Update: Complaints Lobbed on Both Sides After Death of Cyclist

California Highway Patrol continues a formerly closed investigation of a fatal accident on Alpine Road involving a big rig and a bike.

The death of cyclist Lauren Ward last November has sparked complaints and cross-complaints as the family, truck driver, trucking company and San Mateo County spar over who was to blame for the accident that took .

Ward’s family has against the driver and the trucking company that they say is to blame for Ward’s death on Nov. 4, as well as a complaint against the county that claims both dangerous road conditions and an unsafe lane change by the driver are to blame.

On the opposite side, driver Gabriel Manzur Vera and his employer Randazzo Enterprises, Inc., have lobbed both a cross complaint and a complaint at San Mateo County, laying the blame squarely on its shoulders for the responsibility of maintaining an unsafe road.

“We’re just waiting for the county to get involved in the case,” Attorney Daniel Friedenthal told Patch Tuesday afternoon. Friedenthal represents Vera and Randazzo Enterprises. The Board of Supervisors has denied all the claims made in the past two months, asserting that no known dangerous conditions exist on Alpine Road.

“So there are three claims running around in this horrifically tragic case,” said San Mateo County Risk Manager Scott Johnson. His office has advised the supervisors to deny the claims.

In the background of this legal tug of war is an investigation that was reopened by the California Highway Patrol.  It is expected to conclude soon, according to a spokesperson.

, with a verdict that blamed Ward for the crash. Then in February new evidence was introduced, which inspired CHP’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team to reopen the case.  Both sides of the legal battle refuse to reveal the source of the new evidence, or what it is. 

All that is known for sure is that at 3:45 p.m. that day after colliding with a big rig driven by Vera, as both were traveling west on Alpine just before the Highway 280 overpass. According to the CHP report, Ward turned her pink Trek bicycle into the path of the truck.

However, in a lawsuit filed Dec. 20 in San Mateo Superior Court against Vera and Randazzo Enterprises by Ward’s husband, Robert, and their two teenage children, the blame is placed squarely on Vera, alleging he drove the truck into Ward’s path. The suit seeks compensatory damages for the family in the loss of their wife and mother.

Vera and the trucking company filed a cross complaint in February with the Board of Supervisors, asking that should the Ward’s win their case, any damages and fees be paid by the county. The next month, both sides, Vera and Randazzo Enterprises, and the Ward family, filed claims against San Mateo County citing unsafe road conditions, later denied by supervisors. Johnson said they now have six months to file lawsuits against the county. 

The Ward family claim states Vera “violated Lauren Ward’s right of way and made an unsafe lane change on westbound Alpine Road to move into the I-280 south on-ramp.” It goes on to say that because of the “dangerous design, construction, operation, and maintenance of the road…bicyclists had insufficient visibility, time, and opportunity to adequately protect themselves.”

The complaint by Vera and Randazzo Enterprises states that, “Lauren Ward was killed in a truck versus bicycle accident caused by a dangerous condition on public property,” maintained by the county.  The company is asking the county to pay any damages that may be awarded by a court.

The claims were denied because neither side has proved that the county knew about a dangerous condition and chose not to fix it, Johnson said. He said in order for the county to know about a dangerous road condition, there would have to be other past accidents in the same spot. 

In the meantime, the Ward’s original lawsuit moves forward, and is now in the discovery phase of the trial. A case management conference originally scheduled for late April has been continued until July 27. The Wards’ attorney, John Feder, did not return a request for comment.

As a direct result of the crash, members of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition met with county public works officials earlier this year to discuss Johnson confirmed that coalition members pointed the officials to a grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Johnson said there are 41 other applications for the same grant, and any possible changes would depend on the county winning the competition.

commuter June 01, 2011 at 10:32 PM
Many freeway interchanges are scary to bicyclists. You have to get to the other side, but there are rarely bike lanes or bike paths to help you safely navigate around the cars and trucks that are speeding on and off the freeway. Alpine Road is perhaps safer than most because of the lower traffic volumes. However, when there are cars and trucks to deal with, Alpine is tricky because the interchange is so large (both width and length). Vehicles can be passing far to your left, then cut in front of you to get to the freeway on-ramps. I do not know what happened in this case, but the CHP report makes no sense to me (or was poorly translated by the press). In the ideal case, the truck would never have been on the left side of the bicyclist. The truck should have merged behind the bicyclist and waited until she cleared the ramp before he made his turn. If this is not crystal clear from the existing lane striping, then yes it should be changed.


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