Cyclist Says He Couldn't Avoid Elderly Woman in Fatal Collision

The bicyclist who ran into 92-year-old Mary Jean Smith as she was crossing Arlington Boulevard late Wednesday afternoon said he couldn't avoid the fatal collision when she began running at the last moment. "It's so terrible," he said.

This story was updated June 7, 9 p.m.

The El Cerrito bicyclist involved in the , 92, as she crossed Arlington Boulevard said in an interview that he couldn't avoid the collision.

Douglas Herring, 57, told Patch this afternoon, Thursday, that he had just descended the hilly portion of the Arlington going north and was heading toward the curve where it intersects with Brewster Drive when he saw Smith beginning to walk across the street from the opposite side.

"I was coming down the hill, and I had some good speed, but I was slowing down for the curve," he said.

"I yelled, 'Wait!'" he said. "I remember yelling three times."

"I screamed basically, 'Wait! Wait!'" he said.

Smith, who was using walking sticks, hesitated at first and then continued walking and then began to run, said Herring, an environmental and planning consultant. He said she couldn't run fast due to her age but that the last-minute change in her movement prevented him from avoiding the collision.

She was wearing hearing aids that were functional at the time, according to El Cerrito police. 

Herring's voice broke with emotion as he described the tragic collision, which occurred where Brewster enters Arlington, about 40 feet north of a marked crosswalk. Smith was not using the crosswalk, and Herring was in the bike lane, police said. (Brewster intersects with Arlington at two places – one near Madera Elementary School and the other near Arlington Park where the accident occurred.)

"She started running and she ran right into me," he said. "If she had continued walking, I could have cut hard right. I would have wiped out, but I wouldn't have hit her."

"I plowed right into her," he said.

El Cerrito police Sgt. Shawn Maples said Herring's bike left a skid mark about a yard long before the place of impact.

Herring said he had been trying earlier today to find out the woman's condition. He did not know that she had died until he was contacted by Patch.

"It's so terrible," he said as his voice choked up.

Herring recalled being distressed about the "man who was killed in San Francisco by a biker." Bicyclist Chris Bucchere fatally struck 71-year-old Sutchi Hui in a crosswalk at Market and Castro streets on March 29.

Smith was taken by ambulance to Cerrito Vista Park and airlifted by medical helicopter in "extremely critical" condition with severe head trauma to John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, El Cerrito Police Chief Sylvia Moir said. She was pronounced dead about 11:40 last night, according to the Contra Costa County coroner's bureau.

Herring said he landed on his back, "flooded with pain," and was helped to his feet by a passerby. He was taken by ambulance to the Kaiser Medical Center in Richmond, where he was treated and released last night. He said he remains in movement-limiting pain with a sprained back and sprained hip but no broken bones.

Smith, who lived in the neighborhood for more than 45 years, regularly took walks in the late afternoon or early evening. She was active and took care of her own home, inside and out, her daughter Cindy Scott, told KCBS. At age 90, she was rappelling in the Sierra Nevada, Scott told CBS 5.

Her mother was also known as "the friendly lady" among the youth group at her Mormon church, the daughter said.

Herring echoed a opinion shared by many in the neighborhood that the spot where the collision occurred is hazardous.

"It's a bad location," he said, adding that he keeps a careful watch for cars in both directions whenever he walks across Arlington at that spot.

Police expect to wrap up their investigation of the Arlington collision "in the next day or so," including any finding of fault, Maples said.

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Dave B June 09, 2012 at 10:01 PM
Drivers of cars have the responsibility to slow down to a point where they can control their vehicle when a pedestrian is in the street in front of them. Why not a bicyclist? Why is it okay for him to shout directions at her and believe that is sufficient? What if the pedestrian is deaf? Are they not allowed to cross the street safely?
shirley kirsten June 09, 2012 at 10:10 PM
When I walk, I am constantly checking for bicycles behind me.. And a few times I headed off a collision by being hyper-alert.
Belle Canto June 14, 2012 at 04:17 PM
May be two completely different things, but cyclist who killed 71 year old pedestrian in SF has been charged with manslaughter From SF chronicle this AM: A charge of felony vehicular manslaughter has been filed against Chris Bucchere, the bicyclist who fatally struck a 71-year-old pedestrian in the Castro back in March. Prosecutors concluded that Bucchere, 36, was grossly negligent in his riding before he ran into Sutchi Hui in a crosswalk at Market and Castro streets on March 29.
Jim July 12, 2012 at 12:29 AM
Expecting someone to follow your verbal commands as you come barreling down in their direction is ludicrous. The gut instinct of someone being yelled at, regardless of what is being said, is to take flight to safety, in this case it was the sidewalk. According to Douglas's own account, Jean started to run. Douglas must have been thinking he could sweep between her and the side walk, but that cut off her path to safety... Jean must have been only inches from the sidewalk as her head lay next to the gutter and the markings on the street showed Douglas's bike spanning the street and the Curb. The only problem was there were some low bushes preventing Jean's direct access to the sidewalk. Doug, maybe it's time to hang up your bike.
Jim July 12, 2012 at 12:36 AM
I'm a cyclist myself I know the temptation to carry my speed. You can't feed in more dead dinosaurs to get you up the hill, you got to do the work. Realize that Douglas was only a couple blocks from his house, on his way home and probably feeling good about his workout. The corner at the bottom of the park is likely a very familiar turn, so he was probably attempting carrying as much speed as possible to avoid having to peddle up the other side of the park. Someone crossing the street always has the right of way regardless of crosswalks or not... You always have to yield to a pedestrian. It's also the responsibility of the cyclist or motorist to never over-run your line of sight, so seeing the pedestrian should not have been an issue. he police account said there was a clear line of site for 400 feet or more. 400 feet is enough to land a Cessna in. Clearly this is enough space to yield to a pedestrian.


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