The California Highway Patrol has reached a decision as to who was at fault in the Nov. 4 traffic accident at the Alpine Road/Interstate 280 interchange that resulted in the death of Los Altos Hills cyclist Lauren Perdriau Ward.
In the collision between Ms. Ward, 47, and a tractor-trailer truck driven by Gabriel Manzur Vera, 44, the CHP has concluded that the fault lay with Ms. Ward for having made "an unsafe turning movement," according to CHP Officer Art Montiel.
"For unknown reasons, the bicyclist turned right and basically fell into the pathway of the moving truck," Mr. Montiel said in a interview.
The conclusion is based on CHP interviews with Mr. Vera and an examination of the physical evidence, including Ms. Ward's wrecked bicycle, the marks on the left side of Mr. Vera's rig near the second axle, and the locations of the two vehicles when they came to rest, Mr. Montiel said.
For Mr. Vera, who drives for Monterey-based demolition contractor Randazzo Enterprises, this was the third fatal accident since 2003 in which he and his truck have been involved. In none of these incidents was he found to be at fault and there have been no consequences as to his right to continue driving, Mr. Montiel said.
"You can imagine how he feels," Mr. Montiel said. "He's not driving."
In December 2003, a woman died after her vehicle crossed the center line on Highway 1 near Moss Landing and collided head-on with Mr. Vera's truck, according to CHP Officer Robert Lehman.
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. In this incident, a video originating either from a surveillance or street camera showed that Mr. Vera was not at fault, Mr. Montiel said.
The CHP keeps records for four years, so details of the 2003 incident on Highway 1 have been purged, Mr. Lehman said. That section of the highway is two lanes and runs through a marshy area without much shoulder, he added.
Asked to comment on the CHP's latest conclusion, bicycling advocate and Menlo Park resident Steve Schmidt noted that "in the absence of other witnesses, I guess they did the best they could."
There is a hint that another vehicle -- a "side zoomer," Mr. Schmidt said -- may have been trying to get around the truck and on to the freeway. Such a driver would have approached Ms. Ward from her left side and could have scared her such that she fell or turned into the truck. "We don't know," he added. "It's all speculation."
There is conceptual agreement among the stakeholders on a striping change at this intersection to improve safety for bicyclists, Mr. Schmidt said.
Among the alternatives expected to be presented early next year from the county Public Works Department, one option is likely to be a dedicated bike lane. This scenario would encourage splitting traffic headed onto the southbound freeway and traffic headed west into Ladera and Portola Valley, and direct bicyclists in between these two lanes via a clearly marked bike lane.