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Cyclist Says He Couldn't Avoid Elderly Woman in Fatal Collision

The bicyclist who ran into 92-year-old Mary Jean Smith as she was crossing Arlington Boulevard late Wednesday afternoon said he couldn't avoid the fatal collision when she began running at the last moment. "It's so terrible," he said.

This story was updated June 7, 9 p.m.

The El Cerrito bicyclist involved in the , 92, as she crossed Arlington Boulevard said in an interview that he couldn't avoid the collision.

Douglas Herring, 57, told Patch this afternoon, Thursday, that he had just descended the hilly portion of the Arlington going north and was heading toward the curve where it intersects with Brewster Drive when he saw Smith beginning to walk across the street from the opposite side.

"I was coming down the hill, and I had some good speed, but I was slowing down for the curve," he said.

"I yelled, 'Wait!'" he said. "I remember yelling three times."

"I screamed basically, 'Wait! Wait!'" he said.

Smith, who was using walking sticks, hesitated at first and then continued walking and then began to run, said Herring, an environmental and planning consultant. He said she couldn't run fast due to her age but that the last-minute change in her movement prevented him from avoiding the collision.

She was wearing hearing aids that were functional at the time, according to El Cerrito police. 

Herring's voice broke with emotion as he described the tragic collision, which occurred where Brewster enters Arlington, about 40 feet north of a marked crosswalk. Smith was not using the crosswalk, and Herring was in the bike lane, police said. (Brewster intersects with Arlington at two places – one near Madera Elementary School and the other near Arlington Park where the accident occurred.)

"She started running and she ran right into me," he said. "If she had continued walking, I could have cut hard right. I would have wiped out, but I wouldn't have hit her."

"I plowed right into her," he said.

El Cerrito police Sgt. Shawn Maples said Herring's bike left a skid mark about a yard long before the place of impact.

Herring said he had been trying earlier today to find out the woman's condition. He did not know that she had died until he was contacted by Patch.

"It's so terrible," he said as his voice choked up.

Herring recalled being distressed about the "man who was killed in San Francisco by a biker." Bicyclist Chris Bucchere fatally struck 71-year-old Sutchi Hui in a crosswalk at Market and Castro streets on March 29.

Smith was taken by ambulance to Cerrito Vista Park and airlifted by medical helicopter in "extremely critical" condition with severe head trauma to John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, El Cerrito Police Chief Sylvia Moir said. She was pronounced dead about 11:40 last night, according to the Contra Costa County coroner's bureau.

Herring said he landed on his back, "flooded with pain," and was helped to his feet by a passerby. He was taken by ambulance to the Kaiser Medical Center in Richmond, where he was treated and released last night. He said he remains in movement-limiting pain with a sprained back and sprained hip but no broken bones.

Smith, who lived in the neighborhood for more than 45 years, regularly took walks in the late afternoon or early evening. She was active and took care of her own home, inside and out, her daughter Cindy Scott, told KCBS. At age 90, she was rappelling in the Sierra Nevada, Scott told CBS 5.

Her mother was also known as "the friendly lady" among the youth group at her Mormon church, the daughter said.

Herring echoed a opinion shared by many in the neighborhood that the spot where the collision occurred is hazardous.

"It's a bad location," he said, adding that he keeps a careful watch for cars in both directions whenever he walks across Arlington at that spot.

Police expect to wrap up their investigation of the Arlington collision "in the next day or so," including any finding of fault, Maples said.

For email alerts to updates on this story or other police-related news, click Keep me posted below. For past stories on this accident or other police-related news, click "El Cerrito police" next to Related Topics below.

Ann June 07, 2012 at 11:29 PM
My heart goes out to all involved. Dad is 94 and he can be unpredictable, yet it's difficult to take away their freedom
Mrs. Moe June 07, 2012 at 11:42 PM
This incident is so heartbreaking. Thank you for interviewing the cyclist. The previous stories made him sound as though he had been callous and entitled, yelling at her, but this paints a much different picture. It's not my place to say who is at fault and how this could have been avoided, but this helps me to have a better understanding of what happened and not feel as furious as I was upon hearing of this. Mrs. Smith sounded like a great lady, from what others have shared. My deepest sympathies to those that lost her.
K Roe June 07, 2012 at 11:53 PM
It is so sad that Mrs. Smith died and that the bicyclist now has to live with this trauma.
L.A. Chung (Editor) June 08, 2012 at 12:59 AM
Thank you, Charles, for working so hard to reach cyclist Douglas Herring, and for him to tell his account. Your sensitive handling of the telling provides a fuller picture of this tragic event. Regardless of age, I can see how someone could be confused about what to do, and how it might be hard to even understand what was being shouted. It is such a sad incident.
shirley kirsten June 08, 2012 at 08:47 AM
It's very sad to hear this and my sympathies to all concerned. I just want to add something peripheral to this sad story. And maybe it's not appropriate to bring it up because it's not the venue of Arlington where the accident occurred. I've walked over that way. But take Ohlone, which has a pedestrian and bicycle lane. I don't know how many times the bikes are using the pedestrian lanes. Some will veer into them with a sudden sharp increase in speed, putting walkers in danger--and there is little time to think. I feel very unsafe even walking near Del Norte, because of the bikes not obeying the arrows. They cross over and nearly miss pedestrians. Now I'm sure the same can be said of pedestrians who are mistakenly in bike lanes. Sorry but I had to add this.
Erick June 08, 2012 at 02:10 PM
I am very sad to hear about the woman dying because of being hit by the bicyclist. With that being said, not that this accident was caused by the bicyclist's speed, something needs to be said about bicycle riders in the Berkeley/El Cerrito Hills. For numerous years, I delivered construction equipment with a semi-truck, up in this area. Every time, I went up into the hills, I was more worried about bicyclist than pedestrians. I have witnessed many times a week, riders speeding, riding on wrong side of street, running stop signs, etc. Bicycle riders must obey the same rules of the road as cars/trucks. He left only "1 yard" of skid marks, before hitting her. Even though he was "not speeding", he seems to have been going to fast to be able to avoid the accident. Also, if she was using walking sticks, doubt that she just ran out into the street. If a truck had hit the lady, the truck driver would have been crucified by the public/media.
Paul D June 08, 2012 at 02:12 PM
According to the bicyclists own words... ""I was coming down the hill, and I had some good speed, but I was slowing down for the curve," he said. I yelled, 'Wait!'" he said. "I remember yelling three times." "I screamed basically, 'Wait! Wait!'" he said. I'm 61 years old, been riding bicycles since I was 6, motorcycles (42 years) and driving cars 45 years. I have never -- ever -- thought to yell at a pedestrian to "wait..wait". The statement itself says everything about the excessive speed, the lack of control, the lack of perspective of the guy who ran down the victim. Put in a stop sign. Is this rocket science? Or should we just insist all vehicle operators yell out "Wait...Wait" at every pedestrian?
Paul D June 08, 2012 at 02:14 PM
"If a truck had hit the lady, the truck driver would have been crucified by the public/media." Exactly.
shirley kirsten June 08, 2012 at 02:17 PM
I, too, am more afraid of being mowed down by a bike than a car.
Helen Alderson June 08, 2012 at 02:28 PM
It just lets you see who thinks they are entitled. If I'm not mistaken, I believe the pedestrian has the right-of-way. I lost a good friend and she will be missed.
Bonnie MacKenzie June 08, 2012 at 02:34 PM
I can totally understand how that accident happened. As I bicylist I've been involved in two collisions. I was in my 30's in Berkeley when a motorist and I collided at an intersection. Visibility was perfect, and there was no speeding involved. I was struggling up a hill at that i(uncontrolled) intersection and we both misjudged the situation. I was banged up but not seriously injured. When I was in 5th grade I ran into another kid in a carport driveway and knocked him down. I was bicycling at slow speed, again struggling up a hill, the visibility was perfect, and he saw me coming. I found it impossible to predict which way he would go to avoid me, and couldn't imagine that in those conditions a collision would happen. I tried to stop but not in time. He got up and walked away, but it was very upsetting to me. So I've had two close calls when I was on a bicycle, and have only my lucky stars to thank that no one got hurt. I know my situations were very different from this one. But my sympathies are with both the familiies involved.
shirley kirsten June 08, 2012 at 02:52 PM
Yes, I agree that the pedestrian has the right of way. And let me reference another daredevil hill, where I am scared to death to cross at any juncture because the way the road is laid out. The builders or city cared little about pedestrians. I'm talking about Barett--and in my case the intersection of Barrett and Sonoma. I can keep walking on one side of the street for blocks and blocks with nowhere to cross safely. If a bike or car comes careening down that slope, a crossing pedestrian is a dead-wringer to be hit. I am very disconcerted by the speeding cars, esp. coming down that road. Maybe citizens can approach the ruling parties and get some action. Perhaps a stop sign can be put up along with a crosswalk.
Belle Canto June 08, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Not sure a stop sign there would help or have changed this. While most car/truck drivers will stop at a stop sign, many cyclists do not - especially if they want to gain/maintain speed for the next hill (which is likely in this case). Same with a cross walk, this cyclist likely would have blown through a crosswalk to protect his momentum and hit her even if she had been in a crosswalk (with a stop sign). I agree that because the cyclist himself admits yelling "wait, wait" reveals "everything about the excessive speed, the lack of control, the lack of perspective of the guy who ran down the victim" Very well stated.
Bartem June 08, 2012 at 06:59 PM
First, my condolences to Ms Smith's family and friends. I have lived near that intersection on Arlington for 5+ years and have seen her out walking many times and she will obviously be missed by many. Also my sympathies to Mr. Herring -- no one wants to be the cause of such a horrible accident and he is not only injured himself but he will have this to live wiith. I must say that this intersection is a disaster that is no longer waiting to happen. It feeds traffic downhill from two directions to a narrow blind curve with a crosswalk and a cross street in the middle of it. There is a playground nearby, there are no sidewalks, and the "bike lane" is actually a shoulder with gravel, debris, and sometimes parked cars in it. It is a recipe for this kind of accident. I have lived near there for 6 years and I pass there multiple times per day in a car, on a bike or on foot. It is almost as if it were designed to cause accidents. Cyclists understandably want to maintain some speed through the curve because there are upgrades on both sides. Pedestrians don't want to use the crosswalk because it is hidden from view and takes them 50+ feet out of the way. And as for motorists, well just stand there some time and count how many cars DON'T cross out of their lane so that they can take the turn faster and tighter. (Hint -- it won't be many). Short of a major re-engineering of the intersection there at least need to be some speed bumps to slow everyone down.
John Aronovici June 08, 2012 at 09:32 PM
Yes she was not in the crosswalk laid out further down the street BUT 95 percent of the people cross where she did. From Brewster by the bus stop. Why not move the crossw alk or put another there.
Frank June 08, 2012 at 10:46 PM
It is an intersection that needs stop signs and crosswalks at the intersection. Not a very major re-engineering, but a major inconvenience for those wanting to speed through the turn.
Lara Smith June 09, 2012 at 12:11 AM
I live in the house right before the curve - the crosswalk is in front of my house. We don't use the crosswalk because it leads to the steps, not to Brewester, and it's blind - you can't see north if you are at the crosswalk. Almost everyone crosses where Mrs. Smith did. We would love to see some speed control measures for the curve - literally every night, we hear tires squealing on the curve.
Lara Smith June 09, 2012 at 12:12 AM
I should add that there is nothing so far that I have seen that means that Mr. Herring was going too fast - the curve is just generally too fast.
nancy June 09, 2012 at 05:36 PM
I walk in El Cerrito a lot, and I also am more afraid of bikes than cars. As someone mentioned, even on the Ohlone walkway, bicycles often ride in the pedestrian lane. They come fast and quietly, and you don't expect them. (And it's true, peds walk in the bicycle lane too.) I walk in Sunset Cemetery often, mostly to avoid bikes (and traffic and dogs), and have been almost hit more than once by bicycles going very fast down the hills there. When they come from behind, you have no clue that they are there. I am so sorry for everyone involved in the tragic fatal collision.
Dave B June 09, 2012 at 10:01 PM
Drivers of cars have the responsibility to slow down to a point where they can control their vehicle when a pedestrian is in the street in front of them. Why not a bicyclist? Why is it okay for him to shout directions at her and believe that is sufficient? What if the pedestrian is deaf? Are they not allowed to cross the street safely?
shirley kirsten June 09, 2012 at 10:10 PM
When I walk, I am constantly checking for bicycles behind me.. And a few times I headed off a collision by being hyper-alert.
Belle Canto June 14, 2012 at 04:17 PM
May be two completely different things, but cyclist who killed 71 year old pedestrian in SF has been charged with manslaughter From SF chronicle this AM: A charge of felony vehicular manslaughter has been filed against Chris Bucchere, the bicyclist who fatally struck a 71-year-old pedestrian in the Castro back in March. Prosecutors concluded that Bucchere, 36, was grossly negligent in his riding before he ran into Sutchi Hui in a crosswalk at Market and Castro streets on March 29.
Jim July 12, 2012 at 12:29 AM
Expecting someone to follow your verbal commands as you come barreling down in their direction is ludicrous. The gut instinct of someone being yelled at, regardless of what is being said, is to take flight to safety, in this case it was the sidewalk. According to Douglas's own account, Jean started to run. Douglas must have been thinking he could sweep between her and the side walk, but that cut off her path to safety... Jean must have been only inches from the sidewalk as her head lay next to the gutter and the markings on the street showed Douglas's bike spanning the street and the Curb. The only problem was there were some low bushes preventing Jean's direct access to the sidewalk. Doug, maybe it's time to hang up your bike.
Jim July 12, 2012 at 12:36 AM
I'm a cyclist myself I know the temptation to carry my speed. You can't feed in more dead dinosaurs to get you up the hill, you got to do the work. Realize that Douglas was only a couple blocks from his house, on his way home and probably feeling good about his workout. The corner at the bottom of the park is likely a very familiar turn, so he was probably attempting carrying as much speed as possible to avoid having to peddle up the other side of the park. Someone crossing the street always has the right of way regardless of crosswalks or not... You always have to yield to a pedestrian. It's also the responsibility of the cyclist or motorist to never over-run your line of sight, so seeing the pedestrian should not have been an issue. he police account said there was a clear line of site for 400 feet or more. 400 feet is enough to land a Cessna in. Clearly this is enough space to yield to a pedestrian.

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