Five bicyclists crashed and three were injured in American Fork Canyon during the second-annual, 96-mile, 1,000 Warriors charity bike race on Saturday, August 24, 2009. This bike accident occurred when the driver of a Ford Explorer SUV driving in front of a pack of riders, slammed on his or her brakes to avoid another vehicle pulling a trailer.
According to KSL news and the organizers of the event, several of the injured were sent to the hospital. The most seriously injured is Dave Collins, who is still listed in very critical condition. Collins went through the back window of the SUV cutting his jugular, breaking his jaw and damaging a nerve in his shoulder. The two other injured bikers, Steve Beck and Mike Skousen, Wayne Smith and Grant Taylor are expected to recover without
According to the UHP, the driver of the Ford SUV slammed on its brakes to avoid hitting a vehicle pulling a trailer in the opposite lane. The cyclists did not have any time to react and crashed into the SUV. The accident occurred coming down out of American Fork Canyon. Having descended this canyon dozens of times, I can tell you that the speeds can approach 45 miles per hour. A UHP trooper said speeds can approach 55 miles per hour, but I don’t think this is possible with the amount of turns this road has toward the bottom of the descent, which is where I understand the bike accident happened.
I wish Dave Collins the best as he works to recover from this unfortunate Utah bike accident. It sounds like the first responders to the scene, trained EMTs who were also cyclists in the event, administered life-saving treatment to Collins and were able to slow his rapid blood loss, where he reportedly lost 5 pints of blood! Thanks to those who gave up their position in the race to provide this crucial first aid.
We are now left, I suppose, with trying to figure out how this happened so that it doesn’t happen again. (This is actually a useful role that lawyers play.) Big questions are therefore looming as to the actual crash itself. Was the driver of the Ford Explorer mostly to blame? Or was he or she merely responding the negligent actions of the other motorist who was pulling a trailer in the opposition direction? And what about vehicles being on the road, in American Fork Canyon, in the first place? This is one of the most controversial aspects of the event, in my opinion. According to a flyer that the organizers had distributed months before the event: “Last year we had nice ‘fun ride’ with 300 Warriors. No timing chips. No real winners. This year, we’re closing Alpine Loop to all automobile traffic, and we’re hiring a lot of police support. Because it’s going to be…A Real War.”
Ok, it seems if this was going to be an all-out “war,” the kind of race where cyclists would be bombing down this steep and narrow canyon at full velocity, then I think the organizers should have followed through on their pledge to actually close Alpine Loop, especially the part from the summit down to the mouth of American Fork Canyon. Unfortunately, we have learned that the request from the ride’s organizers to the Utah DOT was made only 3 days before the actual event. Predictably, the DOT declined permission to close the canyon. This may be negligence on the part of Utah’s DOT. They should know that bicycle riders are at increased risk of injury or death while riding in Utah’s steep and narrow canyons, including Little Cottonwood Canyon. It seems that they may have valued convenience to recreation seekers over the safety of hundreds that would participate in this dangerous ride. The question remains, though, what they could have reasonably been expected to do to balance the safety of the cyclists with the needs of the canyon users when they only had 3-day’s notice.
In the end, and at a minimum, though, I feel that cyclists in the One-Thousand Warrior ride were owed a warning from the event’s organizers that the Alpine Loop would remain open to motorists and that it was their (the cyclists’) responsibility to follow Utah’s rules of the roads when biking through what is decidedly the most dangerous section of the road race.
Ron Kramer is a Utah bicycle accident lawyer who missed out on this year’s ride due to a hand injury.