“The truck had zero time to slow or skid. It took him by surprise given the visibility of the blind intersection.”
— Dave Morgan, witness
Terrible sight lines and a steep descent were the recipe for tragedy in the midnight hour early Monday morning when a bicycle and truck operator collided in the intersection of Southwest Vista and Park.
According to Dave Morgan, a man who saw the crash take place, there were two riders coming down the hill on Park. He watched the driver of a white full-sized pickup truck with a canopy on it rumble by. Morgan responded and tried to save the fallen rider (whose name hasn’t been released by authorities), but unfortunately he died at a hospital a few hours later.
From what Morgan has learned, it appears both parties in the collision assumed the intersection would be clear. The truck driver (going south on Vista) had a green light and Morgan said it didn’t appear he was speeding (he confirmed the signal phase with the friend of the fallen rider). Morgan told me he felt the truck driver had no time to hit the brakes until after the collision (more on that below). He also confirmed that both riders had headlights on their bikes, a fact that contradicts what police reported in their official statement. (The victim’s headlight was far away from his bike and still flickering when Morgan found it.) Morgan said it was a “dim, crappy light, but it was still a light”.
One thing I can’t stop thinking about with this crash is the huge retaining wall that leads up to the intersection (pictured). It almost entirely blocks the view of someone going south on Vista or east on Park.
“The truck had zero time to slow or skid,” Morgan shared with me yesterday. “It took him by surprise given the visibility of the blind intersection.”
The other aspect of this fatality worth noting is the speed limit on SW Vista. It’s currently posted as 25 mph and the police estimate the truck driver was going 25 to 30 mph (well within the 9-12 mph padding police routinely give before issuing a citation).
On October 26th, 2019, local lawyer and transportation activist Scott Kocher flagged this exact section of SW Vista in an email to the Portland Bureau of Transportation. He included it in a list of three other streets he says are, “non-arterial streets in residence districts that are incorrectly posted with 25 MPH signs.” You’ll recall Kocher has taken up a personal crusade to help PBOT implement their 20 mph residential speed limit ordinance more quickly.
Transportation Chair of the Southwest Hills Residential League Neighborhood Association Lisa Caballero also thinks the speed should be lowered here. “That whole stretch, from Burnside to the Vista Bridge should be posted 20 mph, it’s not possible to justify cars traveling at 25 mph,” she shared with me via email earlier today. “You’ve got the gardens to the west; Civic Stadium and Lincoln High to the east; bus stops; high density apartments and condos; a grocery store at bottom; obstructed site lines.” Caballero added, “the area has tempting thrills for some cyclists and skateboarders,” which adds to her concerns.
Kocher says PBOT heard these concerns and SW Vista is currently in the queue of streets to receive a new 20 mph speed limit sign.
Street signs are probably the last thing on the mind of the victim’s family and Mr. Morgan, who remains shaken by the experience. He’s spoken to the victim’s family who visited the site Wednesday night. He also recovered a piece of the truck’s bumper:
“I saved a large chunk of the truck that hit him, a broken grill, as a souvenir, in hopes to give to the guy if I got the chance to see him in better shape. Sad I won’t be able to do that. I gave it to his cousin last night. There was so much pain and anger in his eyes when he held it, and so thus he returned it to me. Considering the painful reaction, I doubt such a thing belongs at the memorial. Not sure if I should throw the chunk in the garbage or not, but I would like to be rid of it. It’s sitting in the back of my own pickup truck reminding me of optimism turned bitter, and that awful night. A pitiful attempt to help save someone and utterly failing, so I saved something. I look at it and feel worthless, useless, and angry.”
May the rider rest in peace and all victims of this tragic collision find healing as time passes.
UPDATE, 2/22: The PPB have released the name. The bicycle rider was 37-year-old Jerry M. Stites III.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and email@example.com
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