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Collision on 99W outside Monmouth claims life of WOU professor – UPDATED

Posted by on April 2nd, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Hank Bersani was 61 years old.
(Photo: Western Oregon University)

Monmouth resident and Western Oregon University professor, Hank Bersani, died Saturday morning when he was struck from behind while bicycling on Highway 99W.

According to the Oregon State Police, Bersani, 61, was riding northbound and was hit by 68-year-old Marvin Ford who was operating his Dodge Dakota pickup truck in the same direction. Here’s how the OSP described what happened:

“… a northbound bicyclist moved from the shoulder into the northbound lane in front of the pickup. Ford veered left in an attempt to avoid the bicyclist but the right front of the pickup struck the bicycle from behind. The bicyclist… was ejected from his road bike and came to rest near the center of the highway.”

The collision occurred just about 1.5 miles from the college campus at around 11:20 am south of the intersection with Hoffman Road. There is paved, multi-use path off the highway on the opposite west side of 99W at this location. It’s possible Bersani was moving over to the left in order to access that path via one of the paved access points. You can see the path and the access point in the OSP photo below (the red arrow points to it)

And here’s another view, looking south on 99W…

The description of this collision is similar to how OSP described a fatal incident back in August on the Oregon Coast. In that instance, they said a man on a bike, “swerved in to the southbound lane and collided with the rear of the pole trailer as it was traveling past.”

“…there’s nothing to indicate any fault on the part of the pickup operator.”
— Lt. Gregg Hastings, Oregon State Police

It’s too bad this language is used. To the public and the media, it sounds like the person on the bike made a mistake and/or was riding carelessly prior to the collision (and therefore the person in the car could not have done anything to prevent it). While that might be true in some cases, since we never hear the perspective of the person that was hit because they either have no memory of what happened or they are no longer around to tell their side of the story, we often never know for sure.

I asked OSP Lieutenant Gregg Hastings about Saturday’s fatality.

How do you know Mr. Bersani “moved away from the shoulder”? I asked. “We have independent witnesses,” said, Lt. Hastings,”including an off-duty officer who saw what happened. There’s not a lot in terms of controversy in what we believed happened out there.”

Hastings says the investigation is still ongoing, “But there’s nothing to indicate any fault on the part of the pickup operator.”

Bersani was an expert in special education who had worked at Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) in the areas of public health and preventive medicine. He had just returned from a trip to Qatar to speak at a special needs children’s hospital.

WOU has posted more information and a call for remembrances of Bersani on their website.

UPDATE, 5:28pm: Sorry folks. This story was published with incorrect information about where the collision occurred. Bersani was struck south of Hoffman Road, not right at the approach to Hoffman Road. I’ve added new images from OSP to the story. I regret any confusion.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Scott April 2, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    Lame. I have seen Mr. Bersani speak several times. He was smart, and special needs children need all of the understanding that we can offer them. An acute loss in a field that needs more innovators.

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  • Doug Smart April 2, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    I’m familiar with that stretch of road, though I’ve only pedaled it once. There is a separated path on the west side of the highway. The path can only be reached at entry points onto the highway – driveways, farm gates, and intersections such as Hoffman Road. My first guess, on reading this in the Corvallis paper, was that Mr. Bersani was crossing the highway to move onto the MUP.

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  • naomi April 2, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    I’m very skeptical he just darted into the driving lane without looking or signaling or anything, especially if this was a route he took daily. As for having not only a separate witness but also an off-duty officer, both of whom happened to be watching the cyclist and truck at the moment of collision, I don’t know. I guess anything is possible but something seems very suspicious about the insinuation he carelessly darted into the lane without any prior signaling that he would be doing so.

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    • wsbob April 3, 2012 at 10:52 am

      “…but something seems very suspicious about the insinuation he carelessly darted into the lane without any prior signaling that he would be doing so.” naomi

      No conclusions as specific as those you’re suggesting has been reported, probably in part because so far in the reporting about the collision, the investigation was still ongoing. News stories have not insinuated that Bersari darted carelessly into the lane without any prior signaling that he would be doing so.

      I don’t recall the exact wording because I don’t presently have the stories open before me, but what they have said is simply that Bersari turned in front of the vehicle of the person driving. There’s been no characterization of Bersari on the bike as being careless. People don’t know why he turned in front of the vehicle, though it seems to be accepted that he did do so. The investigation, including interviewing witnesses, is so that everyone might understand better what happened here and why, possibly helping to avoid a repeat in the future.

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    • middle of the road guy April 3, 2012 at 1:07 pm

      Would he have made the move if he had seen the truck? Likely not.

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      • was carless April 3, 2012 at 4:36 pm

        One note – there is a high volume of traffic on Highway 99, such that it is unusual to have gaps of even 10 seconds of no vehicles. One would simply have to assume that there is ALWAYS traffic on the road, even at 11pm at night.

        Having lived in that town for over 18 years, I would have to say that cycling on the highway is close to suicidal. Especially considering that there is a MUP 25 feet away. I have also never, in 31 years, ever seen a cyclist on Highway 99 on that stretch.

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        • matt picio April 4, 2012 at 12:47 pm

          I rode it last year, it seemed fine. It was hardly THAT dangerous. Traffic was heavy, sure, but it wasn’t bad at all. The MUP wasn’t really pleasant to ride – I can’t recall if it was due to pavement cracks/bumps, but I distinctly remember not enjoying part of it, and leaving the MUP to ride the shoulder. I would recommend using a mirror due to the traffic. I was riding it at 8-9 mph on a fully-loaded touring bike on a weekday in late May.

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  • wsbob April 2, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    The Oregonian posted a story yesterday, mentioning that there were witnesses to the collision. Though it wasn’t stated so, this suggested that the OSP statement drew from what those witnesses said.

    As I’m recalling at the moment, neither the O story, or the O statement mentioned Hoffman Rd, though I think an officer was quoted as theorizing that Bersani was crossing the road to get on the MUP. Since Hoffman wasn’t mentioned, conclusion was that the MUP paralleling 99w was where he may have been headed to.

    Question: Did witnesses observe whether Bersani signaled to transition from the bike lane into the main travel lane?

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    • Doug Smart April 2, 2012 at 5:15 pm

      There is no bike lane, just the road shoulder. That’s why the MUP is a much more attractive route. Many people who only drive cars equate the road shoulder with a bike lane and fail to recognize the right to operate a bicycle on the actual roadway.

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      • wsbob April 2, 2012 at 5:55 pm

        Doug, thanks for catching that. Of course there’s no bike lane on 99W, but rather, just a shoulder, which I knew about from seeing the pictures above in yesterday’s Oregonian and KATU stories. I just worded my question wrong. Should have been:

        ‘…Question: Did witnesses observe whether Bersani signaled to transition from the shoulder of the road into the main travel lane?’

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        • 9watts September 29, 2014 at 9:15 am

          “We have independent witnesses,” said, Lt. Hastings,”including an off-duty officer who saw what happened. There’s not a lot in terms of controversy in what we believed happened out there.”

          I’ve long wondered, since there were so many witnesses to this crash, whether any of them were traveling South (in the opposite direction as Ford and Bersani)? From the context I’m inclined to assume so.
          If that was the case, then we should revisit the possibility that Ford was passing too closely, because although the lanes on that section of Hwy 99W are fairly wide, the speed differentials between a bicycle and a car leave very little buffer to safely pass in the presence of oncoming traffic.

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  • are April 2, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    if the motorist was leaving a safe passing distance, it should not have been difficult to avoid the cyclist, even if the cyclist was merging left.

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    • 9watts April 2, 2012 at 7:07 pm

      “But there’s nothing to indicate any fault on the part of the pickup operator.”

      That may be, but the person he hit is dead. Are there any other activities we engage in regularly where the person whose actions results in the death of someone else is immediately and predictably exonerated in the majority of cases?! I’m with Jonathan when it comes to the language so often used.
      I wonder if speed has anything to do with this? Safe passing distance? Note how no one present or in law enforcement or in the various news reports appears to have asked about it. Do they even know what it is?
      *sun was in my eyes
      *I didn’t see him
      *he moved into the lane

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      • wsbob April 2, 2012 at 9:36 pm

        “…immediately and predictably exonerated in the majority of cases? …” 9watts

        A reading of news reports about this collision in the Oregonian and on KATU’s website indicates that the driver was not immediately exonerated and may not yet be completely cleared of responsibility for, or having contributed to the collision.

        One or both of the stories says there were witnesses to the collision, suggesting that the police interviewed those witnesses before presenting a statement about the collision to the media.

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        • 9watts April 3, 2012 at 8:24 am

          wsbob –
          from Jonathan’s reporting:
          Hastings says the investigation is still ongoing, “But there’s nothing to indicate any fault on the part of the pickup operator.”

          Seems pretty clear to me: ‘We’re still investigating, but we know the guy in the pickup did nothing wrong.’

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          • wsbob April 3, 2012 at 11:16 am

            9watts…it sounds as though you’re attempting to conflate the police statement to maintain they’re saying something they aren’t, or thinking something they may not be.

            From maus’s story: “…Hastings says the investigation is still ongoing, “But there’s nothing to indicate any fault on the part of the pickup operator.” …”

            Since he said the investigation was still ongoing, OSP Lieutenant Gregg Hastings could have and probably should have included ‘…at this point…’ in his statement, but he probably assumes people will understand this to be the situation having introduced the statement by saying the investigation was still ongoing.

            The lieutenant did not say they know the person driving the pickup did nothing wrong. With the investigation still ongoing, the lieutenant is saying there’s nothing to indicate any fault on the part of the pickup operator…at this moment…meaning the opportunity for new discovery or information about the collision to be presented that would give greater insight to the actions of all parties involved still exists.

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          • matt picio April 4, 2012 at 12:51 pm

            There’s one big problem with that statement. Either the cyclist left the pickup operator enough room to slow when he came left, or he didn’t. If he did leave enough room to safely slow, then yes, the pickup operator *did* do something wrong – he failed to slow and struck traffic he was overtaking from behind. In most states, that places the overtaking driver immediately at fault. There are a lot of potentially complicating factors, but the basic driving law still applies – if there was enough room to safely stop without striking the cyclist, overtaking traffic is required by law to do so.

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  • K'Tesh April 2, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    Very sad news… Prayers for the Professor’s Family

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  • CM April 2, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    Hank was a good friend and colleague. I’m not a cyclist but went out with him once and he empowered me to use my bike. He is a careful cyclist. There is some suspicion that the bike lane may have been flooded in parts that day forcing Hank to ride on the road until just north of Hoffman. The man who was operating the truck may have even known Hank, as Hank was known and beloved by so many. It is a tragic day here, indeed.

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    • Doug Smart April 2, 2012 at 9:06 pm

      CM – Thank you for a bit of a picture of a fellow rider. My condolences to you, his friend, and to his family.

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  • CM April 2, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    I hit send too soon. Whatever transpired, Hank was an avid cyclist and loved loved LOVED being on his bike. He had wanted to do STP in one day this year. He will be greatly missed.

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  • oskarbaanks April 2, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    What a warm and welcoming smile on this man. It seems he was loved by many. This is very sad, and I send my best to all those close to Mr.Bersani.


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  • Andy April 2, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    At least in Southern Oregon, if OSP investigates, the conclusion that the bicyclist was at fault is foregone, witnesses or no.

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    • middle of the road guy April 3, 2012 at 1:09 pm

      Seems like you have some foregone conclusions, also.

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  • BURR April 2, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    the ‘cyclist swerved in front of me’ defense, nice!

    too bad there’s no one left alive to dispute this claim.

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  • Kristi Finney-Dunn April 2, 2012 at 10:36 pm

    My condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of Mr. Bersani. It sounds like another exceptional person gone.

    811.485 Following too closely; penalty.
    (1) A person commits the offense of following
    too closely if the person does any of the following:
    (a) Drives a motor vehicle so as to follow
    another vehicle more closely than is reasonable
    and prudent, having due regard for the
    speed of the vehicles and the traffic upon,
    and condition of, the highway.

    A bicycle is considered a vehicle so it would seem this would apply. I know that generally in a rear-end type collision that the driver of the rear vehicle is considered at fault unless there are proven extenuating circumstances. So that’s not the case when the collision is between a bike and a car? Does this law only apply when motorized vehicles are involved? And does it really only make a difference if insurance companies are in the mix?

    Not that I necessarily want to make someone “wrong,” especially when I don’t know the real circumstances, but I am really sick of reading/hearing about how people get away with killing other people who are on bikes or walking because there “isn’t a law against that,” they can only be cited for the actual law they broke (improper lane change, speeding, etc).

    Seeing the way things play out so often, I’m sometimes astounded that the killer of my son is actually imprisoned.

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  • JNE April 2, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    One bike commuter here who believes in the principle of innocent until proven guilty.

    Hope I never rely on some of the above commenters to sit on a jury that determines my fate.

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  • pfarthing6 April 3, 2012 at 12:05 am

    Not sure what the specific law is, but if you’re going too fast, even the speed limit, such that you cannot avoid a potential hazard, you are breaking the law. The truck swerved to avoid? How about slowing the frack down and yielding the right of way to the vehicle in front?

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  • harvey April 3, 2012 at 12:16 am

    I love the comments that question the legality of the investigation, the quality and even truthfulness of the witnesses without ANY justification. A terrible tragedy has taken place in a small community, and people on this forum are basically accusing the driver, the witnesses and the OSP of creating some sort of coverup about this accident.


    Absolutely deplorable.

    How about the guy who killed the cyclist? What if the cyclist was indeed in the wrong? The driver gets to think about all he could have done to prevent this accident for the rest of his life, even though by all accounts, he is responsible for only being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Sometimes the people on this forum are animals.

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    • JAT in Seattle April 3, 2012 at 8:11 am

      I disagree, Harvey.
      Is the commentary here biased toward supporting the possibility that the cyclist, a daily commuter familiar with the route, did nothing wrong? Of course. It’s a pro-biking site. Is it deplorable, are people making unwarranted libelous attacks on the driver and police? Not really. What’s happening here is that people are pointing out the fundamental flaws in a crash investigation system overwhelmingly skewed to support drivers and marginalize cyclists.

      The language is almost always cast in terms of anomalous cyclist behavior bringing them into harms’ way. If a school bus pulled over to drop off some kids you wouldn’t plow your pick-up truck into it, because you know from experience that school buses do that; we even have laws to protect that on-road behavior, even though it can be “unpredictable” and inconveniences us all. Cyclists, however, are continually portrayed as at fault be behaving the way anyone with a lick of experience knows they behave (they make small moves out of their otherwise straight line for a variety of road-surface reasons that passing motorists can’t see and probably wouldn’t be bothered by – standing water, potholes, pavement joints).

      As for the guy who killed the cyclist, maybe he feels horrible, but what the criticisms here are emphasizing is that given a media and policing system (to say nothing of the comment thread on SalemPick-UpTruckDrivers.org) that continually blames the more vulnerable road user, we can’t know what he feels – rather than making a habit of slowing down or giving a wider birth, he may feel he is the victim of an unavoidable tragedy, since those flighty unpredictable “bikers” can’t control themselves.

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    • Randall S. April 3, 2012 at 11:44 am

      Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t really consider “I feel bad” to be a proportionate consequence to “because my voluntary actions caused the death of someone.”

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  • Greenbelt April 3, 2012 at 6:35 am

    @Harvey — I’ll weigh in from the east coast. What we have lost in this country (even Oregon, it appears) is a common sense standard that drivers of multi-ton vehicles be responsible for controlling their machines, even in adverse circumstances or conditions. Of course, there will always be some true accidents, where even the most alert and cautious drivers could not have avoided a crash. However, most crashes could have been avoided, even in cases where the driver is not deemed technically at fault. We’ve come to allow a level of routine speeding, routine distraction, following too closely, passing too carelessly, poor car or truck maintenance, even poor driving posture. However, drivers who are not speeding, not eating or drinking, not distracted by the radio or phone, not using just one hand on the wheel or steering with their finger, not blithely passing a possibly left-turning vehicle, with good brakes and tires, well-aligned wheels, clean windshields, good wipers and working lights and always-used signals — these drivers seem to be able to avoid these types of crashes, even when a another driver (or pedestrian or bicyclist) makes a mistake. You’re right, we don’t know the circumstances here (and may never since we can’t interview the cyclist). But we’ve allowed a standard of routinely poor driving that all but guarantees more fatal crashes, with the most vulnerable road users paying the highest price. Cautious, attentive, well-equipped drivers avoid crashes, even when something unpredictable happens. Drivers should be responsible for what they hit with their cars in far more cases than are currently prosecuted, or even fully investigated. If they were, we’d all drive more carefully.

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    • 9watts April 3, 2012 at 7:54 am

      what an excellent reply. I hope you post here often.
      But I think it is slightly worse than that. Let me try this thought experiment:
      Let’s imagine the exact situation as described, but Ford isn’t driving a car. Instead he is driving a tractor, riding a mule, walking, riding a unicycle. It is nearly inconceivable to me that in any of those circumstances Hank Bersani would be dead. His death is the result of excessive speed (differentials) and the cultural impunity with which this society’s opinion makers (who nearly all drive as a matter of course) give a pass in this kind of situation. ‘Driving the speed limit is just how we get around. If you swerve into the road, there’s not much the driver could do….’

      The point isn’t necessarily to punish Ford, assume he’s automatically guilty or any of those straw men. The point is that cars and their drivers, and the role they’re allowed to play in our society is unacceptable. Cases like this (see also David Apperson, Martha McLean & Essya Nabbali, Karl Moritz, Brett Lewis, Reese Wilson for some recent Western Oregon examples). None of these deaths or life-threatening injuries–cases where someone in a car ran over someone on a bike–were the result of what we reflexively recognize as drunk driving or hit and run (see Eric Davidson, Robert Skof, Angela Burke, Dustin Finney). Instead the I didn’t see him/he swerved away from the shoulder/the sun was in my eyes was (apparently) deemed an acceptable excuse.
      (I admit we don’t yet know the legal outcome of Neil Lawson’s running over Essya Nabbali and Martha McLean.)

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      • middle of the road guy April 3, 2012 at 1:12 pm

        Well, I think society has determined that they ARE acceptable. That’s why everyone does it.

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        • 9watts April 3, 2012 at 1:17 pm

          ‘society has determined’ M-hm. Are bikeportland commenters part of the society you are attributing this judgement to?
          But you are essentially making my point. Although society doesn’t determine anything, the opinion makers do, and their broad agreement that this is fine is what I am objecting to.

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      • Essya June 3, 2012 at 10:40 pm

        “Routinely poor driving,” for sure! Combined with a certain desensitization to the very dangerous weapon that we all get behind and/or in. Because clipped into our bikes, and “protected” merely by spandex and a helmet made of foam, our bodies pose absolutely no threat to any multi-ton piece of metal, travelling at whatever speed, no matter the circumstances. The assault, if not manslaughter or murder, that can take place on the road needs to be given much more emphasis and weight in driving lessons, policy-making, and social dialogue more generally. So as to avoid such tragedies as the one being discussed here that claimed the life of WOU professor, HANK BERSANI; or the nightmare that Martha and I continue to live. For Mr. NEAL F. LAWSON’s actions on Oct-03-2011 are the most grotesque demonstration of the deaden that I am referring to, as he made the selfish decision to keep driving despite reportedly swerving all over the road some time prior to hitting us; and his passenger (ROBERT B. ANTHONY) – equally as culpable, if you ask me – for not demanding that he pull over immediately. Even uglier, Mr. Lawson acknowledged to the OSP that he saw us both along the Oregon Coast Bike Route, which was straight, levelled, dry, and in full daylight. And if this does not appal you enough, he is said to have done little-to-nothing at the scene of the accident. There is even a picture on Jim and Mary’s blog (http://otrwjam.wordpress.com/2011/10/04/black-monday/) of him just casually strolling towards Martha’s stock-still body on the asphalt with hands-in-pockets, while everyone else is in utter pandemonium. It is unacceptable! And “ongoing” investigations are only as valuable as the questions being asked, the answers being uncovered (until saturation and clarity), the critical reflection that then follows and is put into action… somehow… some way… It should not take an accident to call upon us to help advocate for change! And thoughtful language should only be an expectation, especially of those in positions of authority, whose words are well heard and often well received.

        My most heartfelt condolences, of course, to the Bersani family and friends, students and colleagues, and the profession of Special Education en masse.

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    • wsbob April 3, 2012 at 9:34 am

      Once again: News stories are reporting there were witnesses to this collision whom the police were interviewing as part of the police investigation of the collision, a final report of which, to my knowledge, has not yet been posted for the public to read.

      From the first reports of this collision, the story has been that Bersani was riding on the shoulder of the road and turned from the shoulder into the main lane in front of the person driving, in such a manner that the person driving, though having struggled to do so by swerving the vehicle to the left, was not able to avoid colliding with Bersani on his bike.

      Everyone reading about this collision, before drawing conclusions about how who or what caused this collision, what they did or didn’t do and why, should at least be waiting to read a report from somebody that actually has been to the collision scene and interviewed the witnesses.

      How far ahead of the vehicle was Bersani on his bike when…if this is what actually was observed to do, did he appear to turn from the shoulder to the main lane? How fast were vehicle and bike traveling? Was Bersani observed signaling his intention to turn, and for how long preceding the actual turn? What were lighting, weather and road conditions?

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  • Mike April 3, 2012 at 9:00 am

    Just because someone operates a vehicle on a daily basis does not mean he/she can not make mistakes or have momentary (though fatal) lapses of judgement. (BTW- That vehicle could be a Dodge pickup or a bicycle).

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    • 9watts April 3, 2012 at 9:03 am

      Exactly, but on a donkey or unicycle those lapses will be most unlikely to kill anyone I’m trying to pass.

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      • middle of the road guy April 3, 2012 at 1:13 pm

        it is unlikely that a donkey will be on a roadway with a set speed limit.

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    • Randall S. April 3, 2012 at 11:49 am

      You’re absolutely right, just like sometime maybe a cop shoots a guy who was holding a burrito instead of a gun. Or maybe your doctor gives you 1000mg of a drug instead 1000ug and it kills you. No reason to hold them responsible either, right? I mean, it was just a momentary lapse, and most of the time they don’t kill anyone.

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    • Mike April 3, 2012 at 1:24 pm

      Sorry 9watts and Randall – my point was obviously lost.

      I find it interesting that if one rides a bicycle down the same route everyday it is nearly inconceivable that they would make a mistake – at that point, they are experts and highly experienced.
      And yet if someone drives a same route every day they are probably careless, speeding, negligent, following to close, part of a cover up or conspiracy, etc.
      I am not saying that the motor vehicle operator is not at fault, but perhaps we can save the speculation and conspiracy theories until more is known? Maybe give the guy a trial before lynching him in the court of public opinion?

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      • 9watts April 3, 2012 at 1:39 pm

        My point was not about carelessness or carefulness but about speed differentials and the dangers (to everyone) of our cult of automobility that generally, predictably, and fatally tends to exonerate those in cars who kill people on bicycles in situations like this.

        Why do you think some countries have laws that are referred to as strict liability? What is the pedagogic dimension of those laws?
        (excerpted from that story)
        “When an accident happens in general the car driver is liable; and even when the car driver would say, ‘Yeah but the bicyclist made a very strange movement and I couldn’t do anything about it,’ then the judge would say, ‘Well, you could see the bicyclist and you know that this happens with bicyclists and you should reduce your speed in a situation where there are bicyclists, so still you are at fault’.

        So only in a situation when a car driver for instance would stay still and the bike would ram into the side of the car, then of course the car driver isn’t liable; but in a sense we say in the Netherlands, car drivers should be aware of the situation that they are in a machine that can kill and that they should behave responsibly for that situation.”

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  • El Biciclero April 3, 2012 at 11:17 am

    This and so many other car-bike collisions are symptoms of a disease many of us catch every once in a while: driving by assumption. In one sense, this is how we are meant to operate on the roads, with some semblance of assumed predictability on the part of other road users, but it is often a cause of tragic outcomes such as this one. I still remember the somewhat oxymoronic advice of both my dad and my driver’s ed instructor to “expect the unexpected”, yet we so often fail to do this.

    Driving by assumption leads people to engage in several kinds of risky behavior:
    – Proceeding ahead while blinded by the sun or otherwise having one’s view of the road ahead degraded or blocked (tons of scenarios here), assuming the road ahead will be clear.
    – Rolling stop signs or running red lights, assuming conflicting traffic isn’t going to [be stupid enough to] jump the green or also fail to stop at a stop sign.
    – Following too closely/tailgating, assuming traffic ahead will have no need to suddenly slow or stop.
    – Speeding, assuming the need for increased stopping distance won’t be a problem.
    – Diverting attention from the road, assuming that the landscape observed just prior to looking away will remain unchanged while attention is diverted.
    – Passing too closely to cyclists or pedestrians, assuming that they know their place and will not dare step or “swerve” farther left for any reason.
    – Performing any number of illegal maneuvers, assuming either a) they aren’t illegal (ignorance) or b) everybody does it, so what’s the harm?

    Well, this story illustrates the harm. Without claiming to know any details, I can say with legal certainty that Dr. Bersani should have had at least 6′ of wiggle room before he was in danger of being hit by overtaking traffic (based on ORS 811.065 1.a. ). Did this collision take place less than 6′ from Dr. Bersani’s original line of travel? If so, some more serious questions need to be asked about who was operating within the law.

    We cannot “investigate” crashes like this one based on “laws” that are created out of thin air by the assumptions a majority of drivers make (e.g., “two feet of passing distance is plenty at 55 mph”). I get the feeling (just a feeling) a lot of times that laws that are specific to dealing with cyclists or pedestrians are bent a little during crash investigations to make the case that “there was nothing the driver could have done”. Really? What if a driver runs a red light and kills a pedestrian as a result? That law is cut-and-dried, and not many folks would allow any wiggle room there. But what if a driver passes a cyclist at less than the legally prescribed “safe” distance? Well, then it becomes “too difficult” to determine what the passing distance actually was–and besides, who follows that law to the letter anyway? It is much easier to assume the cyclist behaved erratically and there was nothing the driver could have done. I’m no crash reconstruction expert, but I would bet that the point of impact could be determined without too much trouble, and a simple measurement from the fog line to that point could be made to determine how far left Dr. Bersani was at the time. If that distance is significantly less than 6′, then there is something to indicate some degree of fault on the part of the pickup operator.

    From comments above, it sounds as though there are many folks on both coasts that have fond recollections of Dr. Bersani and will feel this loss terribly. OSP and the Polk County Sheriff owe it to those folks to do a thorough and conscientious investigation and enforce any laws that were not followed.

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  • Barbara L April 3, 2012 at 11:20 am

    One issue that’s never addressed is that drivers think that bicyclist belong/must stay on the side of the road or even off of the road completely out of their way.There is no education that cyclist legally and often must move away from the side to avoid road hazard, gravel, pot hole etc. Thus drivers should be anticipating slowing down if necessary, providing space etc just as they would pedestrian, farm truck etc. Instead they often squeeze by thinking the cyclist must stay the right period. He could have even indicated he was mvoing over& the driver ignoring his hand signal as something strange.
    I ‘ve had to incidents in the lasrt 2 wks both times moving away from the curb to avoid dug out road construction signed off. Both times there road was plently wide and I gently moved over ahead of the area. !st time the truck barely got by then when we met at the light said he was justified since i “didn’t move out of his way” when he honked. The other just came up behind when no cars & could have easily changed lanes instead of a long angry blasting the horn.

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  • Nathan April 3, 2012 at 11:49 am

    This is horrible for everyone involved and connected. A few communities just lost a beloved person.

    I say this with no insinuation that this didn’t happen and without doubt of the rider’s caution, but everyone please (please) shoulder check. Slow down if needed and look over your left shoulder to see if a car is coming before making any leftward move. If so, stare into the eyes of a car operator and check that they see you. This small amount of communication helps so much.

    Precautions aren’t guarantees, but losing people on the roads makes me ill.

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  • Andy April 3, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    Obviously, I don’t know the facts regarding this accident, but here’s a thought experiment. You are driving your car and you observe a car on the shoulder that is moving forward. Do you just assume that he/she won’t pull into the traffic lane and, if they do and you rear-end them do you think you are without fault? I sure don’t.

    I’d like to know if the driver was observing the law about maintaining separation when passing a bicycle. Down here, that law is totally ignored by drivers and law enforcement.

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  • RyNO Dan April 3, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    Eye-witness accounts are often faulty and the witnesses are inherently biased. There is a high probability that he was riding perfectly legally in the roadway. Terribly sorry.

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  • was carless April 3, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    I used to live in that town. He got hit just a few hundred feet north of where the speed transitions to 55 mph.

    It is actually still inside the town limits. There are houses & apartments a few hundred feet to the SW and SE.

    Also, those are driveway access for farmers to get to their fields. Considering how busy traffic on Highway 99 West is, you’d have to be insane to cut across that highway without stopping and looking both ways. Also, there is usually gravel on the driveways.

    I wonder why he didn’t start on the paved cycle lane, or at least cross where the traffic is only going 35 mph.


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    • Kim Sherman April 4, 2012 at 12:12 pm

      I’ve ridden the MUP between Monmouth and Dallas – once — if a rider is any bit more skilled than a young child on a bike, and travels faster than a parent walking with a stroller, the MUP is not necessarily a good choice. Hank biked A LOT, and traveled at a good clip. Since it is perfectly legal to ride a bike on a road, there is no reason that he should have been on the MUP.

      The debate about who was at fault is important if we can learn something from it; and since we don’t really know what happened, I’m not sure we are learning yet. The bottom line lessons we can all take away are: slow down, be hyper-vigilent around bikes if you are driving. Give a wider berth than you normally do. Watch for hazards the bike may need to avoid (railroad tracks, debris, parked cars, etc). Be prepared to stop.

      I feel terrible for the driver, and of course deeply saddened to have lost my friend. I think we sometimes lose sight of those things.

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      • 9watts April 4, 2012 at 5:16 pm

        “I think we sometimes lose sight of those things.”

        All good points, Kim. In so far as I diverged from those things it was out of a deeply felt frustration with what to me seems like a collective shrug at this unnecessary and preventable loss of life by the authorities and media, Jonathan’s blog excepted, (and thinly veiled indictment of the bicyclist).

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      • wsbob April 4, 2012 at 5:49 pm

        We may be able to learn more about how and why this collision occurred if we wait for further details about it provided through interviews with the people that witnessed the collision and from investigation of the collision by the police or anyone else that cares to take on such a task.

        I think some people are reading too much of their own conclusions into the brief, initial bits of information offered by the OSP and published by the media in news reports as opposed to opinion pieces. Those news stories are not investigations and verdicts in themselves. It’s just the news, and people should remind themselves of this fact as needed.

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        • Andy April 4, 2012 at 6:03 pm

          Read the story above. The Lieutenant obviously prejudged the results of the investigation. The probability that the investigation will reach a different conclusion is very small. If he had just commented that “the investigation is ongoing and we will wait to reach any conclusions” that would be different.

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          • wsbob April 4, 2012 at 6:50 pm

            Not true. The lieutenant prefaced his statement with the condition that the investigation was ongoing at the time he made the statement. That means the OSP was still gathering info about the collision. Until the investigation is or was closed, something may have been discovered that would cause the OSP to arrive at a different conclusion.

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            • 9watts April 4, 2012 at 7:00 pm

              “…arrive at a different conclusion.”
              I’m not holding my breath.

              In my view, there are two different issues mixed up here
              (1) the outcome of the investigation, determination of fault, extenuating circumstances, etc. and

              (2) what the public learns about/takes away from a crash like this as depicted in the media they read/watch/discuss with their peers.

              While (1) is important, public opinion is shaped by (2).

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        • 9watts April 4, 2012 at 6:10 pm

          easy to say, bob, but when, if I may ask, have we ever heard those details about any of the dozens of fatal crashes Jonathan has reported about here? I don’t doubt these details exist in some police file somewhere, but they sure never see the light of day where I hang out.

          The way this looks to me, the sum of what we know about these crashes come from the initial reports. After that. Zip. I’d love to learn otherwise but that has been my experience.

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          • wsbob April 4, 2012 at 7:03 pm

            9watts…call the OSP, or ask maus, editor of bikeportland. In past, he has apparently requested police reports for various traffic incidents. I’ve read them here, as they’ve been posted to bikeportland.

            One example would be the investigation of the fatal collision involving Austin Miller and a Tri-met bus. Not sure which one, but the lengthy police investigation was included in one of the numerous stories posted about that collision. It’s worth finding and reading.

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            • 9watts April 4, 2012 at 7:09 pm

              I missed the forensics in Austin Miller. Thanks for the reminder.

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  • Chris April 4, 2012 at 10:52 am

    Shame on all of us, for we have lost. The details are not relevant. This man touched your community profoundly and his reach was global. He is gone and I will never reconcile that. A bicycle, a truck, a great man. What do you love? We lost.

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    • oskarbaanks April 4, 2012 at 3:47 pm

      I feel your frustration Chris. This type of problem unfortunately brings all the pent up emotions to surface, no matter what their aesthetic or direction.

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  • None of your business April 7, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    I was privileged to have personally known Hank; he was a great person and his death is a great loss to everyone who knew him. I also personally know the OSP Trooper who investigated the crash. He is a very experienced and skilled investigator and I am confident in his determinations. I find it quite amusing how so many of you think you know how crash investigations work and how the ORS is to be interpreted and applied. Many of you are quick to point the finger at the driver in this case, saying he was likely speeding, following too close, etc. You have zero factual basis to make such accusations. You can discount the statements of eyewitnesses as much as you like, but they saw what they saw.

    Bottom line: just because someone is driving a car doesn’t automatically make them negligent, just like someone riding a bicycle doesn’t automatically make them perfect and infallible; and vice-versa.

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    • 9watts April 9, 2012 at 9:15 am

      Good to hear that you trust the officer to be conscientious. But where at least some of us are coming from is our vicarious experience with the cases of folks like Karl Moritz, David Apperson, Bret Lewis, and others, where to the interested and attentive citizen the official takeaway message seemed to amount to a shrug ‘too bad for the person on a bike’ with no official penalties for the person driving the car whose vehicle and actions had just resulted in the death of another human being.

      Parenthetically, I find it not amusing but concerning how quickly you appear to dismiss the possibility that the driver may have been following (or passing) too closely, when by some standards this would seem pretty plausible given the outcome. The Dutch legal system, as explained here on this blog, would also appear to start from this assumption.

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      • 9watts April 9, 2012 at 9:21 am

        Correction: Karl Moritz was seriously injured when a car ran over him in Ladd’s Addition.

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      • wsbob April 9, 2012 at 11:02 am

        “…the possibility that the driver may have been following (or passing) too closely …” 9watts

        By all accounts, though he did approach Bersani from behind, Ford in his pickup was not following Bersani on his bike. Ford was driving on the main travel lane while Bersani was apparently riding along the shoulder until at some point in front of Ford, he turned into the main travel lane from the roads’ shoulder.

        Related to the collision involving Karl Moritz, here’s a link to a lengthy, detailed recollection of that collision in Karl Moritz own words after he’d recovered somewhat from the collision. Readers may want to study it to consider how that collision may bear some comparison to the collision involving Bersani and Ford out on 99W.


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    • are April 9, 2012 at 10:57 am

      au contraire, or however you spell that, i think if an overtaking motorist kills a bicyclist you can say with near certainty the motorist was passing too close. you might say, well, what if the cyclist was way over there and then suddenly veered way over here. and the answer is, if the motorist was unprepared for such an eventuality, he was passing too close.

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      • 9watts August 3, 2012 at 9:24 am

        Anyone close to this situation able to give an update? I’d be curious to hear what came of the investigation, which several posters here expected to yield more insights, and possibly a different outcome than what was suggested by the exonerating statements made at the time.

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  • 9watts September 28, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    bump to top.

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    • 9watts August 20, 2014 at 8:31 pm

      another bump.

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      • 9watts September 29, 2015 at 5:47 pm

        bump, again

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