CHP: Hit-and-run driver struck four cyclists southwest of Petaluma
The driver of a dark blue Dodge Ram pickup veered toward a small group of cyclists ahead of him on a rural road southwest of Petaluma on Saturday, and in a chilling scene caught on video by a passing motorcyclist, he then plowed straight into the riders, CHP officials said.
The man drove away, leaving behind on Point Reyes-Petaluma Road four injured male riders, one of them grievously hurt and later airlifted to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.
Late Saturday, CHP investigators were still trying to identify the driver involved. They said his action appeared intentional.
“If indeed he intentionally swerved, then that is an egregious thing to do,” CHP Officer Andrew Barclay said. “We haven’t had the chance to speak with this individual yet, which is obviously something we want to do. We want to know his side of the story.”
The hurt riders were part of a larger group ride, including some 1,300 cyclists, that began the day in Marin County and traversed roads in southern Sonoma County. The victims were not identified Saturday and their medical conditions weren’t disclosed. The man flown to Memorial Hospital sustained “major injuries,” according to the CHP.
The riders’ damaged and destroyed bicycles were strewn for yards along Point Reyes-Petaluma Road on a stretch just east of the Marin French Cheese Co.
The route is a popular one for cyclists, especially on weekends, when it draws dozens or more riders in groups or on their own.
The collision follows other road-rage encounters involving motorists and cyclists in the North Bay, with rural routes that make it a destination for riders throughout the Bay Area, state and beyond.
In 2015 a motorist crashed into a cyclist on Point Reyes-Petaluma Road, about 5 miles southwest of Saturday’s incident. And authorities have yet to identify the driver in a 2010 hit-and-run crash during Sonoma County’s largest group ride, Levi’s GranFondo. Witnesses in that case said the driver’s actions appeared intentional.
“I would just say to anyone who is feeling impatient on the road, nothing is worth this,” said Jim Elias, executive director of the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, who was participating in the same group ride Saturday and arrived minutes after the crash. “An automobile should never be used as a weapon.”
The CHP released video stills on Saturday of the pickup reported to be involved and asked the public’s help identifying the driver and his vehicle, an older model crew cab Dodge Ram in midnight blue, with custom black rims and a lifted suspension. Its wheels protrude out past the body of the truck. The front license plate was on the dashboard near the driver, who witnesses described as a white man, about 20 to 35 years old, with brown hair, a crew cut and a stubble beard, Barclay said.
The collision caused the glass on the passenger side mirror to fall out.
The pickup struck the cyclists about 11:45 a.m. on westbound Point Reyes-Petaluma Road, just west of Hicks Valley Road, in northern Marin County.
They were less than 10 miles from the finish line of the Jensie Gran Fondo of Marin, a multidistance group ride that raises money for the Marin County Bicycle Coalition. The four cyclists were either on the 100- or 70-mile route, said Elias.
Barclay said the event’s participants were spread out along the routes, and the group hurt in the crash were on their own, riding in a line on the right-hand-side of their lane.
They were riding west on a straightaway with dirt shoulders and a speed limit of 55 mph.
An eastbound motorcyclist with a camera on his helmet caught the crash on video from a distance, Barlcay said.
The pickup maneuvered left then veered right, driving straight into the cyclists, Barclay said.
“Then it veers back left (into the center of the lane) and continues on,” Barclay said.
Realizing what just happened, the motorcyclist tried to turn around and follow the pickup, but was unable to do so and instead headed to a nearby fire station. His actions helped get paramedics quickly to the scene, and the video evidence is also key in the investigation, Barclay said.
The truck was last seen heading west near the Marin French Cheese Co., Barclay said. It likely has damage to its right front side, he said.
The other three riders were taken to Marin General Hospital by ambulance, he said.
Elias, who pedaled up to the scene shortly after the crash, said he was shocked by what he heard from witnesses and observed on the road - bicycle parts and helmets strewn across the pavement and shoulder.
“This was worse than anything I’ve been exposed to. I’ve never seen a bike so badly destroyed,” Elias said. “It was shredded into multiple pieces.”
Elias said he was told the three taken to the Marin hospital will recover. The fourth man flown to Memorial Hospital is expected to survive, although his injuries are severe.
“I spoke to his wife and his condition is improving, but he’s likely going to have permanent damage as a result,” Elias said.
Elias said he didn’t know if the cyclists were friends or just happened to be riding together. He said he believed they were all from the Bay Area. He declined to identify the men, deferring to the CHP.
Other road-rage incidents have left cyclists with serious, debilitating injuries.
In the August 2015 incident on Point Reyes-Petaluma Road, near the Nicasio Reservoir, a Bolinas man was arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon.
Investigators said the driver, Mark Rafferty, accosted a pair of cyclists after one rode into his path while taking a photo of the other. Rafferty pulled over and yelled at them, then got back in the vehicle and pursued the cyclists, authorities said. He accelerated into one, crushing the rear wheel and throwing the rider into a dirt hillside, the CHP said.
Rafferty killed himself two days later while released on bail.
In the 2010 case during the popular Levi’s GranFondo, witnesses said a SUV driver had been harassing cyclists by driving aggressively before the motorist struck a San Francisco cyclist on Graton Road on the return leg of the 100-mile route. The case remains unsolved.
Anyone with information regarding Saturday’s incident is asked to call CHP dispatch at 707-551-4100. Advise them you are calling with information regarding the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road incident or reference log number 1346.
You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or email@example.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.