While the driver rests in her smashed SUV, Gulf Stream police and Delray Beach paramedics attend to the injured bicyclists at the crash scene along State Road A1A in Gulf Stream. Photo provided by Gulf Stream Police Department
SUV rams pack of cyclists; biking community rallies on behalf of the injured
By Anne Geggis
With his 25 years in law enforcement, 11 of them on State Road A1A, no other bicycle crash scene that Gulf Stream Police Chief Richard Jones has ever come across matched what he saw in the predawn light of Jan. 4.
Minutes earlier a southbound SUV driven by a 77-year-old Lantana woman had crossed the center line and knocked into a pack of northbound cyclists like a bowling ball knocking down pins.
Jones was coming from the north but had to get to the south end of the crash to block traffic.
“That’s when I noticed parts of the bicycles and the car, bicycle headlamps, tail lamps, and everything just scattered all over,” he said. “And obviously I saw people.”
He caught sight of an off-duty lifeguard working on one of the victims and Jones, a trained paramedic, jumped out to help.
The situation was dire.
The way he was breathing, Jones said, “I can tell you he was not sustaining life sufficiently.”
Five cycles of chest-pumping and breathing ensued, he said.
“The two of us did CPR until we were able to obtain a pulse for the individual and then shortly after that, fire rescue took over,” Jones said.
Six cyclists in the pack of eight were taken to the hospital from the chaotic scene, with the revived cyclist transported by Palm Beach County’s Trauma Hawk air ambulance, while a seventh cyclist suffered minor cuts. The driver of the subcompact Kia Soul SUV was also taken to the hospital. The cyclists were part of Galera do Pedal — Portuguese for Pedal Guys — with about 300 members from West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale, mostly of Brazilian heritage.
Caught on video
The moment that triggered it all was captured on a camera clipped onto one of the bikes.
As real-life video footage goes, it doesn’t get more dramatic than that 90-second clip.
The cyclists are seen pedaling along, two by two on the road, with no time to get out of the way when the SUV came hurtling toward them, seemingly out of nowhere.
It happened on a stretch of A1A alongside the Gulf Stream Golf Club course, where there are only a few inches of crumbling shoulder pavement outside of the travel lanes.
The patient on whom Jones performed CPR was the last to remain hospitalized. He was at Delray Medical Center as of Jan. 30, according to fellow bicycle club members; his wife, the mother of three young children, was also among the victims and had been placed in an induced coma following the crash. She has since been released from the hospital.
Another cyclist was released Jan. 28, club members said. He endured a dislocated shoulder, broken femur, shattered pelvis, cuts requiring 20 stitches and a blood clot on his brain.
As of Jan. 30, there was no publicly released report from the Florida Highway Patrol about why the collision occurred or the filing of any charges.
Two days after a 77-year-old driver plowed into a group of eight bicyclists, hundreds gathered at the site along State Road A1A in Gulf Stream in a show of support and to voice concerns about the road’s dangers. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
A call for safer roads
Even though nobody died as 11 others did in bike crashes on Palm Beach County roads in 2023, the sheer number of casualties along a road that attracts sightseers from all over the world brought new visibility to the tight space shared by motorists, cyclists, runners and walkers along A1A and other area roads.
Cyclists and area leaders alike are hoping that the attention from the crash can create new momentum for a cause that has run into dead ends before: Make A1A safer for cyclists, motorists and pedestrians alike.
“We’re out there and we have every right to the road,” Dr. Michael Kasper told the Delray Beach City Commission on Jan. 16, calling himself “one of those crazy cyclists you hear your constituents talking about.”
Jones sees pressure between motorists and cyclists growing as cycling becomes more and more popular. He said there’s a need for more education on both sides, although he’s cited more cyclists than motorists for road rule infractions.
“The whole process from start to finish — driver education and testing, information campaigns — needs more emphasis on sharing-the-road responsibilities,” Jones said.
More than education, though, cyclists are pressing for changes to the road to make it safer for them. Previous attempts — particularly along the 2-mile stretch of Gulf Stream — have failed.
Towns have resisted state efforts to widen the road or add bicycle lanes, citing the unwanted, potential intrusion the lanes would present to private property and — in Gulf Stream — the cherished Australian pines that line the road and enjoy protected status.
Still, the accident galvanized the creation of the Florida Share the Road Coalition. Its stated goal is to make A1A safer while preserving the road’s beauty.
Coalition members went to commission meetings in Gulf Stream and Delray Beach in January to make their case. They say they’ve also met one-on-one with candidates or law enforcement in those municipalities as well as in Boca Raton and Hillsboro Beach. Next, they are angling for meetings with state Department of Transportation officials.
Jordana Lyra, wearing a sling from an injury she received in the Jan. 4 incident, hugs one of the other victims who wished to remain unnamed. Another of the riders in the pack was Bruno Ramos, in blue shirt to the left of Lyra. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
Even before the day of the crash ended, Delray Beach Mayor Shelly Petrolia promised to fast-track the A1A improvements that are part of a $100 million plan to make Delray roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
“That’s an area that we should focus on as one of the places that we can make safer,” she said. “... The bike traffic isn’t going anywhere.”
The Saturday following the crash, more than 400 cyclists gathered at the site, showing just how correct Petrolia was. Many of them said they could see themselves in that crash.
“I’ve come close to being hit — it seems like motorists have a disassociation with cyclists as human beings,” said Robert Segall, 32, a Delray Beach lawyer who belongs to the Alpha Cycling Club.
Some of them felt compelled to come out in solidarity with the fallen cyclists after witnessing or hearing of the crash’s aftermath.
“We were terrified — it was the most horrific scene I’ve ever seen,” said Jeanine Seeger, 45, of Boynton Beach.
Motorist inattention and outright hostility point to an urgent need, she said.
“We’ve been trying for years to get safer roads,” Seeger said.
Drivers should not view cyclists as just nuisances, said Ross Dubin of Boynton Beach, 53, who has been riding up and down A1A for 15 years.
“When you hit us, most of the time, we die — we are human,” he said. “We pay taxes. We have children.”
From the dais Jan. 16, Delray Beach Commissioner Rob Long, citing the “utterly terrifying” video shot on a stretch of road that he has often pedaled along, said the time has come to address the hazardous conditions. He said he’s not ready to give up on trying to make bike lanes along A1A.
“I think that there are real efforts that we can make through lobbying and advocacy and maybe it’s pressuring the Department of Transportation or the town of Gulf Stream,” Long said. “This has gone on too long.”
To the north of Delray Beach, though, resistance to widening A1A is strong.
Cyclists came to the Jan. 12 Gulf Stream Town Commission meeting a week after the crash. It was at the very same meeting that the town approved rules further protecting the
Australian pines that form a canopy over Gulf Stream’s stretch of A1A.
“Since last year, I’ve been riding my bike for 10,000 miles which is more than I drive my car,” said Jeramy Pritchett, 51, of Deerfield Beach, who started a 100-member club,
NrChild Cycling Club. “There are few places that compare to the place you call home. Please help us make it safer.”
Mayor Scott Morgan, however, told the group that the idea of widening the road is a nonstarter. And the town wouldn’t have anything to say about it either because the state has authority over A1A. However, past proposals by the state to widen the road have met with opposition from the town.
Cameron Oster, 37, of Boca Raton and 3R Cycling Experience, which hosts cycling events, also spoke at the Gulf Stream meeting. He asked for bicycling sharrows — symbols on the pavement that indicate to motorists that they should expect to share the road.
Morgan also has more education in mind.
“We really need to promote single-file cycling through the town of Gulf Stream,” he said.
Pritchett said he tried to end the meeting on a positive note but believes that Gulf Stream officials are misinformed about the rules of the road.
“It’s going to take a while to help people understand what’s really going on,” Pritchett said.