Page Mill driver cleared of criminal wrongdoing in fatal crash

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
A memorial stands at the site of the fatal crash of a cyclist on Page Mill Road last November.

Criminal charges will not be filed against the driver of a car involved in the Nov. 3 traffic death of a Palo Alto cyclist, investigators announced late last month.

Both a California Highway Patrol report and a subsequent report by the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office determined that cyclist Jeffrey Donnelly, 52, caused the Page Mill Road collision that led to his death.

“Our findings were in support of the CHP’s conclusion that we found the bicyclist at fault,” said Capt. Rick Sung, division commander of the sheriff’s West Valley Patrol.

The accident occurred at 6:50 a.m. as both Donnelly and a Volkswagen Golf driven by a 19-year-old Palo Alto man traveled southwest on Page Mill Road near the Interstate 280 interchange. By California law, officials are not permitted to release traffic accident reports to anyone but those involved in the incident, so other than the basic circumstances of the crash, the factors leading to Donnelly’s death have not officially been revealed; representatives of the Donnelly family and the driver of the car have divulged the few details available.

To accommodate the I-280 northbound on-ramp, the southwest-bound Page Mill Road bicycle lane ends just before Christopher Lane and resumes along the center median. This meant Donnelly had to cut across vehicle traffic slowing from 50 mph to 35 mph.

It was while crossing traffic to resume the bike lane that the front of the car struck the back of Donnelly’s bicycle, said Mike Mahoney, a private investigator retained by Donnelly family attorney John Feder.

Feder has claimed that the car’s driver was traveling at an unsafe speed, but the CHP and Sheriff’s Office reports don’t support that, said Daniel Barton, a criminal defense attorney representing the driver.

Instead, the reports state that Donnelly was at fault for making an “unsafe lane change” and for wearing earbud headphones in both ears, which is against the California Vehicle Code, Barton said.

A witness at the scene said he could hear loud music coming from Donnelly’s headphones, Barton said.

The Golf driver remained at the scene and law enforcement officials have indicated he fully cooperated with their investigations. Although he has been cleared of any wrongdoing, the teen remains “deeply disturbed” by the accident and grieves Donnelly’s death, Barton said.

“This is one of those situations where everyone loses,” Barton said. “It’s just a world of pain for the bicyclist’s friends, family and co-workers and my client and his family and friends.”

S.V. Vasudevan, one of Donnelly’s cycling friends, rode by his roadside memorial last week in the first of what he said would be a routine pause of reflection beside the flowers and all-white bicycle. The Palo Alto resident met Donnelly a few years ago when the two men were training for Death Ride, a 129-mile cycling tour of the California Alps beginning and ending in Markleeville. They would often ride together during local group cycling meet-ups.

Vasudevan described Donnelly as an exceptionally experienced cyclist known to undertake 100-mile daytrip rides to the coast. He always remained positive – no matter what the situation.

The death of a cyclist near the notoriously dangerous Page Mill Road-I-280 intersection is not a surprise, Vasudevan said, but Donnelly’s death has shaken the cycling community; Tuesday was Vasudevan’s first time on a bike since the November accident.

“Whenever there’s an accident like this, there’s always a curiosity to know what the circumstances were: Who was at fault? Was it road rage?” Vasudevan said. “Then, when you find out it was someone you know, it’s harder.”

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