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A car crashed into a group of five tourists riding their bicycles on a rural Mendocino County road that winds through rolling hills and vineyards along the Russian River north of Hopland, leaving at least one with major injuries.

The cyclists were struck from behind and didn’t see what happened; they simply found themselves thrown to the ground, CHP Sgt. Lanika Lee said.

Firefighters used hydraulic rescue tools to free a woman pinned under the Honda sedan, Hopland Fire Capt. Mitch Franklin said. The woman, who lives in Menlo Park, was airlifted to a Santa Rosa hospital with major injuries, according to CHP and fire officials.

Four other bicyclists were taken by ambulance to Ukiah Valley Medical Center with moderate to mild injuries, Franklin said.

The Honda sedan could be seen at the side of the road, with a bicycle wheel still stuck partially under the car. The driver was handcuffed and placed in a CHP patrol car, Franklin said. It was not immediately clear if the driver had been arrested.

Skip Williams, an engineer- paramedic with the Ukiah Valley Fire Authority, said he saw the driver being given a field sobriety test and that “he couldn’t walk a straight line.” Williams said he didn’t know whether the driver was arrested. “I’d be surprised if they didn’t” arrest the driver, he said.

Williams described the driver as a young man in his 20s.

The accident was reported at 5:10 p.m. on Old River Road about 6 miles south of Talmage, according to the California Highway Patrol. The road is popular with bicyclists, drawn to its scenic views. It’s also dangerous, Franklin said.

“It’s not the first time” a cyclist has been struck on the road, he said.

The bicyclists, in their 50s and 60s, were from Menlo Park and Los Altos. They were riding north on Old River Road when they were struck, Lee said.

Old River Road was closed in both directions while a helicopter landed to evacuate the injured woman. One lane of the road was reopened at about 6:30 p.m.

Firefighters from the Hopland, Ukiah and Ukiah Valley fire departments responded to the scene, along with Medstar ambulances and a Calstar helicopter. Three helicopters were called initially but only one was needed, Franklin said.

Bicyclists from across the United States flock to the scenic North Coast, where collisions on narrow backcountry roads are not uncommon, according to a 2014 Press Democrat analysis of CHP data.

An average of three bicyclists a month are struck by motorists on roads in the unincorporated area of Sonoma County alone. Since October 2003, 27 bicyclists in Mendocino, Lake and Sonoma counties have been killed by motorists.

Last spring, Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, proposed a bill that would have greatly increased penalties levied against drivers who hit and injure cyclists or other “vulnerable road users.”

The bill, however, was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September. In his veto message, Brown wrote that the measure “adds a new moving violation to the Vehicle Code with fines and penalties up to $1,361. I think the current laws are sufficient.”

In 2013, Brown signed a controversial law requiring motorists to give 3 feet of clearance when passing a bicyclist, something proponents said would help remove ambiguity over what is considered a safe distance.

In some cases, though isolated, motorists have actually targeted cyclists. In 2012, an 82-year-old man rammed a cyclist with his car after chasing him onto an Oakmont golf course.

Staff Writer Martin Espinoza contributed to this story. You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MendoReporter.

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