A 55-year-old Laguna Beach bicyclist died Tuesday, June 17, in a Santa Ana hospital due to injuries suffered in a 6:56 p.m. crash with a vehicle near Emerald Bay, police said.
The fatality is the third in three months in Laguna Beach, making 2014 one of the most dangerous in years for pedestrians and cyclists. College senior Nina Fitzpatrick and homeless local Regan Hess, both on foot, died as a result of accidents in April and May, respectively. Laguna Beach’s accident ranking for pedestrian injuries and fatalities earned a notorious distinction as the worst among 107 small cities, based on the state Office of Traffic Safety’s 2011 statistics, the most recent available.
“If we want to stop people being killed in the public realm, we have to change the streets; it’s a monumental job,” said longtime resident and bicyclist Michael Hoag, who has pushed for the adoption of traffic calming devices.
Police identified the fatally injured cyclist as John Greg Colvin, who was traveling northbound on the right side of Coast Highway in the early evening. For an unknown reason, he was struck by a Toyota Prius headed in the same direction in the outside lane, police Capt. Jason Kravetz said in a statement.
With the sun low in the sky an hour before Tuesday’s 8:05 p.m. sunset, northbound Coast Highway was shut down for two hours for the accident investigation, which remains ongoing, police said. The 19-year-old Laguna Beach driver involved, who was not identified, was neither cited nor arrested, Kravetz said.
Initially, witnesses reported that a white Prius fled the scene of the accident, but a motorist followed the vehicle, which stopped in the El Morro Elementary School parking lot, more than a mile away. Arriving officers detained the driver, who was brought to the police department for questioning, Kravetz said.
“He wasn’t charged with hit and run because the story he provided investigators didn’t immediately leave them with the impression that he was trying to flee and avoid capture. But, the investigation is ongoing and I cannot rule out that they will reopen this part of the incident,” Kravetz said.
The incident enraged Pete van Nuys, executive director of the Orange County Bicycle Coalition, who worked in downtown Laguna Beach and commuted by bike to San Clemente for 6.5 years. “Laguna Beach is not openly hostile to bicyclists but has been callously indifferent to them for decades. Education and rider skills can help us, but only serious enforcement will change motorists’ growing irresponsibility. Cities all over OC are wrestling with how to become more ‘bicycle friendly.’ But as bicycle traffic through Laguna Beach continues to grow, your city government pretends bicyclists don’t exist.”
Colvin suffered major injuries and was transported to Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach and then transferred to Western Medical Center in Santa Ana, Kravetz said. He died at 11:32 p.m.
Over the past five years, five pedestrians have died in accidents involving vehicles within the city limits, according to local police statistics. Another cyclist died in 2011 as a result of a fall. Over the same period, cyclists were involved in 76 accidents, with one in three resulting in serious injuries to those on two wheels.
“I believe the City Council understands there is a major problem,” said Aaron Talarico, a land-use planner who chairs the city’s advisory Parking, Traffic and Circulation Committee.
City officials are taking steps to improve pedestrian safety, Talarico said, pointing to more funding in this year’s budget for crosswalk traffic control to discourage jaywalkers. Laguna also strongly rejected Caltrans’ plan to raise speed limits on Coast Highway, he said.
Even so, Hoag pointed out that Portland, Ore., and Sweden, for example, have invested significant resources in protecting pedestrians and reducing fatalities with traffic calming measures such as narrowed streets and speed bumps. “The reason people are being killed is we don’t value them,” Hoag said, pointing out that the community provides ample private and public funding devoted to protections for marine mammals and ocean swimmers.
Talarico agreed. “It’s a personal thing for me. It’s not safe to walk with a stroller.”