How?

An image of U.S. 95 lifted from Google Maps.
Not exactly the Highway to Hell, is it? But it was on Thursday.

I hate flying. Not because it scares me, but because it annoys me. Maybe I was a steer in a feedlot during some previous life, plodding toward my next incarnation as a series of fast-food meals.

“Moo … mooooo … moo?”

Anyway, if the trip is under 2,000 miles and doesn’t cross a body of water with the word “ocean” attached, I drive. Air Subaru, baby. The flight leaves whenever, I can bring my own eats aboard, and all the mechanicals occur at ground level.

Interbike in Las Vegas was an easy drive from Bibleburg. Even more so from the Duke City. Early on I developed the habit of taking the scenic route through Flagstaff, Kingman, Bullhead City-Laughlin, and Searchlight. I was never in a hurry, and I liked having a touch of the desert and its sharktooth mountains before descending into the neon canyons of Sin City.

So I know U.S. Highway 95 pretty well for a tourist.

Headed home from Interbike 2015 on U.S. Highway 95.

Barring the speed limit (75 mph, except in Searchlight, a notorious speed trap) it seems one of the safest highways you could ride on a bicycle, especially if you had a bunch of colorfully clad companions and a support vehicle. Smooth pavement, wide shoulders, and incredible visibility. A long sightline. You can see company coming a long way off.

So how does a box truck drive into an organized ride like this?

From The New York Times:

The Highway Patrol said investigators did not know why the truck had plowed into the group but said the driver had left the roadway, hit the group from behind and then struck a Subaru hatchback that was accompanying the cyclists and another group of cyclists that was in front of the Subaru.

Off the top of my head I can think of just three ways a thing like this happens. One, the driver was impaired, which doesn’t seem to be the case here. Two, the vehicle had some sort of catastrophic mechanical failure. Three, dude was dicking around with something — his phone, his infotainment system, a Thermos full of java, whatever — instead of managing his vehicle and keeping his eyes on the road.

Being a cynic, I’m inclined to Door No. 3. Let’s add speeding to our list of options, because during my trips back and forth on U.S. 95 I was pretty much the only motorist doing the speed limit. Now that I think of it, the ever-popular pulling out to pass and whoops, big ol’ Buick Lardass dead ahead pulling back in might be another possibility, especially if mixed with speeding and a certain lack of focus.

We’ll learn more if the press keeps its eye on this thing, which it might, though the world is chock-full of tragedies at the moment. A former cop is involved here, which has to help, if anything can.

One thing we already know, and it applies to everything, not just cycling through the desert: Keep your eyes and ears open, regardless of where you are and what you’re doing, especially if you’re overly familiar with your surroundings. Familiarity breeds complacency, not just contempt.

And Satchel Paige notwithstanding, look over one shoulder occasionally. Something may be gaining on you.

The victims, from the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

• Michael Murray

• Gerrard Nieva

• Erin Ray

• Tom Trauger

• Aksoy Ahmet

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14 Responses to “How?”

  1. khal spencer Says:

    Jesus Fucking Christ. I agree its most likely Door 3.

    This….shit….must….stop.

    • khal spencer Says:

      Door 3 might include nodding off on one of those long, straight roads. Its a known hazard.Having done my share of long distance driving (330-850 miles in one swell foop) I can recall rolling down the windows, putting a tape in at full volume, and singing at the top of my lungs while driving across NYS or from Stony Brook out on Long Island out to my field area in Minnesota with a stopover at a friend’s house outside Chicago.

      Still, that’s no excuse.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        I don’t see the driver nodding off. This is early in the morning, just outside of Henderson; hang a right on 95 before Boulder City and head south. Driver had to be about as fresh as it gets for leaving Las Vegas. Could’ve been out of Boulder City, I suppose, but how weird can you get there?

        Who knows? Speculation seems as useless as the proverbial “thoughts and prayers.” We have a whole bunch of folks on the roads who for one reason or another are incapable of operating a motor vehicle, and I don’t know what to do about that short of summary execution to keep their genes out of our transportation pool.

  2. Pat O'Brien Says:

    I still bet cell phone including texting. And, when I was still riiding every bike I rode had a rear view mirror. Maybe, just maybe, they could have bailed out before being hit. Just a guess.

  3. Stan Thomas Says:

    Asleep at the wheel? I’d put that in the impaired category. Nodded off, left the road, woke up with a start and, shit, there’s a bunch of cyclists…

    When Iived in Canada I hung out with a bunch of truckers (long story) who had all kinds of ‘interesting’ pills they took to keep awake. ‘Speed’ was definitely be in there. But these guys drive ridiculous hours on long featureless highways; no surprise they doze off at the wheel. I assume there are laws but that doesn’t seem to stop them.

    • Shawn Says:

      I recall driving the Alcan back before Canada spent a lot of money to improve it before the 50th Anniversary (1992 I think it was), and a driver really had to watch out for long haul truckers coming up behind them. Because the road was relatively rough, most of the car / small truck drivers would go 50 to 55 mph but the truckers could go a little faster. It was very wise to pull over and let them go by and allow the dust to settle. The truckers weren’t reckless, they just knew the road better and weren’t as affected by the road conditions. But they likely also were driving straight through for many hours and many hundreds of miles. I know I typically did.

  4. Shawn Says:

    I was a bit conclusive last night regarding my post about the accident. I understand that there may have been another factor involved that caused the truck to veer out of the traffic lane, wind being one of them along with the other points (1 and 2) that you indicate. But I suspect as well that it was caused by driver inattention. It bothers me more because as has been said, visibility is great along that stretch of road* and it seems that it would be difficult to not see a slow vehicle and several cyclists along the shoulder ahead of you. Irrelevant now of the fault, 5 people killed and others in the hospital likely with life-long debilitating injuries isn’t going to change. Very sad.

    * When I first heard about the accident from Karen last night, I thought that it had occurred along Hwy 93 (aka: 11) up from the dam. I’ve driven the Searchlight to Vegas route once and you can see a long way ahead of you on that highway.

    The photos seem to indicate that there is no rumble strip along that section of highway. Interesting.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Yeah, I took 93 once, but decided I preferred the Laughlin Highway (163) and 95. You get to see some spectacular country that way, driving west out of Kingman through Golden Valley and over Union Pass. It likewise would make for good cycling, if you didn’t get picked off by someone who didn’t know how to corner (both Union Pass and the Laughlin Highway have some twists and turns, ups and downs).

      I always regret not having a shot at Christmas Tree Pass when I was still driving the 1998 Toyota Tacoma 4WD. That looks like a fun detour. Might even be doable on the fabled “gravel bike.”

      Here’s a shot of what I think is the Spirit Mountain Wilderness, circa 2017, from the rest area just north of the Laughlin Highway.

      Spirit Mountain Wilderness

  5. khal spencer Says:

    Speaking of near death experiences, a good friend of mine up in Colorado apparently barely fended off the Grim Reaper fighting a Covid infection. He is on blood thinners, hence no more mountain biking for us, and in rough shape.

    Be careful out there.

  6. Opus the Poet Says:

    Third option is the trucker was trying to “scare” the cyclists and misjudged the swerve and ended up sliding over into the victims, but Holy Hells how fast was he going to knock the Subie into the group ahead hard enough to send 2 more cyclists to the hospital? I call “excessive speed for conditions” to go along with that punishment pass.

    • Shawn Says:

      Throwing the physics into the matter it wouldn’t take too much of a speed difference for a truck that is four or five times or more the weight of the Subaru to push it forward quite a distance. Although I’d like to expand upon my thoughts but with respect to the horror of the victims I’ll leave my logical calculating mind at the front desk. Here’s to wishing all of us a safe weekend of riding, relaxing and appreciating the ones who like having us around.

  7. Herb from Michigan Says:

    Broke my “49er” rule yesterday (I don’t ride under that temperature) as it hit 48 and it’s rare to ride here in mid December without 20 layers. Rolling country road, putzing along on my Rivendell and hear huge roaring, rumbling truck braking and gearing down fast behind me. Oh shit! Gotta be a doubleheader gravel hauler. However dude pulls way out around me (thanks) in a common 2500 Chevy pickup. Louder than hell and as he hits the pedal going around me the thickest cloud of diesel smoke envelopes me (no thanks) to where I can’t see him as he pulls off down the road. And the roar was incredible. While I’m happy he gave me some space it’s bizarre why he’d want a smelly, noisy truck like that. I know POG….Little Dick Syndrome.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      It was 40° and cloudy today (Saturday), so I got out on the old DBR ti’ mountain bike for an hour of road and trail.

      I must be feelin’ me years. I was compelled to wear wool socks, bib shorts and tights, two long-sleeved jerseys with long-sleeved Patagucci undershirt, a tuque and cap, winter gloves, and Gore-Tex shoes. In me cyclocrossin’ days it would’ve been reg’lar cycling socks, knickers, one long-sleeve with undershirt, a kerchief, lightweight full-fingered gloves, and my trusty Sidi ground-pounders. Woe, etc.

      Glad to hear you didn’t hurt that coal-rollin’ Chevy.

  8. How? Revisited | Mad Blog Media Says:

    […] driver of a box truck that careened into a group ride in Nevada last week has been charged with five counts of DUI resulting in death, according to the […]

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