Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Accident Report on Jessica Purcell

Someone--or some people--are writing into BBB making claims about the accident report of Jessica Purcell, the cyclist who crashed on Rte. 9W on Aug 1 resulting in serious injuries, and questioning my ability as a reporter to report the facts.

Unfortunately, they have not read the accident report. No where does it state the cause of the accident, and no where does it state that any one person saw the accident--they only heard it. 

It also has no statement from either Purcell or her husband Steve Zebrack--essential before drawing any conclusions. 

The conclusions of the accident report are based on interviews with the driver (v1) and a "witness" who was ahead of--and therefore could not see-- Jessica Purcell. 

 I will now quote it verbatim, and if you would like to challenge the facts, you can actually go to the Alpine Police station to do so.

Here it is: 

"V1 was stopped at the traffic light on Route 9W, heading north. B1 was traveling north on Route 9W. B1 collided with V1 while V1 was at a complete stop at traffic signal [not clear if this is the words of the driver or the witness, appears to be the words of the driver.]

The witness. Richard Kidd, stated he was riding in front of b1: he was at least 100 yards from V1 and observed it at a complete stop at red traffic signal; he stated he was even with V1 front tires when he heard a "pop" which was B1 hitting V1. B1 appeared to not observe red traffic light signal [an impossible guess since he has not even spoken to her or her husband,]. Impact to B1 was to the front/ damage was to handle bars. Ms. Purcell was transported to Westchester Medical Center (Valhalla, NY)."
It is still unclear at this point if maybe Mr. Kidd came to a sudden stop, having initially intended to go through the light, or if there was not enough space behind the riders to stop, or if Purcell intended to travel beside the car, and missed, if Purcell and her husband collided, or if indeed, Purcell did not intend to stop and misread the cyclists in front of her.

Either way, the cause of the accident has not been explained by this accident report.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bus Riders Laughed as Hurt Cyclist Lay Bleeding

Riders in a bus that passed by the scene of the accident where Jessica Purcell lay bleeding on August 1, laughed and derided her for cycling on Rte. 9W.

Several people who were taking the Red and Tan bus 9A that travels from 177th st. and Manhattan to Nyack and parts beyond, laughed when they saw the cyclist lying on the ground, and spoke loudly how they thought she "deserved it" for attempting to ride on Rte. 9W, which they called a "highway," said a rider on the bus who listened to the loud conversation.

The bus rider who witnessed the discussion, and who spoke on condition of anonymity was taking the bus from New York to Piermont, NY, one of the stops further north on the route. He said four people and the bus driver first mocked the woman and laughed at Purcell's distress when they saw her lying on the ground, then spent another 15 or 20 minutes mocking cyclists and deriding them.

Because of the accident, the bus was re-routed from Rte. 9W going north near Exit 4N of the Palisades Interstate Parkway, and had to travel south through parts of New Jersey to get back on track.

The witness said he did not think the bus riders in question has any experience as cyclists, but appeared to be friendly with one another and the driver.

Bob Mionske, a lawyer, bike law blogger and author of the book Bicycling and the Law, said "I don't know whether it common for the public to laugh and mock someone laying gravely injured or dead on the roadside-- but it does not surprise me when it does happen, it turns out to be a fallen cyclist."

Another lawyer, Bob Fader who practices in New York State and specializes in crashes involving cyclists and motorists, was dismayed by the idea that passerbys would find something humorous in a Purcell's misfortune: "Unfortunately, cyclists continue to fight against a misinformed and misguided public which remains inexplicably biased toward motor vehicles," he said.

Many cyclists have long complained of being asked to "Get off the road," or told, "You don't belong here," when not only do they have the legal right to be on the road, but often don't even have space on roads designated for their use, as in the case of Rte. 9W, and are struggling to make a good situation out of a bad road.

Route 9W is a designated bike route. At the accident site in question near Exit 4N of the PIP, the north bound right hand shoulder has been engineered out to allow for a left hand turning lane for motorists entering the northbound Palisades Interstate Parkway.

And ultimately, cyclists move to the bottom of the ranking when it comes to all types of transportation or movement: "Cyclists are legally considered pedestrians but are treated like trespassers," said Fader.

There is still no word on how the accident took place other than the testimony of two "witnesses" who were in front of Purcell and did not see, but heard her crash into the back of the Chrysler Sebring owned by Stephen Spiegel which had stopped at the light.

Purcell's husband, Steve Zebrack also crashed, breaking his collarbone.

There is also no further word on Purcell's condition, whose face and head were severely damaged by the crash, and was being treated in the trauma unit at the Westchester Medical Center. Last we heard she was still in a medically induced coma after doctors performed surgery on her face and head.

Not all motorists think badly of cyclists, but they do complain that sometimes it seems to be a free for all. Yesterday, a woman who works nearby in the Palisades area about a mile and a half north of the crash site spoke anonymously and said she felt sorry for Purcell, but was constantly worried about cyclists' safety on 9W because they often take up a lot of space on the road, and don't always use the shoulders even when there is one.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Cause of Cyclist's Crash Unanswered by Police Report

Cyclists are still wondering why Jessica Purcell, 29, an elite level triathlete who  knows how to handle a bicycle, crashed into the back of the 2004 Chrysler Sebring just a few hundred feet from state line.

That question has still not been answered by the police report that was issued last night that details the nature of the crash--but not the cause.

Contrary to conjecture, no cyclists traveled through a red light during the incident when Jessica Purcell crashed into the back of a car on Rte. 9W last Saturday, according to the accident report issued by the Alpine Police dept. 

Meanwhile, Purcell's father Greg Purcell, wrote into BBB with an update on her condition.  He said that she was being treated for brain trauma, a number one concern, and that she also had facial cuts, facial fractures, and dissected arteries, "which they will address once the brain trauma is under control." 

Greg Purcell said Purcell's limbs were in good working order, and that she was "doing as well or better than expected so far on the neurological tests, probably because she is in such good shape from her triathlons."

He also noted that her husband Steve Zebrack was by her side, and had suffered a broken collarbone and cuts and bruises in the accident.  

"Keep praying for Jess; knowing her I wouldn't be surprised if she makes it back for the 2010 NYC Triathalon," he said. 

Zebrack is not required to come talk to the police and give his account of the accident, said Alpine Police Capt. Jerry Beckmann. "We would love his point of view, but given the circumstances, his wife’s serious injuries, he wants to be there [with her at the hospital]," he said.

Zebrack's account could be instrumental in understanding what went wrong. The only other witnesses to the accident, Stephen Spiegel, 58, the driver of the vehicle that had stopped at the light, and another cyclist, Richard Kidd, who was about 100 yards ahead of Purcell, only heard the impact from behind them.

Spiegel whose car had a broken taillight, and a couple of scratches did not see Purcell crash, and said he was very shaken up by what happened.

"I was stopped at the red light, I got hit from behind and I heard a scream, a man's voice, got out of my car, walked to the rear, and I saw a very lovely young woman lying on her back bleeding profusely from the head: I felt it in the pit of my stomach, and I have been praying for her ever since. And I will continue to pray for her for a full recovery," said Spiegel. 

Spiegel who was taking a Saturday spin in his car, waited patiently to be interviewed by the Alpine Police dept.: "He was very concerned for her well bring, very cooperative, he stood by and waited for 4 hours, he was a gentleman through the whole thing," said Beckmann.

It has long been noted by cyclists that the shoulder in that section of 9W was engineered out of years ago. Add to that a winding corner that is steep and narrow, the hill has long been treacherous for cyclists who can pick up speed, but not see very well around the corner. 

And it's not just dangerous for cyclists: The hill was historically the site of a number of violent motorist crashes, said Beckmann who has been with the Alpine police force for 26 years.

Before the stoplights were installed at the intersection of exit 4N from the Palisades with 9W, there was a stop sign: At the bottom of the hill numerous fatal crashes took place between traffic coming off the parkway, and motorists and trucks coming down the hill.  "We used to fish trucks out of the cliff," said Beckmann, referring to the drop off on the right side of the road. 

In the last 10 years that section of road was re-engineered to add a left hand turning lane for north bound traffic entering the Palisades Parkway, deemed a necessity because of the number of vehicles waiting to turn onto the parkway--another previous source of bad crashes with trucks coming down the hill behind them not expecting to see a stopped car at the turn. 

But now cyclists are in the same position as cars used to be when they come down the hill: there is no space for cyclists on the right hand side, either with green lights, or with red lights.

However, increasing the space for cyclists would be difficult because the right hand side of the road  after the road barriers is a 90-foot drop off.

Christoph Szeglin, assistant superintendent of the Palisades Interstate Parkway said that sections of the road could possibly be widened, but the New Jersey Department of Transportation would have to ask for more land, which belongs either to the State of New Jersey, or to PIP. But at the time of the conversation with BBB, it was not known that there is a sheer drop off in that location, making a fix much more complicated. 

Since the streetlight was installed and the speed limit brought down to 40 mph from 50 mph, the accidents at that location have become less frequent, less violent, and less fatal, said Beckmann who has been working at the Alpine Police dept. for 26 years. "Now people walk away from the accidents" he noted. 

Although the Alpine Police department does not keep track of the number of bike crashes on 9W, there have been several in the past 3 months.  Two weeks ago a male cyclist died of a heart attack right across from the location where Camille Savoy was hit last November.

Also in June, a woman riding on 9W was felled by a loose dog. She suffered a broken collarbone and was taken to Englewood Hospital. Also last month, a cyclist was descending Hillside Avenue and hit some debris, resulting in serious injuries to his face, requiring that his mouth be wired shut, and three weeks of hospitalization. 

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Nyack Sees Primetime

In between rides, the boys at Tenafly Road Dawgs, that group that rides crazy fast at 6 am every morning from the center of Tenafly, NJ, pointed out an article in Bicycling Magazine all about cycling in Nyack, NY.

Okay, not cycling "to" Nyack, like you all do, but cycling "from", the Jim Skelley way, aka owner of Nyack Bicycle Outfitters at 72 North Broadway.

Pic: Cycling the Old Erie Path from Sparkill to Haverstraw.

They pointed out the trail from Nyack Beach to Haverstraw, which Ana Banana blogged about last fall cycling the Old Erie Path from Sparkill almost to Haverstraw, and last winter, skiing from Rockland Lake towards Haverstraw with the sounds of hawks' cries echoing off the giant cliffs, the wind howling over the deserted snow covered trails in 9 degree weather, and coming across old abandoned buildings that were once the heydey of our state parks' system.

What they failed to mention about that trail, is the sections that are full of sand and almost impossible to ride, but that's okay, I know you experts can handle that.

Pic: Old Stationhouse on Old Erie Path above Piermont, NY

They also did not mention that you can pick up the Old Erie path from Sparkill, or even from Rte. 303 in Orangeburg, and take that all the way to Nyack, then bike through Nyack, to Nyack Beach, then to Haverstraw, with very little contact with cars the whole way. Mountain bike or at least cross bike required, and round trip distance is about 30 miles. BBB did this with Ana Banana in tow behind.

Pic: BBB with Ana Banana in tow on Old Erie Path

Bicycling did mention Jim Skelley's Rocket Ride which leaves on Sundays around 8 am from his shop on Broadway (just a block north of the Runcible Spoon), with riders averaging about 30 mph most of they way. It's better to call it the Testosterone Ride.

And they did mention the Runcible Spoon which almost all cyclists ride to as if they were hardwired robots, but the newer eatery Didier Dumas, a French Patisserie at 163 Main Street is less well known but offers real French pastries, including crepes, croissants, and amazing tarts, and has received tremendous reviews.

The article does mention the ride from Nyack to Harriman State Park which they say is 96 miles round trip--but is not--it is more like 50 miles round trip. The greater number is the round trip distance to Harriman from New York City's Central Park, East 96th St. entrance.

Pic: the new place to go in Nyack, Didier Dumas

All good stuff, except they forgot the Orchard Ride from Nyack to the Concklin Farms apple orchards, which is probably one of the best rides in the entire region. You might recognize the name because they sell their produce at the city's Greenmarkets at the Bowling Green, World Trade, Abingdon, City Hall and Rockefeller locations.

Pic: Some of the offerings at the NYC-based Greenmarket farmers' markets.

After climbing your butt off, you get to savor the most delicious homemade apple, blueberry, strawberry, raspberry, peach and rhubarb pies, sold in small sizes for your back pocket, plus mounds of fresh fruit. They also have a big assortment of food and drinks at the store like apple cider and apple cider donuts, so you won't go hungry or thirsty. In the fall, you can actually go out to the orchards and pick apples!

The family has owned the farm since 1712, and to stave off bankruptcy years ago, did a land swap deal to preserve their farm. Now they rent the land and farm off it.

From Nyack you proceed up 9W until you come to a major fork where 9W meets Rte. 303--(check out the map), you take the left, then at the next light (right before 9w makes a descent towards Haverstraw), take the second left, up a small crumbling road called Long Clove Road, which goes into Scratch Up Road--and you come out on Old Rte. 304, turn left, which you follow for a little while going straight until it becomes South Mountain Road. You stay straight on that, crossing North Little Tor Road (watch for fast cars) until it reaches Rte. 45--and that's where you will find Conklin Farms.

Pic: the difficult turn off from rte. 9W to Long Clove Road

This ride is almost all climbing especially as soon as you leave Rte. 9W. It's a nice road more like the back roads in France, winding and spectacular, with few cars and pretty scenery.

The round trip for this ride from NYC is 75 miles.

One thing the article pointed out, is that there is a SWIM in the Hudson River on Sept. 13. You can either swim or kayak across the Hudson from Nyack to Sleepy Hollow, as long as you raise money for several different foundations that the organization, Hudson River Swim for Life is sponsoring.

To check out the Bicycling Mag Article.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Identity of Cyclist Revealed, More Accident Details

The identity of the cyclist who collided with a car yesterday, was revealed as 29-year-old Jessica Purcell of Manhattan.

The driver involved in the incident was 59-year-old Stephen Spiegel of Glen Rock, NJ.

The exact nature of Purcell's injuries are still not known, though she is still listed as in critical condition at the Westchester Medical Center. Last night she underwent surgery for her injuries. (See letter from her father, Greg Purcell below for more details, added August 2, 4:13 pm).

Several eyewitnesses have said Purcell crashed into the back of the car, which had stopped at the red light at the intersection of Rte.. 9W and the exit 4N from the Palisades Interstate Parkway.

Although an accident report has not yet been released, one witness to the accident who spoke off the record because a police report has not yet been issued, said that three or four cyclists in front of Purcell had been slowing but appeared to be proceeding through the red light, and then Purcell, who was several cyclists back, hit the car, a Chrysler Sebring 2004 convertible.

There was a scream, and the witness said Purcell was lying on the ground, her face bleeding profusely, and in convulsions.

Spiegel's car had damage to the rear and rear right, indicating that Purcell hit the rear right of the car before falling.

It was not clear if Purcell only collided with the back of the automobile, or if she first glanced off one of the other riders, lost control, and then went into the back of the automobile.

One witness conjectured that she may have not expected the other cyclists to slow down at the light.

None of these eye witness accounts have been corroborated by the Alpine NJ police department, which has still not released an official accident report, so the exact nature of the accident is still a matter of conjecture.

Purcell is ranked an elite level triathlete on the Nautica New York City Triathlon website, and recently competed in the New York City Triathlon 2009 which was held on July 26, 2009, a race that included a 1.5 km swim, a 40 K bike and a 10 K run.

Her total time was 2:27:53, which was about 19 minutes more than the top elite age finisher Linda Robb who finished at 2:08:56. She placed 17th out of 26 elite age female triathletes.

Several nurses and a doctor came to the scene from cars waiting for the light behind Purcell and several people called 911, while her husband, Steven Purcell comforted her.

It was not clear if she was conscious after the accident, or coming in and out of consciousness.

Both Purcell and her husband Steven were wearing the blue NYC 2009 Triathlon jerseys.

Cyclist still in critical condition: "Unique accident"

The female cyclist who was hit by a car yesterday at the bottom of state line hill is still in critical condition.

Last night she underwent surgery for her injuries, and her husband was with her.

The time of her accident was about 11:33 a.m. yesterday on Rte. 9W near Exit 4N for the Palisades Interstate Parkway in a collision with a sports car driven by a 59-year-old man.

A witness said the cyclist "plowed into" the back of the car which had stopped suddenly to obey a red traffic light. It was not clear from this account whether the car stopped without slowing, or if he pulled over to the right, squeezing the cyclist, or even if she saw the lights changing.

Capt. Jerry Beckman of the Alpine Police in Alpine, NJ said he would not be able to release the 29-year-old woman's identity for another 12 hours, but confirmed that her medical condition had been classified critical by emergency medical personnel at the Westchester Medical Center where she was taken by the Morristown Hospital Medivac yesterday afternoon.

"The long term prognosis is good," said Beckman about her condition. Stressing that he is not a doctor and unable to make an official statement about her physical condition he said, "we are going to have a better outcome than what we had last November," referring to the accident of Camille Savoy who died two weeks after being hit by a motorist last year.

He also said the accident was still under investigation and no details would be provided to the public until the Bergen Country Prosecutor's Office Fatal Accident Investigation Unit (FAIU) and the Bergen Country Sheriff's Dept. (BCI) had completed their investigation.

Beckman also said they had not had a chance to speak officially with the woman's husband and would need to do so before they could make a formal statement. Her husband was with her at the time of the accident.

Beckman would not confirm the account of the witness but said the accident and its circumstances were "highly unusual," and "not at all like those" that involved Savoy who was struck on Rte. 9W from behind by a careless driver in November of last year. "These set of facts are completely different--and it was a unique set of circumstances," that led to her accident, he said.

If you recall, Camille Savoy was hit by a 72-year-old woman who was later acquitted of careless driving in the incident.

He also ruled out any effect of the tree-clearing that had been in operation earlier in the morning on the northbound lane about 50 feet before the place of the accident, where the lanes in both direction had been coned off to two narrow lanes. "That had no bearing," he noted.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Female Cyclist Critically Injured on 9W

A female cyclist was hit by an automobile driver at approximately 12: 15 pm today on Rt. 9W near state line and was critically injured.

She was moved by paramedics to a staging area about a quarter of a mile south of the accident scene, and was then airlifted by helicopter to the Westchester Medical Center across the Hudson River at about 1 pm, as her husband stood by.

The location of the accident was a few feet shy of the bottom of the hill where there is a light and the opportunity for cyclists and motor vehicle drivers to be squeezed, especially during changing lights. About 10 miles from the George Washington Bridge, the descent is particularly fast but also very narrow, and the potential for accidents is great.

Earlier today in the same location, one lane on the northbound side had been coned off by workers and local police officers, forcing northbound traffic into a middle lane that opposed southbound traffic but it was unclear if those conditions still existed at the time of the accident.

Visibly upset, with a torn blue triathlete jersey, and wearing a makeshift support on his left arm, in response to whether he felt okay to talk about the accident he said, "I will not blog about my wife," and walked away.

Alpine New Jersey police officers at the scene had declared the area sealed for an accident investigation but said they did not know anything about what happened.

A dispatch officer who answered the phone at the Alpine police headquarters said more information would be forthcoming but at this time he was not able to talk to the press.

It was unclear if the woman had been struck traveling north or southbound, but her bike lay a few feet away from the intersection of Rte. 9W on the north bound lane and the exit ramp and stop light for State line, on the New Jersey side.

Her bike was in one piece, with blood soaked articles of clothing around it. A sportscar stood parked a few feet ahead, it's driver outside the vehicle, while police officers asked riders to keep moving. It was unclear if the driver had been involved in the accident, but since the area had been sealed for an investigation, he most likely had been.

Car traffic was blocked from entering the scene of the accident from both directions, and cyclists traveling northbound were stopped at the top of the hill before the descent to the next intersection and state line.

Pic: Paramedics bring stretcher to move accident victim about 1/4 mile south of state line on 9W

A fire department employee who had been called to the scene when asked about the accident said he did not know why it occurred but wasn't surprised since cyclists he said "always go over the white line."

When it was pointed out to him by BBB that there was no space on either side of the road next to the white line because the road had been re-engineered to remove the shoulder entirely, he said, "well, it's a state highway, cyclists shouldn't be riding on the road at all." Though he did acknowledge that his father is a triathlete and he always tells him to be careful.

John Birnbaum, a New Milford, NJ paramedic on the scene who was not working on this accident said he was driving nearby when he heard the call come in over his radio.

Birnbaum said the cyclist's condition would have to be good enough for the county to send a helicopter to the scene, but bad enough that it was necessary.

Pic: Helicopter taking off for Westchester Medical Center.

He noted if her condition had been extremely critical with no chance of survival, she would have been taken to a nearby hospital.

As BBB continued to head south, the very visible truck belonging to the Bergen County Prosecutor's office with the words "Prosecutor" emblazoned on the side, was heading north on Rte. 9W.

Prosecutors are normally called to the scene when an accident is or could become fatal after the victim has been moved to a medical facility.

Pic: In the background, accident victim is being taken by stretcher into the helicopter, while her husband walks away.

The area of the accident is sealed off so that tire tread impressions of both the motor vehicle and the bicycle can be taken: measurements of the distance between the car and the bicycle; and the distance between the cyclist and the bicycle are also taken. The distance that objects that have been thrown by the impact of the accident are also measured to get a sense of how fast the driver was going when they hit the cyclist (or vice versa).

Also, eyewitnesses are interview, which in this case includes the victim's husband who was cycling with her, and the automobile driver.

Once the prosecutor has made an assessment of the cause of the accident, they decide whether to prosecute the driver for fault.

As we wrote in the follow up to the accident last November that killed cyclist Camille Savoy, although prosecutors were able to prove that tire marks showed the driver crossed over the white line by over one and a half feet to fatally hit Savoy, she was not found guilty by the presiding judge in Alpine, NJ, and did not even receive the minimal violation of careless driving.

Astarloza suspended for EPO

Mikel Astarloza, a rider for the Spanish based Eustalkel-Euskadi team has been provisionally suspended for using banned substances by the European Cycling Union (UCI).

Astarloza, 29, won stage 16 in this year's Tour de France in a one person breakaway over the alps into Bourg Saint Maurice. He came in 11th overall in the general classification.

The drug test was taken June 26, during a period called "out of competition," a surprise, random test though he was not competing at the time. The test was conducted by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and analyzed in Madrid. UCI received the results on Thursday.

His team says he is innocent and and will wait for the results of his "B" sample before taking any action, said media sources. The "B" sample is the second sample taken in every test, and if it does not confirm the positive findings of the "A" sample, it could throw into doubt the accuracy of the first.

"The decision to provisionally suspend Mr Astarloza was made in response to a report from the WADA accredited laboratory in Madrid indicating an Adverse Analytical Finding of Recombinant EPO [erythropoietin] in a urine sample collected from him at an out-of-competition test on 26 June 2009," said the UCI yesterday in a press release.

EPO is a commonly used drug for cancer patients, and is meant to increase the number of red blood cells in the body to fight the disease. For the same reason, it can greatly enhance a cyclist's performance, increasing the body's ability to pump oxygen and endure long periods of sustained activity.

The provisional suspension will remain until a hearing panel convened by the Spanish Cycling Federation determines whether Mr Astarloza has committed an anti-doping rule violation.

Any wins after the time of the test, including the one at the Tour, can be disqualified if the federation finds him guilty.

Astarloza is the second rider from Spain's Euskaltel-Euskadi team to return a positive doping control in June. Iñigo Landaluze was suspended in July after twice testing positive for EPO CERA.

France's top anti-doping organization, the AFLD, announced last week that they will be re-testing samples from 15 of the top 20 finishers from last year's race for CERA, an advanced type of EPO.

Italian Riccardo Riccò was found positive for the CERA during the Tour de France this year with a test analyzing his urine.

Since blood tests are deemed more accurate, the AFLD has requested blood samples from the Lausanne laboratory which performed testing during the Tour for several riders who showed 'suspicious' blood values in pre-competition screens, they said.

Among them is the Italian Leonardo Piepoli, who was sacked from his team after Riccò's positive, for "violations of the team's ethical code".

Italian rider Danilo Di Luca was provisionally suspended by the UCI on July 22 after failing two drug tests for EPO CERA during the Tour of Italy.

Although he was not competing in the Tour this year, the 33-year-old Liquigas leader won two stages of the Giro and wore the leader's pink jersey for eight days. He finished second overall just 41 seconds behind Russian Denis Menchov.

The UCI said that Di Luca, winner of the 2007 Tour of Italy, tested positive for the banned-blood booster (EPO) CERA on May 20 and May 28 following blood tests carried out by a French laboratory.