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2 Bicyclists Killed in Utah Had Cut Short Their Trip

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The two South County bicycle riders killed over the weekend in Utah had cut short their tour and were heading back to a meeting point ahead of their tour group when they were struck by a pickup truck on Interstate 70, a Utah Highway Patrol trooper said Monday.

The rest of the tour members were learning of the accident Monday as they straggled into Richfield, about 10 miles west of the crash site.

Patricia M. Harris, 67, of Mission Viejo and Clem R. Wilson, 69, of Lake Forest were among 10 cyclists on a two-week, 700-mile tour of Utah organized by friends. They had just completed their first week Saturday when they were killed.

UHP Trooper Terry Smith said the group had stayed near Emery on Friday night. Saturday morning, Harris and Wilson, who had grown weary of the hilly terrain, decided to head back to Richfield and that the rest of the group continued north to Huntington Canyon, about 40 miles away.

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“They couldn’t go anymore,” Smith said. “They had too much of the uphill, downhill and were turning around.”

Harris and Wilson, both retired and friends for about eight years, were riding in the emergency lane of the winding four-lane highway about 1:20 p.m. when they were struck. Troopers said it is legal for bicyclists to ride on that stretch of the interstate.

The pickup truck driver, Shannon Heaps, 59, of Richfield, told investigators that “he was looking at the other side of the freeway briefly and unknowingly drifted into the emergency lane and hit them,” Smith said.

There was no indication that alcohol was involved in the accident, Smith said. However, as a routine part of an accident investigation, Heaps was asked to undergo a blood test, he said. Test results will not be available for a week.

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The victims’ families have arranged for the bodies to be cremated.

A memorial service for Harris was scheduled for Thursday at 11 a.m. at the Saddleback Valley Community Church in Mission Viejo. She is survived by three sons, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

“As much as we can tell, the younger grandchildren are grasping what happened,” said son Brad Harris. “Probably, like all of us, (her death) has not seemed real yet. But it’s sinking in.”

The funeral for Wilson will be private, said his estranged wife, Julia Wilson, 66, of Manhattan Beach. Wilson is survived by two children and seven grandchildren.

Wilson, an engineer who had lived in Orange County for three years, had become an avid bicyclist since his retirement from Rockwell International 11 years ago, Julia Wilson said. Clem Wilson was a veteran of many long distance rides, among them a ride from California to New York “over the Rockies,” she said.

“He was nearly a pro,” said Julia Wilson, who last saw him on Aug. 23. “He just got back from a riding tour in Ireland. He was in fantastic shape.”

Julia Wilson called it a blessing of sorts that her husband’s death occurred while he was cycling.

“My son took this very hard and I told him: ‘This is what Dad wanted, so be happy,’ ” she said. “It’s not like he lingered for a long time in a hospital.”

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Harris, who was widowed 20 years ago, was born in Texas and was reared in Southern California, family members said. She had lived in Orange County 30 years and had been a third-grade teacher in Garden Grove for about 15 years.

Both Harris and Wilson, who at one time owned a bicycle shop, were “very experienced” bicycle riders, said Peggy Harris, a daughter-in-law. Both had gone on tours through Big Bear and from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Harris had “fractured her pelvis--she fell about a year ago--but there was no keeping her down,” Peggy Harris said.

“She loved the sport,” Brad Harris said. “She wanted to bike to stay active and to meet people.”

Patricia Harris’ other frequent cycling companion was Linda Goff, 46, of Laguna Hills. Goff was on the same tour through Utah, but she had stayed with the group at the time Harris and Wilson decided to turn around, her husband, Warren, said.

Warren Goff, 63, said he was waiting Monday for his wife to telephone him from the tour.

“Linda’s going to be devastated when she hears the news,” he said. “That was her best friend who died. I might have to fly to Utah to drive her home.”

Linda Goff met Harris more than five years ago. Over that time, the two women and Wilson would bike together every other weekend, Warren Goff said.

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“Pat was an elderly rider, but she was a stronger rider,” he said. “She could go uphill easier than my wife could.”

It appeared doubtful Monday that the bicycle tour would continue, Trooper Smith said.

“One of the riders came in to talk to us,” he said. “After he found out about the accident, he said he was quitting the tour, that he doesn’t want to ride anymore.”

Bicycle Deaths

Bicycle fatalities in the United States dipped slightly in 1991, the most recent year for which information is available. As in previous years, nearly nine of 10 killed were men.

Male Female 1987 826 115 1988 781 129 1989 695 126 1990 734 122 1991 720 121

Total Deaths

1987: 941

1989: Includes 10 fatalities in which the sex was unknown.

1991: 841

Fast Facts

In 1991:

* Bicyclists’ deaths represented 2% of all traffic deaths.

* About 4% of injured bicyclists were hospitalized; the other 96% were examined or treated and released.

* Nearly 70% of injured bicyclists were male.

* Two-thirds of injured bicyclists were 15 years or older; less than one-third injured a decade ago were 15 or older.

* The average age of a bicyclist killed was 28.4 years.

Source: Bicycle Institute of America; Researched by CAROLINE LEMKE / Los Angeles Times


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