Avid cyclist Amy Suyama died seven months ago in a crash involving a passing pickup during an organized bicycle ride, a devastating loss for family and friends that stoked the worst fears among legions who take to Sonoma County’s world-class bike routes.
Those close to Suyama, 55, of Sebastopol and other avid cyclists have been frustrated with the pace of the CHP investigation into the crash that killed her. Suyama, a lifelong athlete, was riding behind her boyfriend, Andy Dean of Santa Rosa. They were three quarters of the way through the 60-mile Tour de Fuzz, a charity ride benefiting law enforcement chaplains held Sept. 10 when the crash occurred on Eastside Road, west of Windsor.
It was nearly 11 a.m., and hundreds of cyclists filled the roads that day, spread out by the ride’s staggered start times.
While investigators initially suspected Suyama crashed because the oncoming pickup made an unsafe pass into her path, a lack of independent witnesses and evidence have made that difficult to prove, said CHP Officer Danny Alconcel, lead investigator on the case. Alconcel said he found no evidence the vehicle made contact with either Suyama or Dean. As the investigation wore on, Alconcel said, it opened up the possibility the 72-year-old pickup driver, Courtney Rudin, had already made the pass and was back in his lane when Suyama crashed into Dean, who may have suddenly slowed reacting to Rudin’s pass.
Rudin told investigators he had already pulled back into his lane when he got close to the cyclists.
“In most collisions, we have evidence, we have damage, we have markings on the roadway, we have points of impact and the evidence backs up the report,” Alconcel said. “In this case, we have not much to work with, and we’ve exhausted the alternatives.”
Another view of the wreck
Dean’s account — shared in a pair of interviews a day after the crash and last week — provides another angle from the road at the time. He said Rudin — who was southbound in a 2004 Chevrolet pickup and near home, according to the CHP — accelerated as he neared the northbound cyclists, sideswiping or nearly sideswiping him near the shoulder of the road and knocking him off his bike.
“I couldn’t go to the left because the truck was there. I couldn’t go to the right because the bushes were there,” Dean said.
The truck had been traveling at about 25 to 30 mph, according to the CHP, and the cyclists at about 18 to 20 mph. The speed limit was 45.
The next thing Dean knew, he was on the ground and Suyama’s bicycle was on top of him. She was on the road about 20 feet behind him. He thinks she crashed into him and may have been struck by the pickup.
Another cyclist was about 300 yards behind them, and he quickly rode up to the crash but didn’t see enough to provide a clear description of what happened, the CHP said.
But there was another person who may have answers.
Rudin, who couldn’t be reached last week, was passing a slow moving truck he had been following for nearly 3 miles, according to the CHP. It was harvest season, a time when trucks hauling grapes and equipment add to the cycling and tourist traffic. Eastside Road where the crash occurred is a narrow route parallel to the Russian River leading through vineyards, near Windsor River Road, a primary connector to Windsor and Highway 101.