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The Chief of The California Highway Patrol’s Golden Gate Division Was Not Immune To A Distracted Driver

The sixty six year old lady behind the wheel of a 2009 white Ford Escape, a "compact" SUV, claimed she didn’t see Chief Ernie Sanchez cycling into the intersection from the opposite direction when she smashed into him head-on: because she was adjusting her glasses.  Chief Sanchez has been a cyclist since he was 15 and a strong advocate for cycling safety.

We began partnering with Chief Sanchez’s Golden Gate Division (GGD) over five years ago when California’s “Three Feet For Safety” law was enacted.  In 2014 Chief Sanchez graciously shared his time and commitment to cycling safety by participating in our webinar series where we encouraged cyclists to ride with a camera and report their near miss incidents to our free Incident Management System.  In 2015 the (GGD) issued a press release “Three Feet For Safety – CHP Focusing on Keeping Cyclists Safe” where they shared how our partnership “developed warning letters that are sent to drivers seen violating the Three Foot Law and other bicycle-related laws. The letters are not punitive, but rather work to educate drivers about being safe around cyclists.” In 2017 Chief Sanchez was a valued panelist in our web conference: The Impact of Near Misses and Perceived Risk on Cyclists. We wish Chief Sanchez’s good works and commitment to safe shared streets could have insulated him from distracted drivers, but sadly, no vulnerable road user is immune to distracted drivers.

Chief Sanchez is sharing his story to help convince cyclists to take the safety measures he recommends at the end of our post.  He also feels we have a long way to go for drivers to understand that cyclists have as much right to the road as vehicles.  He thinks drivers still view cyclists as an annoyance.

We hope you share your support for Chief Sanchez’s good works and his recovery by commenting below this post.

If she was going a little faster, or an inch to the left or right, Chief Sanchez wouldn’t be here to continue advocating for the safety of all vulnerable road users.

Chief Sanchez was heading north as he approached the four-way intersection in rural Solano County at about 21 miles per hour.  He had the right of way.  It was during the day and he was wearing bright fluorescent yellow colors.  The lady was heading south.  She said she was adjusting her glasses.  Chief Sanchez noticed that the car started cheating over the yellow road markings when he reflexively yelled “No, No, No.”

The next thing he saw was her license plate, which made a perfect cut into his lower leg, and her head lights.  Time instantly seemed in slow motion.  The car hit his left hip and hamstrings.  He felt the impact as it propelled him onto the hood, into the windshield, over the roof, flipping in the air and then he felt a big thump which he realized was his body hitting the ground.

He thought she severed his leg.  He couldn’t get up.  He reached down and felt his leg was there.  He moved his toes.  He landed on his left side, face down.  His helmet and glasses were in an awkward contorted position, but still on his head.

The next thing he remembered was people assisting him, calling 911, the driver of the vehicle asking him if he was OK or dead?  He heard sirens in the distance and saw a couple CHP cars.  He could not move from the fetal position.  He didn’t think he was hurt as bad as he was.  He heard people saying that he went 10 feet into the air.

The ambulance arrived.  The ambulance driver said “you will be alright” and administered some drugs.  They drove 20 minutes: it felt like forever.  He was treated immediately.  They took x-rays and sutured his elbow which had made a perfect circle in the lady’s windshield surrounded by a blood red halo.  He thinks his elbow smashing into the windshield saved him from worse injuries: it broke the windshield, his left shoulder followed further absorbing the impact and launching him into the air.

He spent five days in the hospital.  The first surgery reattached his broken pelvis with 12 screws and a metal plate.  They had to add cadaver bone to his pelvis to help with the healing.

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His humerus was broken from the impact of his elbow shattering the windshield. They reattached it with 10 screws and a metal plate.

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He was immobilized for five days and then released.

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He spent four weeks in a wheelchair. This was a cyclist who would never ride for less than an hour and a half because he didn’t feel like he got any benefit. We, at CVE, think a person in less physical condition would have had much more serious injuries or be dead. Doctors told him he may need a hip replacement if he doesn’t follow their directions.

He lost quite a bit of weight because he didn’t feel like eating. He was almost at his high school weight.

He moved onto a walker to regain strength and movement along with daily physical therapy in a swimming pool. He has now progressed to using a cane.

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After eight weeks he finally feels like he is actually healing the last three days. He has progressed to a recumbent bicycle where five minutes feels like twenty miles.

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His helmet was cracked so it did its job.  He was thankful the lady stopped.  Three witnesses saw the incident otherwise he would have needed the camera we have harped on him to ride with for years.

 

Lessons Chief Sanchez wants to share with all cyclists

 

Chief Sanchez proposes that even if cyclists think witnesses saw the entire incident, you have to assume they didn’t.  All he could have said about the incident was that it was a white car.  “I got lucky there were so many witnesses and the lady stopped.”

Chief Sanchez recommends all cyclists to:

  • Wear bright fluorescent colors
  • Always ride with a flashing front and rear light
  • Ride with at least one camera, preferably a front and rear camera
  • Always report all of your incidents to law enforcement and to CVE’s free Incident Management System. Chief Sanchez shared that very few incidents are reported.

Chief Sanchez hopes to be able to ride again without fear.

No one is immune to distracted drivers. The impact of this incident is reverberating throughout Chief Sanchez’s family, friends, colleagues and the cycling safety community.

We hope you share your support for Chief Sanchez’s good works and his recovery by commenting below this post.

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7 Comments

  1. bdughi on October 21, 2019 at 8:56 am

    Wow, heartbreaking and frightening for other cyclists. Witnesses do not replace cameras because memory is unreliable, as a number of studies have proven. Also, the camera provides a view from the cyclist perspective which is different from most witnesses. Did the driver really cross the center line? Maybe the cyclist was the one that crossed over. Do the witnesses explicitly remember these details or just the part where he flew 10′ into the air? The defense lawyer will be pounding on that.

    One of the most dangerous places in our transportation system are rural intersections because they are high speed. Any minor error can cause death and destruction. The whole point of safety initiatives such as “Vision Zero” is to create a more robust transportation system where minor errors do not have such dramatic consequences. One possible solution to high speed intersections is a round-a-bout, where drivers must slow down in order to navigate the circle. At worst, that distracted driver would have hit the center of the round-a-bout rather than an oncoming cyclist.

    Sadly, probably nothing will come of this near death experience. After all, tens of thousands of people experience something similar every year, including my son. We will continue to design dangerous roads as we always have. Drivers will continue to drive distracted. We will never separate cyclists from cars. People will continue to die and suffer serious injury and the general population will continue to ignore it. We developed a car dependent society where people are forced to drive even if they do not want to. America loves cars–the faster, the better.

    • CyclistVideoEvidence on October 21, 2019 at 6:02 pm

      We have worked with bdughi for over five years. He is a tireless cycling safety advocate who has worked as hard as anyone we know to achieve mode shift from cars to biking and walking. His frustration is justifiable not only from his son almost being killed, and the many criminal near miss incidents he has reported to law enforcement, but also as someone committed to mode shift and making the planet a better place for his children and the cycling community.

      We are thankful that Chief Sanchez is recovering and hope he can ride again without fear.

      We also hope this tragedy can influence law enforcement to enforce the assault and reckless driving laws for criminal near miss incidents using cyclists’ video evidence. We can prevent collisions and tragedies like Chief Sanchez’s by law enforcement charging drivers for assault and reckless driving and District Attorneys prosecuting and convicting drivers for assault and reckless driving. If that happens drivers will get the message and take distracted driving more seriously.

      CVE

  2. sfcallboy on October 21, 2019 at 2:58 pm

    Dear Chief Sanchez,
    Wishing you a speed recovery. I’m so sorry this happened to you, and that it happens to anyone. I appreciate all your past advocacy for bike safety.
    Sincerely,
    Ron Hirsch
    Cyclist for pleasure, and as part of AIDS/LifeCycle

  3. california.cyclist on October 21, 2019 at 3:07 pm

    Dear Chief Sanchez,
    Thank you for your advocacy, and may you heal fully and swiftly.
    Joseph Lyons

  4. bdughi on October 21, 2019 at 5:18 pm

    By coincidence, I just found this article supporting my previous argument for video over witnesses. In this incident, there were 3 witnesses willing to incorrectly attest that the Tesla driver changed lanes into the motorcycle, exposing the driver to massive liability. Its only because there was a camera that this idea got squashed. The video makes it obvious that the motorcycle rode into the Tesla. Eye witnesses are notoriously unreliable.
    https://electrek.co/2019/10/21/tesla-crash-dashcam-saves-legal-trouble-motorcyclist/

    Even with video, I have experienced law enforcement, including CHP, blaming cyclists for driver’s dangerous behavior. CHP routinely blames near misses on cyclists for “taking the lane”. After a long, somewhat energetic phone conversation with the Castro Valley CHP Commander, the Commander finally conceded that a cyclist “could” take the lane but “should” he? I was pretty indigent and reminded the Commander that bike safety classes teach cyclists to “take the lane”, including at our middle and high schools. More ironically, CHP’s own landmark post card says “a bicyclist ‘should’ ride in or near the center of the lane to discourage motorists from unsafe passing”. CHP Head Quarters intentionally used the word “should” rather than “could”. I am glad to hear that Chief Sanchez is getting better. Perhaps he can make some changes at CHP Golden Gate Division.

  5. blmuzzy on October 24, 2019 at 4:01 pm

    Dear Chief Sanchez, I’m sorry to hear of your misfortune but glad to read that you’re largely, if slowly, on the rebound. Hope to see you out on your bike before long!

    I’ve read & heard about so many stories like this one; inattentive driver hits cyclist and suffers absolutely zero consequences. I hope in this case because the driver stopped and because you’re in law enforcement, things will work out differently this time.

  6. Mustang1971 on October 25, 2019 at 9:45 pm

    Smokey! My thoughts and prayers for you and family. I was hit by drunk driver 17 yrs ago. And it’s something you never forget and never wish anyone would need to experience.
    Hope your recovery goes well and you heal and get back on the bike. I know you would not want it any other way.
    Stay strong bro!

    Robert Ramirez
    AKA. BamBam

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