Modesto bicyclist remembered as 'gifted teacher'

The Modesto cyclist who died Tuesday in Santa Rosa was a physical education teacher for a charter school district that serves minority students in the Central Valley.

Ruben Hernandez, 37, had been a teacher for six years at Aspire Rosa Parks Academy and Aspire River Oaks Charter School in Stockton.

"He was an extraordinarily gifted teacher who inspired students to do their personal best," said Mary Welch, superintendent for the 13 Aspire Public Schools in the Central Valley. "He was warm, kind and caring. He really had a crusade to improve children's lives."

Hernandez was in Santa Rosa to attend an Aspire Schools conference and was staying at the Fountaingrove Inn, less than a mile from where the crash occurred on Fountain Grove Parkway.

An avid cyclist, Hernandez was riding west on Fountain Grove about 7 a.m. when a pickup driven by Adam Bigham, 22, of Sebastopol turned left in front of him heading toward <HY0>Thomas </HY>Lake Harris Drive.

Hernandez, who was riding at the speed of surrounding traffic and may have been going as fast as 40 mph on that steep stretch of road, hit the pickup cab and died at the scene, police said.

Preliminary indications of an autopsy held Wednesday are that he died of head injuries, Sgt. Rich Celli said.

Celli said Bigham was on his way to work in construction when the collision occurred.

He described Bigham as cooperative and said there were no indications he was driving under the influence or distracted by a cellphone.

"He was not impaired, totally cooperative and has a valid driver's license," Celli said.

Bigham could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

District Attorney Jill Ravitch said investigators from her office were at the scene, but no decision on whether charges will be filed will be made until after they receive the police report.

"This office will prosecute vehicular manslaughter cases to the full extent of the law," Ravitch said. "We will do anything we can do to make drivers keep their eyes on the road. This is just tragic."

Aspire Public Schools is a network of 34 charter schools in the Central Valley, the Bay Area and Los Angeles for students in kindergarten through the 12th grade.

Most students are minorities and from low-income families.

"We serve students in under-served communities," Welch said. "Our mission is to ensure that all children are ready to go to college. He was a role model for the children he served."

Hernandez taught physical education to students in kindergarten through fifth grade and in the after-school program.

"He was an avid cyclist. He often brought his bike to work and would go on rides after work. He was involved in biking and all kinds of sports," Welch said.

Hernandez is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, and their 2-year-old daughter, Gianna.

He was the fifth cyclist to die in Sonoma County in the past 10 weeks, and there have been others who have been injured in collisions with vehicles.

As a memorial, the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition is holding a silent, two-mile ride down Mendocino Avenue from the Sonoma County Administration Center to Old Courthouse Square at 5:30 p.m. Friday.

It is a sign that the cycling community is stunned by the high number of incidents, said Sandra Lupien, coalition outreach director.

"We feel a need to provide an opportunity for people to mourn together," Lupien said. "We certainly had people asking us if we are going to do a silent ride, and we definitely feel that it is the right approach.

"It is really important for us to send the message that we don't see these crashes as illustrating there is a particular problem with bike versus car on the road, we see it as a larger safety issue," Lupien said.

"We want people riding bikes, driving cars and walking to make sure they are paying attention to reduce these types of collisions."