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Third Fatal Accident Has Local Cyclists On Edge

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La Vida Local

by Maria Gaura

SANTA CRUZ (June 28, 2011) – A Soquel man riding his bike near Soquel High School was struck and killed Monday night by a motorist who fled the scene – the second hit-and-run collision to claim the life of a county cyclist this month, and the third fatal bike accident so far this year.

Monday’s death was a grim benchmark. The number of deadly bike accidents this year now equals the number in all of 2009, and it’s only June. And 2009 was the worst year for local bicycle deaths in at least a decade.

Noel Hamilton, 31, was declared dead at the scene of Monday's crash. Officials have not yet released the name of the hit-and-run driver, who returned to the scene 40 minutes to an hour after the collision.

“We are doing a very thorough investigation,” said CHP spokeswoman Sarah Jackson. “If someone returns to the scene and … claims to be the driver in an accident like this, we will fully investigate that claim.”

The news touched a painful nerve in the wake of the June 8th death of Zachary Parke, 25, of Santa Cruz, who was struck on Empire Grade by a driver who fled the scene. Parke’s body was found about 8 hours after the accident, and a 21-year-old Santa Cruz man is now in custody in the case.

The first local cyclist to die this year was UC Santa Cruz senior Adrian Burgueño, who crashed February 10 in an apparent solo accident at the bottom of the campus’s Great Meadow bike path. Burgueño, 21, died of his injuries the following day.

bikesign1
Signs warn UCSC cyclists to control their speed

"These incidents are horrible, and to have these two fatalities so close together, and a third in February, is very unsettling," said Piet Canin, a local cyclist and vice president of the Sustainable Transportation Group at Ecology Action. “Personally, I’m still struggling to make sense of what happened to Zachary, who was left to die on the side of the road.

“But there are lots of dangers in life, and walking and cycling are still healthy ways to get around,” Canin said.

Statistically speaking, Santa Cruz has a bicycle accident rate more than double the state average, regularly racks up the first or second highest per-capita bike accident rate in the state, and logged 186 bicycle injury accidents and three deaths in 2009. Despite the county’s reputation of being environmentally friendly, Santa Cruz's network of bike lanes has large gaps and few alternatives to heavily trafficked roads.

Canin believes the accident statistics are likely skewed by the large number of people who cycle locally, compared to most other California communities. However, the feel of local streets is not nearly as bike-friendly as in other bicycle-heavy towns such as Davis or San Luis Obispo, Canin said. 

Noting that all three of the recent fatalities took place at night, Canin and Jackson both urged cyclists to take all possible precautions before venturing onto darkened roadways. Not only are cyclists harder to see at night, but drivers are more likely to be intoxicated or impaired after dark.