Wrongful death alleged in Alpine Road bike fatality


Click on pictures to enlarge. This is an expanded version of a previously posted story.

By Dave Boyce

Almanac Staff Writer

A wrongful death lawsuit is now in process in San Mateo County Superior Court over the case of a 47-year-old Los Altos Hills bicyclist who died after colliding with a tractor-trailer truck at the Alpine Road/Interstate 280 interchange on Nov. 4.

After an investigation of the incident, the California Highway Patrol concluded that the cyclist Lauren Perdriau Ward was at fault for having made "an unsafe turning movement" into the left side of the truck, CHP Officer Art Montiel said in an interview.

A separate investigation initiated by Ms. Ward's family and the San Francisco law firm of Rouda, Feder, Tietjen & McGuinn sees it differently. An investigative team of "scientists and other experts" disagrees with the CHP's conclusions "as to the cause," attorney John Feder said in a statement.

In the civil complaint filed Dec. 20, Mr. Feder alleges negligence on the part of truck driver Gabriel Manzur Vera and his employer, demolition contractor Randazzo Enterprises of Castroville.

Mr. Vera, 44, "suddenly and without warning" drove the big rig "directly into the path" of Ms. Ward's bike, the complaint says.

The CHP's conclusion is based on 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, Officer Montiel said.

While Mr. Vera has been in three fatal accidents since 2003 involving his truck, in none of them was he found to be at fault and there have been no consequences as to his right to continue driving, Mr. Montiel said.

A tricky maneuver

Westbound bicyclists pass through this interchange in great numbers, but if there is a consideration for them, it is not obvious. The interchange begins at a stop sign with two lanes: one into Ladera and the other to the southbound freeway. There are no bike lanes.

Freeway traffic at this stop sign can be significant during the evening commute and can take up both lanes. Perhaps in view of this, Alpine Road morphs into two and a half lanes past the stop sign, thereby allowing freeway bound vehicles who find themselves in the Ladera lane to make a correction.

Meanwhile bicyclists heading into this interchange on the right edge have to negotiate two on-ramps. The northbound ramp is uncomplicated but in the case of the southbound ramp, they must merge with and cross the path of sometimes impatient freeway-bound vehicle traffic in order to get to the relative safety of the lane into Ladera.

Ms. Ward collided and died in the merging section of the road. How can a cyclist safely negotiate such an interchange? "(It) depends on the skill level of the cyclists, road conditions, traffic volumes (and) road design," California Department of Transportation spokeswoman Gidget Navarro told The Almanac.

Asked to comment on the CHP's conclusion of finding Ms. Ward at fault, 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 in the Ladera lane and trying to get to the freeway by speeding around the truck and/or Ms. Ward. Such a driver would have approached Ms. Ward from her left side and could have scared her so 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, Mr. Schmidt said.

This scenario would specifically encourage traffic headed to the freeway to stay to the right and Ladera traffic to stay to the left, Mr. Schmidt said, while bicyclists would travel in between via a clearly marked bike lane.

Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

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Like this comment
Posted by laderan
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Dec 28, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Why is Steve Schmidt's opinion published here? "Asked to comment"... Why, & by whom? He wasn't there, didn't see the collision, and is only 1 of thousands of cyclists. Just because he used to be mayor in Menlo Park? He's a traffic analyst? Failure analyst? He's got no creds.

Unless your reporter actually stopped random cyclists as they entered the accident area to get on-the-spot interviews, quoting miscellaneous cyclists is not informative. Comments from investigators only, please.

Like this comment
Posted by Another Laderan
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Dec 28, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Is there ever such a thing as an accident? Why must someone be at fault here? If both the truck driver and cyclist were doing the best they could to negotiate this tricky interchange and happened to veer into each other, it is *possible* that this is just a tragic accident. I realize the accident is incredibly one-sided in a truck versus bike collision but I can't help but think that because the demolition company paid out once for a bike accident (also found to not be the driver's fault), they are expected to pay out again. I am a cyclist and driver and see a lot of bone-headed moves on the road that can place blame with one party but knowing the nature of that interchange unfortunately leads me to understand how the CHP could conclude as it did. The additional tragedy is the lack of witnesses to the accident.

Like this comment
Posted by A Laderan (not PV)
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 28, 2010 at 1:08 pm

The only thing missing from the "interpretation" phase of this accident case is ambulance-chaser attorney John Burris.

Like this comment
Posted by commuter
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Dec 28, 2010 at 2:22 pm

If the bicycle was in front of the truck, the truck driver should have slowed down and waited for the bicyclist to safely clear the intersection. Passing on the right with such a big truck is extremely dangerous.

Like this comment
Posted by pedestrian in traffic
a resident of another community
on Dec 28, 2010 at 3:43 pm


But Mrs. Ward might not have been visible to the driver because a biker+biker is small relative to the truck, but specially because any high cab vehicle driver will be unable to see what right next to the truck in the front, the back or the sides. That's a limitation that SUVs, vans, buses and truck have about which no driver can do anything. It's really up to the person near near the truck to understand that disregarding this fact may lead to an accident with nobody at fault, just bad luck.

Like this comment
Posted by Martha
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Dec 28, 2010 at 3:50 pm

With this wrongful death lawsuit...what will it really do?
Money for a life?
Why does the family want to torment themselves in a lawsuit?
Life is so short, move on and rebuild, not regress...
Just a thought....

Like this comment
Posted by Terry
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 28, 2010 at 6:03 pm

You are so right, I lost my brother, and my parents went that way, it was hell on my family all the way around.
Wish we had moved on and concentrated on him alive, not the anger of the unknown.
Best of luck to her kids, why continue to scar them?

Like this comment
Posted by Moe
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 28, 2010 at 7:29 pm

Analize the first picture: At the stop sign are two lanes. The left lane (in the direction of travel) is clearly continuing straight (west) towards Ladera. The right lane offers drivers a choice of continuing straight (and later merging into one westbound lane) or turning right into the on-ramp approach lane as demonstrated by the three cars between the two bikers. I travel this intersection frequently and very often observe that drivers, in hopes of beating one or two other cars to the on-ramp, approach the stop sign in the left lane and then gun the engine to cross in front of a car that may have left the stop simoultaneously.
From the angle of the front car in the picture I am assuming that a similar maneuvre is about to take place.
Now project 5 seconds fast forward and imagine the potential conflict with this driver shooting for the on-ramp and the biker at the far right trying to cross to his left to follow the front biker who is now at the correct position to continue straight. ouch!

There appears to be no evidence of road rage or anybody intentionally trying to hurt anybody. Why then is it necessary to have an expensive law firm trying to invent some blame for an accident?

My heart goes out to the grieving family but I also feel compassion for the driver who must live with this nightmare for the rest of his life.

Nothing will ever allow your loved one to ever join you again. Let it - and her - rest in peace.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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