need to use every tool they have to fight the man to preserve those rights. The CHP behavior proves the point.


Posted by pedestrian in traffic, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Sep 20, 2011 at 1:38 am

Robbie's comment would have been more effective if he hadn't resorted to racial slurs.

All of us, pedestrians, bikers, drivers have rights. Many of us are any and all of the above at some point. The "system", whatever that is, didn't discriminate in this case. The CHP had a preliminary assessment of the case and a final report . Certainly, they know how to investigate accidents. And they concluded that they don't know how this accident happened.


Posted by Al, a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Sep 20, 2011 at 9:32 am

I believe the comment that Robbie forwarded was a historical reference, not a racial slur.


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Sep 20, 2011 at 10:10 am

I distinctly recall a lot of posters saying that the CHP had concluded that for unknown reasons the bicycle rider turned into the tires toward the rear of the truck.

Some of us had stated the obvious - that this was the truck driver's THIRD fatality in a very short time and that he should not be exonerated. Posters pointed to the preliminary report as proof that he was innocent and many of us said to wait for the final report.

Now it turns out that the rider's DNA is on the FRONT of the truck. Perhaps this truck driver isn't as innocent as some had suggested.


Posted by Dave Boyce, Almanac staff writer
on Sep 20, 2011 at 10:15 am

Dave Boyce is a registered user.

The investigators found human DNA, but they would not and, according to a communication received today from the CHP press officer, do not plan to further address the question of whether that DNA belonged to Ms. Ward.


Posted by Al, a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Sep 20, 2011 at 10:33 am

So which is worse - it is her DNA or someone else's on the truck? Thank goodness this guy is no longer driving a truck.


Posted by Dave Boyce, Almanac staff writer
on Sep 20, 2011 at 10:59 am

Dave Boyce is a registered user.

Correction: CHP Press Information Officer Art Montiel said he did not know if or when a redacted version of the investigation results will be made available to the public.

Such a redacted version might answer the question of why investigators could not affirm the identity of the sample of DNA found near the axle. The Almanac asked this question but the investigators would not answer it.


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Sep 20, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Whoa!

The initial story clearly implied that the DNA was that of the bicyclist. If it wasn't her's, then why would the CHP change their initial finding that she was at fault?

Why would someone else's DNA on the truck's front bumper change the initial finding? It wouldn't.


Posted by pedestrian in traffic, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Sep 20, 2011 at 1:40 pm


Independently of who was at fault in this accident, it downright dishonest to imply that this is the truck driver third fatality as if he could have been at fault by any stretch of imagination that a car driving in the oposite direction comes into his lane and collides head on with the truck. He was the victim, not the perpetrator. He was cleared in another accident which was recorded by nearby cameras. I don't know whose fault it was in the Alpine road accident or if it a freak accident but stretching the truth to the point of obliterating it to demonize somebody doesn't seem to me the way we would all liked to be treated in any accident.


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Sep 20, 2011 at 4:00 pm

This was the truck driver's third fatal accident in a very short time. He's either a bad driver or the unluckiest guy in the history of driving.

Either way, I don't want to be anywhere near him.

I stand on my statement which is undeniably true.


Posted by pedestrian in traffic, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Sep 20, 2011 at 6:09 pm

Pogo, your statement is designed to give the impression that the truck driver has been the cause or the agent of 3 fatal accidents. He was not. If you drive a lot there is a high probability that you will be involved in accidents.
I was involved in three , none even remotely my fault: like the truck driver someone crossed the center divider and crashed head onto us (I was a passenger) causing bodily harm, then someone crashed on my driver's side, trying to turn right without seeing me there, and then a biker ran me over on a pedestrian crossing with the red light for him. Was I unlucky ? Well, not according to stats provided by the National Safety Council I was in the norm. So, no, the truck driver was the victim of one accident and had two other fatality accidents, one inconclusive as to his responsibility and in the other he was deemed not to be at fault (cameras recorded the accident).

Your repetition (and that of the Almanac ) that the driver was involved in three fatal accidents is lacking in justice (blaming someone for something completely out of his control-the crash on accident) , lacking good will, that is behaving as if there is something demoniacal about the truck driver who was a victim at least once, but not lacking in bias. Should we treat people to treat this unjustly? We might as well go back to the witches of Salem....


Posted by Truth Please, a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres
on Sep 21, 2011 at 12:52 am

Can't help but repost this piece: What are the odds of killing two bicyclists? from Web Link


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Sep 21, 2011 at 6:12 am

Nice post, Truth please.

No one is misleading. This truck driver has been involved in THREE FATAL ACCIDENTS with bicycle riders.

For those who did not click on Truth please's link, someone very skilled in math and statistics calculated the odds of a truck driver having two separate fatal accidents with bicycles. It turns out that 28 truck drivers might experience this unfortunate "coincidence" over a SIXTH YEAR PERIOD. The commentary concludes with an update from the writer that he has just learned that this truck driver has actually had THREE fatal accidents with bicycles!

With those kind of statistics, I find it VERY hard to believe this is just a case of bad luck. Maybe someone will re-investigate the one accident determined to be not his fault. Forgive me if I'm not shocked when that finding is changed also.


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Sep 21, 2011 at 6:13 am

That should read SIXTY YEAR PERIOD, sorry.

These odds are becoming astronomical.


Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 21, 2011 at 7:11 am

excuse me POGO, but I think this driver has had three fatal accidents, two involving bikes and one with a car when the car crossed the center line and crashed into him. In the first bike fatality there was video of the bike crashing into him. Please explain how people crashing into you makes you at fault or a bad driver? The odds may be astronomical, but sometimes the stars align and bad stuff happens like the article I posted before about someone that had been struck by lightning multiple times. Again, astronomical odds, but it happened. Was the guy that got struck by lightning a bad person or doing something wrong because he was unlucky enough to be struck multiple times?


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Sep 21, 2011 at 9:32 am

MV -

Yes, it was two bicycle fatalities and one auto/truck fatality.

While I am generally aware of the circumstances surrounding each accident - and I realize one involved a car that crossed the center line - I still believe that this many fatalities in such a short time is not a coincidence. One could speculate how a driver coming in the opposite direction could be "induced" to cross the center line by a careless truck driver who managed to return to his lane before the accident.

With regard to this latest fatality, the initial reports were that the bicycle rider turned into the rear wheels of the trucker. That didn't make a lot of sense and many posters speculated that she was, perhaps, trying to avoid another swerving car. It turns out that her DNA was subsequently found on the truck's front bumper, which would seem to implicate the trucker in this latest fatality.

I recall a woman who had the misfortune of having several children die of sudden infant death syndrome. Later investigation revealed that she had poisoned them all. In this case, I think this trucker's earlier accidents should be re-examined.

The odds of a single driver having three fatal accidents in such a short time - at fault or not - are astronomical to the point of disbelief. I will remain skeptical until proven otherwise.


Posted by pedestrian in traffic, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Sep 21, 2011 at 4:03 pm

The odds of a single driver having three fatal accidents in such a short time - at fault or not - are astronomical to the point of disbelief. I will remain skeptical until proven otherwise.
says POGO.

Only for those who don't look at "odds" as a scientific but as irrational thoughts...Miracles anyone?


Posted by Joe, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Sep 21, 2011 at 4:23 pm

I'm no scientist, but I know enough about statistics to stay away from making bold statements about whether something is or is not statistically possible.

For the same reasons that Murphy's Law is trotted out to explain life's surprises, there are appeals to logic to explain why something could not happen. It's easy to get caught up because it's so very, very difficult for us, as humans, to see the big picture.


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Sep 21, 2011 at 4:37 pm

Well, I'm not a novice or an expert when it comes to statistics.

I havent heard of a lot of people who have had three fatal accidents in a short time, but my sample may be skewed. I will remain skeptical about this truck driver's innocence.


Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 21, 2011 at 5:24 pm

POGO:

many say it's a "one in a million chance" of hitting the lottery, yet people do. So that one in a million chance comes along every now and then. This driver could be the one in a million. Any driver that puts in the kind of miles on the road he does is at much greater risk (odds) of being in an accident. What do you think the odds of one person being struck by lightning multiple times? One in a million? Yet, it has happened. You don't have anything but supposition about odds to support your opinion that this driver is a "bad" driver. He may be, but you can't know that because you don't know him (I think) and you haven't seen him drive (I think). To draw conclusions about the quality of his driving from such limited information simply isn't fair.


Posted by pedestrian in traffic, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Sep 21, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Pogo, you haven't got a sample. If you knew anything about statistics you would know that. What you have is a extremely limited anecdotal knowledge so limited that's not worth any more of my posts. Your "knowledge" seems to me a mixture of bias, and self righteousness.
You may be convinced of whatever you like to serve your needs but reality is another thing.
Sadly a life was lost in the Alpine incident. How can we prevent another?


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Sep 21, 2011 at 6:20 pm

Actually, the probability calculations were provided for you if you clicked on the link provided by Truth please. Here it is again: Web Link

Unlike the rest of us, the author IS a statistician and he adjusted for high mileage driving. His conclusion: "there is no question in my mind that he (Mr. Vega) isn't just an unlucky driver, but should never be allowed to drive again." I agree.

So what exactly is the probability that a high-mileage truck driver would kill two bicycle riders in two separate accidents? From the article:

The probability of killing 2 or more bicyclists in separate miles is about 1 in 125,000. With 3.5 million truck drivers around, we would expect to find about 28 double-bicyclist-death truck drivers by chance in 60 years.

So, Mr. Vega is apparently one of those extraordinary unlucky "black swan" 28 truckers over a sixty year period. (Just stop and think about that for a moment. That's the number of students in your kid's class room, spread out over all of the miles driven on all the roads in America over every single hour of your entire driving lifetime. Whew!)

And, as rare as those two events are, unfortunately, Mr. Vega's luck is even worse because he was involved in yet a THIRD fatality.


Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 21, 2011 at 9:00 pm

POGO:

the statisticians evidence you site is flawed. His calculations are based upon bicyclists killed. He states that is within the realm of possibility that a truck driver could be involved in two accidents and not be a "bad driver." He change his opinion when he hears that the driver was involved in a third fatality. the problem is that the driver has still only been involved in two bicycle fatalities, not three. His calculations do not include the possibility of other type of fatal accidents only those involving bicyclists. he's only been involved in two bicycle fatalities and by this person's own calculations that is not beyond statistical possibilities.

I'd be willing to bet this same statistician would estimate it was almost impossible to be struck by lightining multiple times, yet it has happened. Sometimes events "defy the odds."


Posted by mike patterson, a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Sep 23, 2011 at 11:48 pm

I ride that stretch quite a bit - there is no clear right way to go, but the day before tha accidenty, I was riding at about the same time of day, and the sun was shining straight into my eyes. Has anybody elso noticed that?


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