The bad news came just 20 minutes after a group of bike riders left Steven’s Bicycles shop in Clovis on Tuesday night. The ride leader phoned the president of the Fresno Cycling Club to say three cyclists had been struck by a motorist.
Club president Dennis Ball feared the worst.
Lou Major, 43, Kevin Emerzian, 57, and Richard Gabel, 36, all of Fresno, had suffered major injuries and were taken to Community Regional Medical Center. Clovis resident Patrick Holmes, 63, is accused of driving his Harley-Davidson motorcycle into the pack of cyclists along northbound Auberry Road, striking three riding in the front. Holmes now faces two felony charges for that accident, according to jail records.
On Wednesday, Community Medical Centers spokeswoman Mary Lisa Russell said Majors and Emerzian were in serious condition and Gable was in fair condition.
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The California Highway Patrol said Holmes was under the influence of alcohol when he lost control of his motorcycle and allegedly hit the bicyclists from behind as they rode on the right shoulder north of Copper Avenue. Holmes and the three cyclists were all thrown from their bikes.
The club’s group of about 15 or 20 cyclists were on a routine Tuesday night recreational bike ride. It’s also training for some of the riders who compete in races, said Ball, who should have been on that ride. A change with his work schedule prevented him from riding.
He woke up Wednesday morning with a particular question in mind: How many accidents would it take for cyclists to get off the road? Ball said some cycling club members in the past have stopped riding their bikes due to road accidents involving vehicles. But many, he said, are still willing to hit the road despite the dangers.
When there’s an injury, “most of us, we try to get back on the bike as soon as we can,” Ball said. And he hopes that stays true for the three club riders who are in the hospital. They have been with the club for at least two years and also compete with different racing teams.
The path the riders were on Tuesday night is frequently traveled and tends to be one of the safer routes, Ball said. A bike lane is designated on the shoulders and continues up until Prather, he added. The group rides on a mix of city and county roads. Tuesday’s ride was one of the longer routes.
There were reports from riders that Holmes had been passing cars along Auberry Road before the crash that injured the men, Ball said. Holmes’ motorcycle appeared to have broken in half, and one part landed about 60 feet near a housing development west of the riders, he said.
Ball said the riders were wearing protective gear, like helmets. But that usually doesn’t protect them from danger. He said some riders in his club have gotten into accidents with vehicles in the past.
“Bicyclists are pretty vulnerable,” Ball said.
A University of California, Berkeley Transportation Injury Mapping System shows 18 bicycle collisions were reported in Fresno County in 2016. Thirty-four motorcycle accidents were reported the same year.
Ball said his club continues to work on ways to get more protected trails and let city leaders know about the dangers but also the benefits of bike riding. Though there may be a need to designate vehicle and bicycle lanes more clearly in some areas, Ball said Tuesday’s accident points to the issue of negligent driving. He said the crash is a “classic lesson” of when people don’t follow traffic laws.
According to jail records, Holmes allegedly was driving with a .08 blood-alcohol level. He was also charged with driving while intoxicated and causing injury or death. His bail was set at $47,000 and he was still in custody Wednesday. Holmes was hospitalized for moderate injuries before he was taken to jail.
“I think this points to the need to take driving seriously,” Ball said. “We’re all out there, there is no need to be hitting each other.”