Portlanders killed while biking in Napa, California

A Portland couple were hit and killed Tuesday while biking on a rural road in Napa, California.

52-year-old Christian Deaton and 48-year-old Michelle Deaton were avid bike riders and travelers. They were visiting Napa County’s wine country and were riding on Silverado Trail when a truck driver attempted to pass them. Law enforcement officials say the driver’s load of lumber shifted just as he passed the Deatons and a piece of wood hit both of them. Christian died at the scene and Michelle died shortly after at the hospital.

Silverado Trail has two general purpose lanes and is striped with unprotected bike lanes. The speed limit near the location of the collision is 55 mph. It’s considered a safer, less-trafficked alternative to nearby Highway 29.

It’s unclear whether police will hold the driver accountable for breaking any traffic laws. In California, all vehicle operators must secure their loads. Failure to do so can result in a citation. And the state’s safe passing law requires motor vehicle operators to give bicycle riders at least three feet when they pass.

“According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, at 55 miles per hour, an object weighing just 20 pounds that falls from a vehicle strikes with an impact of half a ton,” states a press release from the California Office of Traffic Safety.

Both victims were employees of Nike. Christian raced several times at Oregon Bicycle Racing Association events, including the Monday night series at Portland International Raceway. A source who knew Christian said he rode with him on Nike’s ‘Windjammers’ cycling club.

“This enormous, preventable loss is sitting heavy in our hearts and minds, as we know it is for those who ride locally and work toward safer streets,” reads a statement from the Napa County Bicycle County Bicycle Coalition. “Living here, riding here, and visiting here should be safe for all road users, and we are incredibly saddened that the Deatons were not kept safe.”

If anyone knew the Deatons and wants to share more about them, feel free to do so in the comments below or get in touch and I will add your remembrance to the story.

***Update October 20, 2023: This morning, BikePortland spoke with a witness to the crash who has posted several comments under this article. Laura Ray told BikePortland that she was traveling south on Silverado Trail and that the crash occurred in the northbound lane. Laura wasn’t able to directly see the impact, but she pulled over and rushed to the aid of the Deatons. Three or four other people also stopped, and a couple of men in two trucks directed traffic and used their vehicles to protect the site. Laura took a number of photos of the site.

She said that a witness was driving northbound, in back of the crash, and that he was the first to call 911. He was freaked out, as was everybody, and he spent most of the time on the phone. She thought she heard him say that there was wood hanging off the back of the truck.

Laura was distressed that it took so long for the emergency response to arrive–15 minutes, she thought–which didn’t make sense to her because there is a hospital nearby. When the police arrived she was surprised that they did not collect information from the witnesses, and that they seemed more concerned with clearing everyone away. (An investigator contacted BikePortland early yesterday evening.)

The driver of the truck which allegedly struck the Deatons stopped, but very far from the location of the crash, Laura thought about a quarter mile past the crash. He did not approach the crash location.

Laura said that Silverado Trail is a dangerous road, particularly this time of year, during harvest season, and also with wine-lovers visiting the area’s vineyards. She mentioned that the area was building a protected path, with no cars allowed, which would run to Calistoga.

***

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Walter Bremer
Walter Bremer
7 months ago

The Eagle Cycling Club of Napa Valley offered a moment of silence before our regular Wednesday Morning Ride to honor our visiting cyclists. We ride Silverado Trail quite often and know well the dangers of this route. Our thoughts are with you all in the Portland cycling community.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor

The post has been updated with Laura Ray’s account, (9:24 AM, Oct. 20)

Chris I
Chris I
7 months ago

This is horrible. We have family in Napa and I’ve ridden Silverado many times. We were always wary of the wine drunks later in the day, and most riders tackled the road early in the day to avoid this. This is not the primary highway, so there isn’t a lot of truck traffic and you wouldn’t expect something like a lumber truck. Hopefully they prosecute the driver, because it was likely some combination of unsecured load and an aggressive maneuver that let it loose.

Laura Ray
Laura Ray
7 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

There absolutely is a lot of truck traffic on this road every day. I live here. I witnessed this horrific accident.

Chris I
Chris I
7 months ago
Reply to  Laura Ray

Do you mind sharing what the driver did? Were they swerving or making some sort of aggressive maneuver, causing the load to shift? Or was the load improperly secured such that it was hanging off the right side?

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  Chris I

Chris, I will try to contact Laura later this morning and will update the story with any relevant information.

Laura Ray
Laura Ray
7 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

I was heading south and they were going north. I saw them get hit but I didn’t see how. The truck that was behind them saw it but I didn’t really get to talk to him because he was freaking out on 911 and we were all freaking out.

dan
dan
7 months ago
Reply to  Laura Ray

I’m so sorry you had to witness that, it must have been very upsetting. Apparently there have been studies that show that playing Tetris after a traumatic experience can reduce PTSD (https://www.healio.com/news/psychiatry/20230613/playing-tetris-may-prevent-ptsd-after-traumatic-event), might be worth a try.

surly ogre
surly ogre
7 months ago

“Law enforcement officials say the driver’s load of lumber shifted just as he passed the Deatons and a piece of wood hit both of them.”
What?!?!
this is sort of ridiculous and not believable –
a piece of wood? like a tree trunk?
just as he passed…. ?!?!
no. just no.
don’t piss on me and tell me it’s raining.
I am just so saddened by this and so unimpressed with law enforcement.
I don’t even want to be awake and reading this shit.
JFC this makes me so GD angry
I am so sorry Christian and Michelle. I am crying for you and all other people riding bicycles who get killed by dipshit drivers.

Dave
Dave
7 months ago

What a tragic loss for Michelle and Christian’s families and communities. I was fortunate to get to know Christian during the few years I spent working at Nike. He was part of a tight-knit community of passionate cyclists employed there. Christian was one of the most kind and welcoming humans I’ve encountered, and someone who loved being on the bike.

I’m struggling for more words to say. Rest easy Michelle and Christian.

EP
EP
7 months ago

Wow, this is tragic. NBC Bay Area news says it was a larger box-truck/moving van size flatbed truck. Also appears to be on a straightaway, what could’ve caused the load to shift?

“A preliminary investigation by the California Highway Patrol determined the two bicyclists were traveling north on the thoroughfare when a load of lumber on a three-axle 2018 Freightliner flatbed truck also going north shifted and struck the pair, CHP Officer Vince Pompliano said.”

https://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/north-bay/cyclists-hit-killed-napa-county-identified/3345814/?amp=1

IMG_8546.jpeg
dan
dan
7 months ago
Reply to  EP

It really strains credulity that that the load shifted at the exact instant he passed them. Much more likely he was driving down the road with a piece of lumber sticking off the side of his truck.

Laura Ray
Laura Ray
7 months ago
Reply to  dan

Exactly. I wasn’t behind the truck to know but it doesn’t make any sense for the wood to be hanging off like that. And they keep saying in reports the driver stayed at the scene. While he did stop a quarter mile up he never got out to check them. He just sat in his truck for 15 minutes before police showed up. It was way. Way. Way. Too long for first responders to show up.

esther
esther
7 months ago
Reply to  EP

If you look at some drone footage available on line there is one piece of wood on the truck, looks like maybe a 4×6. there is no wood at the crash site. this explanation makes no sense.

Fred
Fred
7 months ago

I’ll bet the driver gets a citation for failure to secure the load, and nothing more.

But maybe the driver is subject to a civil suit, which could bring a financial settlement if the family can afford to hire a good lawyer.

The larger question is what local gov’t will do to make that stretch of road safer for cyclists.

So sorry to all who are feeling loss today.

Dennis Lewis
Dennis Lewis
7 months ago

Raw video: Scene of fatal crash on Silverado Trail in Napa County – YouTube

The above link is a raw video of the scene. What bothers me about this is as a CDL driver for 40 years in heavy haul and a bike rider I have serious questions about what is in the video. The truck is a good 1/4 mile away from the accident. There is no lumber on the side of the road and only one piece is strapped down on the truck. From other reports that is the piece of lumber that hit the cyclist. The way it is strapped down is incorrect for one piece, just the vibrations of driving will cause the board to shift and slip out of the strap. The correct way is to belly rap the board to keep from shifting. Why is it restrapped incorrectly again before CHP arived? Why is he so far down the road? I can only speculate the answers….

I have always slowed or move over for cyclist and I always look back to see if everything is ok with the pass.

Rest In Peace.

Fred
Fred
7 months ago
Reply to  Dennis Lewis

An incorrect practice in the workplace = the death of two cyclists.

Any assets that belonged to the driver and the company should now belong to the families of the cyclists.

AV
AV
7 months ago

A friend of mine was one of the first responders called to the scene. I now understand the cause of the freak accident which could not have been avoided by the cyclists. Because this is still an ongoing investigation I do not know that this information can be shared to the public. May Christian and Michelle rest in paradise.

Dave Fronk
Dave Fronk
7 months ago

It’s unclear whether police will hold the driver accountable for breaking any traffic laws

What a loaded way to phrase that.

Perhaps the police can first determine if the driver broke any traffic laws. Although “innocent until proven guilty” is not a concept that most BikePortland contributors subscribe to….

Matt
Matt
7 months ago
Reply to  Dave Fronk

No, but “not making sweeping, libelous generalizations about other people” is evidently not a concept that Dave Fronk personally subscribes to, dot dot dot.

Jessica P
Jessica P
7 months ago

My husband was one of Michelle’s closets friends growing up in Wisconsin. We are mourning the loss off Michelle and Christian greatly. Luckily my husband and I and his parents were able to see Michelle and spend an evening together this past spring.
We are having so much trouble trying to put together how this could have happened. Of all the adventures they’ve had, this is how we loose them? At least they were together doing something they truly loved. We know that Christian passed on the scene, but can anyone that was with them at the scene of the accident tell us if Michelle knew what was happening? I pray to God that she did not. If anyone has any information for the families here in Wisconsin, it would be greatly appreciated. I will be in direct contact with Michelle’s father and brother in the upcoming days.

Rest in peace Michelle and Christian. You will both be greatly missed. ❤️

Kyle Banerjee
7 months ago

This is truly a tragedy. Even in an ideal world where the driver is held accountable, there’s no such thing as justice in a case like this.

Like others here, I find the idea that the load just happened to shift when passing highly unlikely. The quarter mile stopping distance doesn’t seem excessive as the driver needed time to recognize what happened, respond, and stop the truck.

Protruding loads are not uncommon even when there is no shifting for stuff like roofing trusses. People towing trailers wider than their vehicles who don’t account for the extra width when passing are another major threat. As a practical matter, the only things that can mitigate these threats are driver attention, proper enforcement, and cyclist awareness, so I would expect little in terms of safety improvements. Though more signage to remind motorists about why protruding or improperly secured loads are so dangerous might help some.

Matt
Matt
7 months ago
Reply to  Kyle Banerjee

Though more signage to remind motorists about why protruding or improperly secured loads are so dangerous might help some.

People don’t read signs. It’s a jungle out there.

qqq
qqq
7 months ago
Reply to  Kyle Banerjee

As a practical matter, the only things that can mitigate these threats are driver attention, proper enforcement, and cyclist awareness,

Infrastructure can also mitigate them. The article mentions that this area is building a protected path with no cars allowed, for example. Even without doing that, wider unprotected bike lanes could make a difference. They look pretty wide in this case (in the article’s photo) but many similar roads have much narrower ones. And usable riding space is often constricted or eliminated by poor repaving (not repaving to the edge) and poor maintenance (gravel, leaves, overgrowth…).