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

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.

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