Home from hospital, bicyclist recounts being struck by car near Ukiah
Laura Stern doesn’t remember much about being struck from behind by a Honda Accord as she rode her bicycle on a rural Ukiah Valley road last week. But she says the face of the car’s 18-year-old driver, baseball cap askew, sneering at her through the windshield as she was carried on the hood of his car remains seared in her mind.
“I was screaming, ‘Please stop the car, please stop the car,’?” she said Friday, one week after the ordeal. “He was just sneering, almost laughing at me.”
Stern, 52, of Menlo Park eventually fell off the hood of the car and was dragged underneath it. She became trapped when the car finally stopped after striking her and four companions who were cycling single file on Old River Road, a popular bike route that winds through rolling hills and vineyards between Hopland and Talmage.
Stern’s companions included her boyfriend, Mark Clifford, 60, of Los Altos; Michael Sokolsky, 53, of San Mateo; Lawrence Sokolsky, 54, of Portola Valley; and Deborah Banks, 57, of Sacramento.
Stern was the most seriously injured, suffering a broken neck among other injuries. She already has returned to work part time after being released from the hospital Tuesday.
None of the bicyclists heard the car coming and they all were caught off guard, Stern said.
Stern said they weren’t cycling particularly close together and the driver of the car should have had ample time to change his course and avoid hitting at least some of them.
“I don’t think it was an accident. It seemed we were mowed down,” Stern said.
Once the car came to a halt, the driver, identified by the CHP as Gabriel Ray, 18, of Ukiah, refused to open his car’s trunk to let Stern’s friends get a jack to lift the vehicle and free her, she said.
Ray told her friends, “She’s faking it, she’s not hurt,” Stern said. Ray wanted to simply drag her from under the car, she said.
“Mark said ‘Do not touch her,’?” Stern said.
CHP officials could not be reached Friday to comment on Stern’s account of the collision or statements from witnesses.
Ray on Friday remained in the Mendocino County Jail on $300,000 bail. He has been charged with five counts of assault with a deadly weapon and one count of driving under the influence, causing great bodily injury, according to the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office. Ray also has a pending charge of assault with a deadly weapon in connection with what is believed to be a gang-related knifing in December, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
He is due back in court Monday to discuss whether he will be hiring an attorney to represent him or using a public defender.
A passenger in Ray’s car, Timothy Elliott, 42, of Ukiah, was arrested on a felony warrant.
Stern, who was clipped into her pedals, first was carried with her bicycle on the hood of the car, then dragged underneath, for an estimated 400 feet altogether. Her injured friends borrowed a jack from a passer-by and attempted to free her, but the jack was too small and Stern remained trapped until firefighters arrived with other equipment.
She said she can’t remember much of the ordeal, including being dragged by the car, some of the time trapped underneath or the helicopter ride to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, where she remained until Monday. She was sent to a Kaiser hospital closer to home, then discharged Tuesday afternoon.
Stern’s injuries include a broken neck, a broken front tooth and cuts and bruises.
“My legs are hugely black and blue” and swollen, she said. The doctors are letting the broken bone in her neck heal by itself. It will require wearing a neck brace for several months.
“I’m really lucky I don’t have to go through surgery,” Stern said.
One of her cycling companions will be undergoing surgery for a badly fractured ankle and another has had surgery for a fractured collar bone and ankle.
Stern’s boyfriend has a compressed vertebra in his lower spine and a mildly separated shoulder that will be left to heal on their own.
Despite the broken neck, back and neck pain that keeps her up at night, and terrible headaches, Stern on Thursday returned part time to her job running a U.S. Geological Survey research laboratory in Menlo Park, where methane hydrates are being studied as a clean energy source.
Stern had to get a ride to work because her broken neck prevents her from driving. But she lives just a half-mile from work and plans to walk when she’s able.
Stern does not expect to be able to resume her side job teaching spin cycling classes at local gyms any time soon, she said.
The traumatic incident won’t keep Stern from resuming cycling the back roads of California or abroad - as she and Clifford do each year - in the long run, she said.
“The one thing I really love, I can’t do. But I’ll be back to it,” Stern said.
You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter ?@MendoReporter.