Alpine Road fatality 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.
In the first two cases, he 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."
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.
In a brief interview, Mr. Feder said it was clear that Mr. Vera had been inattentive in the 2007 incident and that the ensuing lawsuit, which ended in a settlement, supported that position. "His sworn testimony under oath indicated that he was, in fact, at fault," Mr. Feder said.
The case may turn on the question of whether the Nov. 4 accident was preventable, Mr. Feder said, while also noting the importance of the CHP's determining what actually happened. Witnesses, if there are any, have not yet 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.