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. 


Anonymous said...

The cyclist made a mistake and rode into the back of a stopped car. It's not that complicated.

Anonymous said...

Your blog does not accurately reflect the police report. The report states that the witness observed the car at a complete stop from 100 yards away. Obviously if the witness heard the crash while "even with the V1 front tires," the witness was not 100 yards ahead.

In any event, my heart goes out to Jessica, her husband and their families, and I will continue to pray for them.

Anonymous said...

With the popularity of triathelons these days and the abundance of people riding tri bikes, with little or no experience in how they handle, except that one can go fast as hell, I am surprised that there wasn't a serious accident sooner. Yes, a rider on a regular bike could have made the same mistake, but all one has to do is witness the groups of cyclists on 9W with tri bikes and wonder how these cyclists get from point A and back again without killing themselves is a miracle. One should spend 2-3 years riding a standard road bike and learn handling skills before riding a tri bike. They handle much differently.

I am praying for a safe and speedy recovery....