More than a dozen members of Santa Fe Seniors on Bikes, a club for older cyclists in the city who call themselves the SOBs, were making their way south toward Galisteo on Thursday when, they say, a white Honda traveling in the same direction sped past them in the left-hand lane of N.M. 41.
What happened next resulted in a collision in which several cyclists lost control and fell off their bikes. According to club members, one rider was taken to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center for treatment of serious injuries, including broken ribs, a punctured lung and a shattered pelvis. At least two others also were injured, club members said. Authorities have not confirmed the injuries.
The cyclists classified the series of events as a road-rage incident, the kind of confrontation that makes bicycle enthusiasts wary about taking to the streets.
The male driver of the Honda was honking his horn as he passed, they said, and then pulled into the lane in front of them, stopped his car and threw it in reverse, angrily backing into them.
The driver, Jacob Brown, 39, denied he caused the crash and said some of the bicyclists had flashed their middle fingers at him as he drove by.
Reached by The New Mexican on Tuesday, Brown said he was sorry the cyclists crashed and that some got hurt. But he didn’t hit anyone, he said, because his vehicle wasn’t moving at the time.
According to a report by a Santa Fe County sheriff’s deputy, Brown has been cited with a traffic violation for “stopping, standing or parking” in the roadway and is facing a pending citation for “limitation on backing.”
So far, he has not been charged with a crime.
On Tuesday, however, sheriff’s office spokesman Juan Ríos said Sheriff Robert Garcia and Undersheriff Ron E. Madrid reviewed the deputy’s report and decided to keep the case open. The investigation will continue, Ríos said, and sheriff’s officials will confer with the District Attorney’s Office about whether to pursue criminal charges.
According to the report by Deputy Jose Talache, Brown “stated he lost his temper and slammed on the brakes and reversed towards the bicyclists.”
Brown told The New Mexican he wanted to confront the cyclists, but he stopped his car in the roadway before he reached the group. “I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said, “other than confront some people verbally that obviously had a problem with me or the fact that I was a car on the road.”
According to the report, Brown told the deputy that after the crash, the cyclists pounded on his car, and one of them came over and opened the driver’s side door, and “it appeared that he wanted to fight.”
John Veilleux, who was riding in the pack, told The New Mexican he was one of the riders who pounded on the man’s car.
“He’d just hit somebody, and we were angry,” Veilleux said. “… He was the cause of the accident. That accident would not have happened if he had not backed up into the group.”
But Vielleux remembers other parts of the incident differently. In his recollection, no one from the group made any obscene hand gestures, and he didn’t see the Honda’s brake lights come on until he saw his friend somersault off a bike. He believes the driver actively backed into the group.
Afterward, Veilleux told The New Mexican, the driver was shouting at the cyclists from his car.
“When I got to the car, the guy had opened his windows and was yelling, ‘Get off the road,’ ” Veilleux said.
Brown drove off — he had feared he would get into a fight with the cyclists, he told Talache — but was “escorted” back to the scene after cyclists reported the man’s license plate to authorities.
Members of the cycling community say the incident should be a call to action for greater awareness of cyclists’ rights and a need for stiffer penalties for drivers who hit bike riders.
Irena Ossola, an internationally renowned cyclist who was severely injured in a crash in November, used her experience as an example. The driver who cut her off on the road said he didn’t see her because of the sun. He was found guilty of careless driving, sentenced to 90 days of unsupervised probation and ordered to pay a fine.
If drivers faced more severe consequences, Ossola said, they might think twice when they come upon a cyclist and be extra cautious.
“In this situation, the guy reversed into them and there was intent to harm and potentially kill a cyclist,” Ossola said. “That is, to me, assault with a deadly weapon. … But I’m sure the justice system won’t take it like that, and they won’t penalize the person for these actions.”
Contact Sami Edge at 505-986-3055 or firstname.lastname@example.org.