Police determined that the driver of a big rig was not at fault when he collided with and killed a Los Altos Hills resident while she was cycling near the Alpine Road and Highway 280 intersection last month. According to the California Highway Patrol, Lauren Ward, 47, made an "unsafe turning movement" on her bike, which led to the fatal collision.
"We don't know what caused (Ward's) turning movement," said CHP spokesman Art Montiel. "It could've been because her foot slipped or a car passing by. ... We just don't know."
Police identified Gabriel Manzur Vera, a 44-year-old employee for Castroville-based Randazzo Enterprises, as the driver of the three-axle big rig that killed Ward, 47, approximately 3:37 p.m. Nov. 4. It was the third fatal collision in which Vera has been involved, but he was found not at fault in each case.
According to a police report, Ward was riding westbound to the left of Vera – who was about to merge onto southbound 280 – on Alpine when she turned right and fell under the rear end of the truck.
There are two lanes of traffic at that location, including the short freeway merging lane, but no bike lanes. Ward was riding between the middle and rightmost lanes.
Montiel said the driver couldn't be at fault because he was moving to the right, away from Ward. According to a redacted CHP report released Monday evening, Vera claimed another car passed him on the left and proceeded in front of him onto 280, but offered no further description.
The report says Vera stopped at the intersection before the onramp and accelerated to approximately 15 miles per hour, headed for the freeway. He looked in his right rear view mirror for approximately two to three seconds just before the overpass. When he looked forward, he "heard a bump" and stopped.
Vera "stated that he did not see (Ward or her bicycle) at any time prior to the collision," the report reads. Vera "stated that he thought one vehicle had passed him to the left after the stop sign but he could not describe it. This vehicle then took the I-280 southbound ramp."
The report lists ten witnesses, all of whose statements were redacted, but Montiel said none of them were eyewitnesses. Officers have ruled out alcohol or drugs in the driver's case.
The CHP report also indicates that after an inspection of Vera's truck, officers found it was 700 pounds overweight for unincorporated San Mateo County roads without the proper permit.
Ward "appears to have been riding in the correct area, but we don't know why she would've turned toward the truck," Montiel said."There could've been any reason for that."
Vera collided with and killed cyclist Paul Myslin in Santa Cruz in 2007. Myslin's family sued Randazzo, which settled for $1.5 million in a wrongful death suit, but Vera wasn't found at fault in that accident.
On Dec. 31, 2003, Vera collided head on with a driver on Highway 1 in Moss Landing, according to CHP records. The driver died but Vera was found not at fault in that accident as well.
John Feder, an attorney Ward's family hired in the wake of her death, filed a wrongful death suit against Vera and Randazzo Dec. 20 after the CHP released its report.
"Suddenly and without warning, defendant Gabriel Manzur Vera ... negligently drove the aforementioned tractor and trailer rig directly into the path of Lauren Ward's bicycle thereby violating Lauren Ward's right of way, causing Lauren Ward's death," reads Feder's complaint filed in San Mateo Superior Court.
"While the CHP was conducting its investigation, we brought in scientists and other experts to evaluate the circumstances surrounding Lauren's tragic death, and the team disagrees with the CHP's conclusions as to the cause," Feder said in a prepared statement.
Feder said in November that Vera should have seen Ward and that "if the truck driver paid proper attention, he would not have missed seeing her."
A trial date has yet to be set.