Monday, March 10, 2008

Drowsiness at the wheel is just as bad as being drunk... my opinion.

I've got an update for the accident that happened over the weekend. It appears the officer had fallen asleep when he veered over to the other lane that the cyclists were in. Ugh, it just makes me sick to my stomach. I want to cry in frustration.

But what are the implications for falling asleep and killing people vs. being drunk and killing people? Obviously very different ones. Being that I don't have a law degree, I don't know the extent of this answer. I don't have the time to do research on how the percentage of sleep-related accidents compare to drunk-related accidents; still though, I do think we all, as licensed drivers, have just as much responsibility to not drive when sleepy as we do to not drive when drunk. Being exhausted/tired is truly just as limiting as being drunk - I have been that tired and trying to drive was one of the hardest things I'd ever done. I vowed never to have to do that again (as I pulled over and took a 20 minute nap - seriously). If you've drank too much, you find a way to get home without having to use the car. But what about if it's gotten too late? We don't have that same urgency because it's not against the law.

Anyway, I'm just really angry and upset. Here's the update from SF Gate:

(03-10) 14:34 PDT CUPERTINO -- A man who was riding behind two cyclists who were struck and killed by a Santa Clara County sheriff's deputy on a winding road in Cupertino said in an interview today that the deputy told him in the minutes after the collision that he had fallen asleep at the wheel.

"The policeman said he dozed off. He just didn't know what happened," said Daniel Brasse, 41, of San Mateo, who came upon the accident seconds after it happened at 10:25 a.m. Sunday on Stevens Canyon Road in Cupertino.

Another man who came upon the accident shortly after it happened said he had heard the distraught deputy say, "My life is over."

The sheriff's department identified the deputy today as 27-year-old James Council, who was hired 18 months ago. The city of Cupertino contracts with the sheriff's department for police services.

Council was working patrol when he crossed onto the wrong side of Stevens Canyon Road and rammed three southbound bicyclists head-on, authorities said.

The crash killed bicyclists Kristy Gough, 30, of San Leandro and Matt Peterson, 29, of San Francisco. The third cyclist, 20-year-old Christopher Knapp of Germany, was hospitalized at Stanford University Medical Center, where his condition was upgraded this morning from critical to stable.

The three victims and Brasse were among about a dozen people riding with a San Mateo-based racing team called Third Pillar. The group had started its ride at Highway 92 and CaƱada Road west of San Mateo and had been heading toward Stevens Creek Reservoir when the crash happened, Brasse said.

Gough, Peterson and Knapp were in a lead group of cyclists, and Brasse was riding about 10 to 20 seconds behind, he said.

"They took the right turn before me, and as I came around I heard the screams, the pain and everything," Brasse said. "I looked at Matt and I knew he was dead. When I got with Kristy I stayed with her the whole time."

Brasse said Gough's left foot had been severed and her breathing was fluctuating, but she was conscious. He urged her on, saying, "Kristy, baby, keep breathing, keep breathing."

Conditions had been perfect on the winding, two-lane road, Brasse said. "There couldn't have been a better day to ride."

He added, "There were no skid marks, not that I could see. There was just debris from our sunglasses and bike pieces all over."

Paramedics at scene told him the deputy's Ford Crown Victoria cruiser appeared to have been going about 40 mph, Brasse said. The speed limit on that section of road is 30 mph.

A second man, a chiropractor who said he drove up to the scene of the accident, also said he had heard the deputy admit he had nodded off.

"I said, 'What happened?' " said Bryce Renshaw, a San Jose chiropractor. "He said, 'I fell asleep at the wheel.' "

Renshaw said he heard the deputy say, "My life is over," and, "My career is over," and, "I need to help."

"He was kind of rambling," Renshaw said.

Soon, a sheriff's deputy arrived who, according to Renshaw, told Council to stop talking.

Council started his shift at 6 a.m. Sunday and was scheduled to work until 6:30 p.m., said sheriff's Sgt. Don Morrissey, a spokesman for the department. Council is on paid administrative leave while the California Highway Patrol investigates the crash.

The sponsor of Team Pillar, Jon Orban, said today, "If somebody is just starting their shift, why is he falling at 10:30 in the morning? In all this, that's the question to me."

CHP Officer Todd Thibodeau said he did not know whether drug and alcohol tests had been conducted on Council after the crash. He said the investigation was likely to take 30 to 60 days, after which the findings will be turned over to the Santa Clara County district attorney for possible charges.

Gough was a professional triathlete who recently took up road racing and who friends said won every race she entered this year. She and Peterson, also an amateur road racing cyclist, both won their divisions in a March 1 road racing event in downtown Merced.


Sarah said...

This is an incredibly sad story.

Fritz said...

It's a tragedy for all involved. I have several friends who were riding Sunday in that area and I wondered if it was anyone I knew. I don't believe I've met any of the cyclists involved but it's still heart sickening to hear of the fatalities and serious injuries of fellow athletes like this.