near the location where
Bernick was hit.
(Photos © Dan Liu)
Last night, BikePortland news intern Dan Liu and I visited the scene of the collision that killed Cary Bernick on Monday evening.
We timed our arrival to match that of the crash itself, shortly after 5pm. There wasn’t a ton of traffic. Biking up and down the Halsey/Weidler couplet (that’s wonk-speak for two, one-way streets) doesn’t feel exactly safe — you have to look sharp — but it also isn’t the terrifying freeway on-off ramp I expected.
Dan and I stood for a while looking at the crash scene. It had rained heavily all day and dried out several hours beforehand. Someone had tied a bouquet of flowers to a nearby street sign with a yellow ribbon, and another bouquet was laid carefully on the sidewalk. We later learned that the flowers were placed by Bernick’s wife, brother, and his brother’s girlfriend. Shortly after we left, a ghost bike was chained to the same spot.
There were a few shattered bits of mirror in the street — from a small, convex mirror, Dan pointed out. A six inch length of yellow caution tape remained next to the curb. That was about it.
We spoke with Norma Sherer, who works at Gateway Florist and Espresso. The collision occurred directly in front of the shop.
Sherer heard a crash, she said, not loud enough to be two cars. Then she saw people running towards the street, and looked out the window and saw Bernick lying in the road. She ran outside, but quickly realized that her first aid training would not be of use. She stood in the street directing traffic until the Fire Department arrived. She pointed out the exact place Bernick lay — mid block, far from the intersection, near her shop’s yellow sandwichboard — and where truck that struck him had ended up pulled over on 106th, just south of the intersection, after making a left turn. The truck appeared to have no body damage, she said — the mirror seemed to have been the point of impact.
Sherer was clearly shaken by what she had seen. She told us she sees people ride past on bikes all day, some with traffic, some against the flow, and some on the sidewalk. She couldn’t believe that the person driving the truck that collided with Bernick couldn’t have seen him since it seemed clear that he was right in the center of the road. She thinks a lot more education is needed to teach people to drive safely when bikes are in the transportation mix. “All these bike lanes and stuff are new,” she said. “It’s hard to know the rules. And bikes are hard to see.”
Sherer was clearly shaken by what she had seen. She told us she sees people ride past on bikes all day, some with traffic, some against the flow, and some on the sidewalk.
Dan went back to the street to take photos and I walked over to The Outer Rim, a bike shop that opened a week ago in the same parking lot as the florist. The shop is owned by Nadine Jones. Her husband, Charlie Jones, had heard the crash and gone outside to investigate.
Charlie flies a trauma helicopter for a living and has “seen a lot of stuff like this.” His analysis: Bernick collided with the truck’s mirror and died nearly instantly from a massive skull fracture sustained upon hitting the pavement.
“In this area, you have a large indigent population,” he said, “This is kind of a transient area…this is their flyway up through here. They zip across the road, they take chances. Most don’t have helmets.”
Jones’ theory is that Bernick had probably been riding north on 106th and cut fast across Weidler without stopping or looking. When I got outside Dan and I went and stared at the scene for a while longer. Dan had developed a similar theory — that Bernick had been attempting to cross Weidler on a diagonal, from 106th headed to the entrance of a midblock apartment building on the north side of the street and a bit to the east. He also could have been proceeding in a straight line, hugging the curb on the south side of the street (the opposite side as the bike lane) going the wrong way, and been struck by the truck as its driver bore left to turn left, which we saw many people doing as we stood there.
Neither Sherer nor Jones see this as a particularly dangerous area for traffic, though both highlighted the need for caution.
It’s still unclear exactly what happened, and what Dan and I learned last night is hardly conclusive. We have a call in to the Traffic Investigations Unit at the Portland Police Bureau Traffic Division, but we have yet to hear back. This incident raises many questions spanning far beyond the matter of legal fault. We’ll work to address some of those in the coming days.
Elly Blue has been writing about bicycling and carfree issues for BikePortland.org since 2006. Find her at http://takingthelane.com