Monday, June 29, 2009

Father and Son Grand Tour Dream Ends With Tragedy

photo credit hereinmalibu

21 years ago, Rodrigo "Rod" Armas strapped on his helmet, hopped onto his bike and set off on the LA Wheelmen's Grand Tour, an annual cycling event that starts and finishes in Malibu, drawing participants from throughout California as well the surrounding Western States. Grand Tour riders typically have an appetite for distance as is evidenced by the route options which range from the 200 Kilometer, 200 mile, 300 mile and 400 mile routes.

The Grand Tour is a fully supported event meaning that there are abundant pit stops and sag teams that patrol the route, offering everything from encouragement and refreshments to medical and mechanical support. The ride starts early on Saturday morning and riders must complete their selected route within 24 hours.

This past Saturday, Rod again saddled up for the Grand Tour, this time accompanied by Christian, his 14 year-old-son. They were among the last cyclists to check in, picking up numbers 473 and 474. Rod strapped on the same helmet he used 21 years before and the father and son team set off on the Highland Double, a 200 mile route that heads up to Port Hueneme and then turns inland over the rural, quieter and hillier back roads of Ventura County.

At around 9pm on Saturday evening, Brian Meek, a cyclist who had stopped with mechanical difficulties was in the Rincon pit stop when two cyclists rode in, stirring cheers and applause. The cyclists were Rod and Christian and they were the two last riders on the Highland Double route. Bryan reports that as Rod sat down he dropped his helmet in the dirt. "One of the guys at the stop took it from him and said he would clean it for him. The father and son were tired but in great spirits and shared some of their ‘stories’ with all of us. I listened as the father shared that he was wearing the same helmet he used 21 years ago the first time he rode the Grand Tour.

As Saturday turned into Sunday, Rod and Christian had approximately 190 miles behind them including 8500 feet of elevation gain and four very challenging hills. They were riding on the shoulder in ideal conditions. the sky was clear, there was great visibility, the roads were dry and there was a slight off shore breeze. All was well and they were within miles of rolling into the finish line in Malibu.

A SAG driver passed the father and son team on PCH and reported that all was well and that the cyclists were making good progress toward the Malibu finish.

At approximately 1:30 am, the next SAG driver came across an emergency scene with medical and law enforcement personnel at work on the two cyclists who lay on the ground at 34000 PCH. The SAG driver radioed back to the the other support teams in order to coordinate the Triple Century cyclists who would soon be riding south on PCH past the emergency scene.

Rod was pronounced dead at the scene and Christian was airlifted to UCLA Medical Center with severe and comprehensive injuries. Their bodies were crushed, their bikes were destroyed, their blood was on the road and yet there was no sign of the person responsible for the mayhem.

The LA County Sheriff's Department provides law enforcement services for the City of Malibu and they found an abandoned Dodge Ram pickup truck approximately 1 mile farther south on PCH. There was no sign of a driver.

The Ventura County Sheriff's Department deployed a K-9 unit to the scene in an effort to locate the person who drove the truck into Rod and Christian and then left them broken and bleeding on the road.

Two hours later at 3:25 am, a security guard at Zuma Bay called from the guard shack to report that he had found the suspect and the Sheriff's Department arrested Robert Sam Sanchez, 30, of Oxnard. Sanchez was transported to a hospital where a blood test was performed and then he was placed in the Lost Hills Station jail where he was charged with Vehicular Manslaughter (191.5a) vehicular DUI resulting in injury (21153a) and felony hit and run (2991a).

The story thus far is chilling and has had a significant impact on the cycling community, who for the most part, will pause for a moment as the realization that "It could have been me!" sinks in and then go back to life as usual.

But for some, this is more than a moment to mourn the loss of one of our own and the opportunity to offer condolences to the broken family left behind, this is the time to ask some hard questions.

1) Robert Sam Sanchez, the suspect who stands accused of running down Rod and Christian, has already bailed out and is at home enjoying freedom and the assumption of innocence, an assumption that will probably prevail if he has access to any decent legal representation.

Sanchez was not caught behind the wheel of the vehicle, the investigation is taking place by two Deputies who are part of the traffic division of the Sheriff's Department, not the criminal division, and their Supervisor is on medical leave.

What's it going to take for this investigation to be conducted with the full and enthusiastic support of the LA County Sheriff's Department? What's it going to take to get the District Attorney involved now, while the investigation is under way? (btw this is #4 of the Cyclists' Bill of Rights - "cyclists have the right to the full support of our judicial system and the right to expect that those who endanger, injure or kill cyclists be dealt with to the full extent of the law."

2) Lt. Glafkides, the Watch Commander on duty Saturday evening and Sunday morning reports that she has worked this station for 3 and half years but she has never heard of the LA Wheelmen or the Grand Tour. There were 4 Deputies on duty in Malibu that night. There were none on duty in the unincorporated areas around Malibu. The LA Sheriff's Department also handles law enforcement responsibilities for other "contract" communities such as Hidden Hills, Westlake Village, Calabases and Agoura Hills. All totaled, there are approximately 145 square miles in the area that are under the watch of the LASD.

How does the Sheriff's Department not notice the large number of cyclists rolling through the community and how is it that the Watch Commander doesn't know of such a significant event? Lt. Chew relates that he has an email from the LA Wheelmen indicating that an event would be taking place but somehow the Watch Commander never received the message nor noticed in the years prior that the Grand Tour was taking place.

3) PCH has such a horrific record of traffic tragedies and through it all, cyclists find themselves having to argue for their rights on the road. Brad House was hit from behind by a road raging motorist and flipped into the air over the car. The judge found Brad at partial fault, after all, he was in the lane!

Two cyclists, Scott Bleifer and Stanislov Ionov, were hit from behind and killed by the operator of a catering truck. This incident stirred a significant community debate that had many arguing that the cyclists were at fault for riding two abreast and in the lane.

Missing from the discourse is the simple discussion of how pedestrians and cyclists and mass transit passengers and motorists can all use PCH while maintaining some sense of balance based on equality and a guarantee that all modes of transportation will be supported.

After the deaths of Scott and Stanislov, the PCH Task Force was formed and given the mandate of reviewing safety issues for cyclists on PCH, monitoring conditions on PCH and maintaining interagency responsibility for the conditions of PCH. Velo LaGrange and the LACBC and others tout this as one of their accomplishments and yet...the PCH Task Force has gone dormant and cyclists are dying. Why, even the "Share the Road" signs are getting hit by motorists!

The City of Malibu refers to the Sheriff's Department who refer to Caltrans. Meanwhile PCH remains a very busy and congested and conflicted corridor that more closely resembles a traffic sewer than a vital community lifeline.

Through it all, the cycling community has to ask the hard question "What are we going to do about it?"

4) The speed limit on PCH varies from fast to faster to really fast. The exact numbers vary but range from 45 to 50 to 55. Again, the LASD refers to the State's speed trap law and throws up their hands saying, "It's state law, we set the limits based on the 85% rule." (This is the "science" where motorists vote in an opinion poll with their gas pedals)

Do we really live in communities that are so helpless? Are we not adults with some responsibility for our city, our county and our state? How is it that we tolerate such helplessness from our leadership and from out law enforcement offices?

If PCH needs to be slowed down, let's slow it down. There are 28 miles of PCH through Malibu and on this past Saturday night there were 4 Deputies on duty. Engineer a road diet, implement traffic calming technology, do something other than wring hands and wonder why people are dying!

photo credit independentsources

5) The Office of Traffic Safety put the spotlight on Malibu and reported that "Malibu is #1!" Unfortunately the category was for vehicle injuries. Granted, the report from the Office of Traffic Safety is based on statistics from 2005 but unless something dramatic has changed, Malibu is left with the lingering reality that for a City of their size and with the number of miles traveled, they have been recognized by the State of California as:

#1 for vehicle injuries
#2 for alcohol accidents
#1 for alcohol related accidents for the age group 21 to 34
#1 for speed related accidents
#2 for accidents after dark

Granted, there is a motorcycle cop in Malibu who leads the County in tickets issued but unless he is going to escort me every time I ride my bike to the store, he's an anecdotal anomaly. The brutal reality is this: Malibu is a tough place for pedestrians, for cyclists and for mass transit passengers who must navigate some brutal stretches of PCH.

What are we doing to address the significant danger of the speeding motorists and intoxicated motorists that have Malibu one of the most dangerous communities in the State of California?

6) Motorists who run over pedestrians and cyclists choose to run. They do it time after time and then again. The penalty for running is better than the penalty for being drunk. This inequity in the law needs to shift.

Even worse is the simple fact that hitting a pedestrian or cyclist while sober is hardly a crime. After all, "He came out of nowhere!" is a legal defense and "I didn't see him!" is an acceptable explanation for killing and maiming.

The motorist who ran down LA Wheelmen Bobbi Fisher from behind was sober but had a dog in his lap and was distracted, resulting in a broken back for Bobbi. The motorist wasn't even cited.

The motorist who turned left into oncoming LA Wheelmen on a tandem simply said "I didn't see them." Advanced in age and with failing eyesight, the motorist lost his California license, a small inconvenience he overcame by pulling an out of state license using his vacation property as his address. He still drives to the local pub in Malibu while the cyclists slowly heal.

Putting a motor vehicle on the road is a significant responsibility and yet our leadership acts as if it is a basic right and that any effort to hold a motorist accountable is an infringement of their basic human rights.

What is it going to take for us to take the lead and to establish safety and freedom of fear as basic human rights. (btw - this is #1 of the Cyclists' Bill of Rights. Cyclists have the right to travel safely and free of fear.)

7) Ride organizers and Cycling clubs live in fear of LIABILITY. Why? For encouraging people to get off the sofa and go for a ride?

What is it going to take for "We don't need no stinkin' permits!" to become the battle cry of access to the new public space, the streets of our communities?

In fact, what's it going to take for us to shift the fear of liability and to reverse the relationship. Our leadership should be the ones grimacing and cringing and feeling the full fear of liability every time another pedestrian or cyclist is injured or killed on the public streets that they are responsible for maintaining and supervising!

Why are pedestrians and cyclists treated as 2nd class citizens when they want access to our streets? These streets belong to the public and our leadership is responsible for maintaining fair and equitable access.

Why would we tolerate anything less?

As for me, this is far from over. I'll see you on the Streets!

28 comments:

ubrayj02 said...

In answer to "What's it going to take?":

A shit storm like no other.

Once the state is bankrupt, the sacred cows of suburban housing and highway subsidies will have to be slaughtered.

bgfa said...

Another option is a boycott of Malibu.

Anonymous said...

molotov cocktail

Homegrown Evolution said...

Great post Stephen. It's amazing how the main road along our coast is basically a freeway. It's going to take a lot more than share the road signs to fix this problem.

Joe Bartoe said...

The statement that only 4 sheriff's officers were on duty doesn't make sense to me. As I rolled down the PCH at 8PM that same night on my way to the finish, I was passed by more than 6 sheriff's cars in the span of 5 miles. There were so many of them that I thought there must have been an incident that they were responding to. And how does the watch commander not know about the event? Come on now!

jessica said...

great writing SB - incredibly sad story and loss for a family and for all families impacted by traffic deaths and accidents on pch.

PCH conditions need to be addressed for all the reasons you cite - not to mention safe access to our So Cal beaches.

dfollett said...

I did the Grand Tour many times and was always scared to death on PCH. BTW, what ever happened to the fellow who hit the cyclists in Mandeville Canyon last July 4th? I thought he went to trial but never saw anything thereafter. Thanks in advance for any info.

SoapBoxLA said...

Joe Bartoe, the "4 Deputies on duty in Malibu" info came from Lt. Chew who pulled it from the duty log.

dfollet, Dr. Thompson, the Mandeville motorist charged with felony assault, mayhem and a few other crimes, is currently navigating the legal system. The first few court dates have been procedural but the day of reckoning is fast approaching. The one year anniversary of the incident is this weekend.

Ele Munjeli said...

Drunk drivers shouldn't be charged with manslaughter; there's nothing accidental about getting into a car and driving when you have been drinking. It's as irresponsible as juggling a loaded gun. When cycling advocate Ken Kifer was killed (in Oregon? I think) the driver was charged with murder.

Kieron said...

after a life of touring by bike for hundreds of miles at a time, Ken Kifer was killed six miles from his home in Alabama. Jimmy Don Rodgers, the drunk driver who struck him, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 years. i think the charge was murder.

sammya007 said...

is there any way we can start a petition to make it go through the criminal investigation versus the traffic? I mean manslaughter is still a type of murder, correct? Murder is a crime? i feel this needs to be dealt with detectives and not ticket issuing patrolmen/women

disiscrazymon said...

I rode with Rod several times a couple of years back up Malibu Creek, and took him on a trail favorite a couple blocks from my house in Granada Hills. He was a loving decent man who spent the last few years of his life giving so much of himself to the youth of LA and his own children. My prayers go out to his family.

On another note, PCH is a death trap...I hate riding on it as it always gives me the creeps and I ride a 100 miles a week. Whenever, I do ride it is for as brief a time as possible....Usually, less than 6 miles and I try to stay in the middle of the pack

disiscrazymon said...

I rode with Rod several times a couple of years back up Malibu Creek, and took him on a trail favorite a couple blocks from my house in Granada Hills. He was a loving decent man who spent the last few years of his life giving so much of himself to the youth of LA and his own children. My prayers go out to his family

Anonymous said...

Great blog post, thank you. I am still angry (and will probably be angry for a long time) over the needless death of a fellow bike rider. As you noted, the drunk driver-killer, is home nice and safe, while enjoying the presumption of innocence and the services of a taxpayer (meaning you and I pay for the killer's lawyer) funded public defender. At the very least, he should be suspended (without pay) from his job as a city clerk for the city of Malibu. Also, weekly pickets should be organized in front of the killer's home so that his neighbors know what a scumbag lives amongst them.

RIP Mr. Armas!

331 Miles said...

As an avid cyclist, albeit in Texas, I identify with your cause. Our governor recently decided that vulnerable road users, including cyclists and construction workers, did not need 3' of clearance and surprisingly vetoed the legislation. We have much work to do.

ON THE OTHER HAND, I see no reason to imply that the defendant has somehow been given preferential rights, and should not be out on bail, nor afforded the right to defense. Please do not advocate tearing away some of our liberties so that we might find others. Personally, I want ALL of my liberty.

Anonymous said...

One option is a sit in on PCH

Anonymous said...

The deputies investigating this are detectives trained in traffic collisions and are very competent to handle it to conclusion. Once all the evidence is gathered, they will present the case to the D.A's office for filing. They can still charge the guy with murder if it warrants it. Why blame law enforcement for this?, it's not their fault it happened. Did the organizer ask for police escorts or just sent them a "heads up" memo? Full blame belongs on the driver and only him. Things won't change until the motoring public learns to respect cyclists.

Charles said...

Everyone in the cycling community seems to agree that events like this are a tragedy and something needs to be done. However, most of us (and I include myself in this group) only talk; when it comes time for action we figure someone else will carry the tourch for us.

No real change will come about without a true presence from everyone in the cycling community at the right place and the right time. There are a lot of us out there and I have a hard time believing that as a group we can't make a difference.

The Rose Bowl Ride is a good example of how this can work. On the verge of being shut down the ride continues because of the presence of the local cycling community at city council meetings.

For me, it's time to put up or shut up. If anyone is planning to organize a well thought out effort to bring about change I would like to be a part of it.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of Rod and Christian.

Anonymous said...

I agree with a sit in. Since the public seems to think that cyclists are merely speed bumps I say we organize a large group of 200-300 cyclists and we just block PCH in both directions with all 300 cyclists laying on the ground for a short 30 minute period of time arranged into human speed bumps. We can call the press and invite them to this without letting the local law enforcement know. The drunk driving laws in the US are a complete joke. How many times do you hear of a drunk driver who has had 4 or DUI's eventually killing someone while behind the wheel. I ride PCH almost on a weekly basis and the the number of cars that barely miss us is amazing. While driving in a car out to Zuma beach on Wednesday July 1st with the kids we were following a lady in a large SUV who was on the cellphone while driving in the far right lane closest to the road shoulder and she spent over 50% of the time driving over the white line that defines the lane and the so called shoulder. If there had been a cyclist in that lane at any time she would have run them over. Change will come if a celebrity had a small daughter that was standing on PCH on the shoulder of the road and was run over by a drunk driver there would be a huge uproar and tons of media coverage.

Edward said...

This is a horrible incident! As for the pejorative assumption that Law Enforcement is not taking this seriously??? C'mon, the Police are taking this very serious, hence the charges, but what would you have them do? They are acting within accordance of the law. If we don't like the laws, then change the. You do that by not electing these left-wing whackos into office. The people that the finger needs to be pointed at are the Judges (most are a bunch of left-wing, bed wetting, liberals), the truth hurts, the politicians (this is a one party state, and Arnold is hardly a Conservative), and the business owners that allow these idiots to drink until they are fall down drunk. Higher MANDATORY penalties need to be put in place, so the judges cannot simply gloss over the sentencing. And Everyone who is suspected of drinking and driving, should MANDATORY be forced to give blood to determine B. A. C.! 1st offense, nets you 6 months in jail, which YOU will pay for out of your own pocket, second offense nets you 1 year, etc., etc., etc. The Mayor of Los Angeles and the political hacks that we have elected are a bunch of left wing LOOOOOONES, who couldn't care less if a cyclist of pedestrian, of child is killed by some drunk jackass! And the Mayor of Malibu is not much better. I would bet the farm that this Sanchez cat is here illegally, and you can say Ba Bye, to him, he'll be south of the border in about 1 minute. You lefties want a nanny state, this is the price you pay. Also this guy, as bad as it sounds, should have known better than to have his 14 year old son on PCH at 0130 on a Saturday night-Sunday morning. C'mon, a little common sense please, the road is FILLED with drunks at that time. It's a shame about the whole thing and what kind of mental scaring this will have on his son, but how obtuse, on his part. As for Sanchez, MURDER should be the charge, but the legislator will have to change that for the future. But good luck with that in this pathetically left-wing state.

Edward said...

This is a horrible incident! As for the pejorative assumption that Law Enforcement is not taking this seriously??? C'mon, the Police are taking this very serious, hence the charges, but what would you have them do? They are acting within accordance of the law. If we don't like the laws, then change the. You do that by not electing these left-wing whackos into office. The people that the finger needs to be pointed at are the Judges (most are a bunch of left-wing, bed wetting, liberals), the truth hurts, the politicians (this is a one party state, and Arnold is hardly a Conservative), and the business owners that allow these idiots to drink until they are fall down drunk. Higher MANDATORY penalties need to be put in place, so the judges cannot simply gloss over the sentencing. And Everyone who is suspected of drinking and driving, should MANDATORY be forced to give blood to determine B. A. C.! 1st offense, nets you 6 months in jail, which YOU will pay for out of your own pocket, second offense nets you 1 year, etc., etc., etc. The Mayor of Los Angeles and the political hacks that we have elected are a bunch of left wing LOOOOOONES, who couldn't care less if a cyclist of pedestrian, of child is killed by some drunk jackass! And the Mayor of Malibu is not much better. I would bet the farm that this Sanchez cat is here illegally, and you can say Ba Bye, to him, he'll be south of the border in about 1 minute. You lefties want a nanny state, this is the price you pay. Also this guy, as bad as it sounds, should have known better than to have his 14 year old son on PCH at 0130 on a Saturday night-Sunday morning. C'mon, a little common sense please, the road is FILLED with drunks at that time. It's a shame about the whole thing and what kind of mental scaring this will have on his son, but how obtuse, on his part. As for Sanchez, MURDER should be the charge, but the legislator will have to change that for the future. But good luck with that in this pathetically left-wing state.

Sandblast said...

I am a mountain biker from Idyllwild, so commuting and road riding on PCH don't directly affect me, but this is insane. I would gladly participate in a sit in or other form of protest. Attention needs to br drawn to the unsafe conditions for cyclists (and pedestrians) in our state.

bikejuju said...

Nice post, stirring call to action about a really awful and all too common tragedy. Thanks for writing and posting this.

Anonymous said...

One of the two Malibu papers didn't even cover the accident while the Malibu Surfside News posted an article stating that charges STILL have not been brought and might not be filed for several more weeks. The suspect is still employed, out free and it appears is receiving a lot of lenience for his deadly actions and decisions.
www.malibusurfsidenews.com
www.malibutimes.com
Let them know that we expect a thorough investigation and CRIMINAL prosecution.

Anonymous said...

How is slowing down PCH going to prevent cyclists from getting hit by drunk drivers ...that's just lame.

I think a zero tolerance policy for drinking and driving is more apt to solve this problem.....any trace of alcohol in your body and you don't drive anymore. FOREVER! The current message is the problem ....you can have 1 drink but just don't have 3 drinks when driving. How lame is that?

I also think we should start building carbon fiber smart cars. A carbon fiber smart car by Carbonsports with a built in ignition breathalizer.......YeaY!

Anonymous said...

Robert Sam Sanchez (7/27/79) is set to be arraigned at the Malibu Courthouse on Thursday August 20, 2009 at 8:30am in Department 1.

Brendan Rafael said...

OK, I have found a-lot of comments by people that obviously just want to rant and know very little about the law.
First, the law takes DUI very seriously, trust me, it wreaks havoc on ones life to get a DUI, as it should. And the comment from Edwards about liberals is so off the wall there is no good response (something I have gotten used to from rabid weirdo conservatives). The ugly truth is we live in a country with many (ignorant) drug-taking, binge drinking, bad driving, gas guzzling manifest destiny people that truly believe roads are meant for them, and you know what?
THEY WERE!
its sad, but until the fossil fuel industry is dismantled nothing will change.
When public transportation in this country was gutted to make way for le automobile, early in the last century, the govt knew what it was doing, and now the traffic has come home to roost!
Good to see people are still riding bikes, and after i got run off the road (twice) in koreatown, i only ride with a large pack, so thanks midnight ridazz, for getting me off my couch (actually i dont own a couch but it sounded cool).
peace,
Rafael-

Peter said...

There were so many of them that I thought there must have been an incident that they were responding to. And how does the watch commander not know about the event? Come on now!