Grieving cyclists call for a safer Griffith Park after 77-year-old killed
Andrew Jelmert was pedaling the final stretch of a 67-mile training ride in Griffith Park on Saturday afternoon when a car struck him from behind.
Jelmert, 77, a Realtor at Deasy Penner Podley, died at the scene, leaving fellow cyclists shaken and renewing calls for safer conditions for cyclists in the park.
The driver, Jairo Martinez, appeared to have been drinking and was trying to pass another car when he moved into Jelmert’s lane about 3:45 p.m., LAPD Det. Gabriela Diaz said.
After hitting Jelmert, Martinez got out of the gray BMW and ran down an embankment, Diaz said.
Park rangers caught Martinez, 37, after hikers pointed him out, and he was booked on suspicion of gross vehicular manslaughter.
Other cyclists who had finished the training course in preparation for a charity ride from San Francisco to L.A. were waiting at a nearby picnic area when Jelmert was hit while riding northbound on Crystal Springs Drive near the merry-go-round.
Griffith Park, which occupies more than 4,000 acres of rolling hills, is popular with cyclists who whiz down its tree-lined roads, often crossing over from the nearby L.A. River bike path.
But the few bike lanes that exist do not have barriers separating riders from cars, according to the L.A. Department of Transportation.
Crystal Springs Drive parallels the 5 Freeway and is sometimes used as a cut-through during traffic jams. The posted speed limit is 25 miles per hour, but many drivers go significantly faster.
Damian Kevitt, executive director of Streets Are for Everyone, said he would like to see vehicles phased out of the park.
“This is a horrible tragedy, but maybe we can learn from it and do something to protect the park for the people who use it, which is the community,” Kevitt said.
Kevitt knows the dangers well. While cycling on Zoo Drive near Griffith Park in 2013, he was struck by a minivan, losing part of his leg.
A cyclist whose right leg was partially amputated after he was struck by a hit-and-run driver near Griffith Park last year said he has a new mission in life.
André Goeritz, Jelmert’s husband, found Jelmert’s water bottles in the bushes, as well as pieces of his helmet and back wheel — an indication of how fast the driver was going.
“He had no chance,” Goeritz said.
This would have been Jelmert’s fifth time on the seven-day, 545-mile ride to benefit the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and Los Angeles LGBT Center.
He had raised $21,000 for the June event, according to his fundraising page.
On a sunny Saturday, the day before Easter, more than 300 cyclists checked in for the training ride at around 6 a.m.
They listened to a speech about safety from organizers who have a reputation for setting rules such as not rolling through stop signs.
Organizers said they were heartbroken by the “senseless tragedy.”
In a message to its staff, Deasy Penner Podley called Jelmert, who worked at its Silver Lake-Echo Park offices, a “humble, quiet, and effective” worker and a “steadfast partner.”
“Andrew, his life was all about giving, is all about love. It was all about just selfless service. And you know, to have to have been killed in that way — it just seems so unfair,” Goeritz said.
The two married in 2008, having met 14 years before outside the Bourbon Pub in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. It was an instant connection.
“I just knew,” Goeritz said. “Your souls are supposed to be together, just like when you see butterflies fly — they fly together. That was us.”
Goeritz, a dedicated ultracyclist who does 24-hour rides, drew Jelmert into his world.
They had planned to do the charity ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles together, and Jelmert had booked the hotel rooms.
“We had so many plans for this year. You know, planning to go camping and all kinds of stuff,” said Goeritz, who was not on Saturday’s training ride. “He was super active. I mean, just amazing, just an amazing human being.”
Tom Morash, who tweets under the moniker “entitledcycling,” regularly rides in Griffith Park. He has recently started wearing a radar device to track drivers’ speeds.
“On any random given ride, I would say that most people are driving 35 to 40 [mph], and I will almost always encounter a driver going 50-plus,” said Morash. “While Griffith is a haven [for bicyclists] ... it’s also unnecessarily dangerous, and it’s very fortunate that more cyclists aren’t killed there more often.”
In the first three months of this year, 76 people died in traffic collisions in Los Angeles, including 39 pedestrians and two bicyclists.
Hundreds more have been severely injured, according to the LAPD.
The victims are often left on the road. In the same period, there were 729 felony hit-and-runs resulting in 19 deaths.
Speeding and reckless driving have contributed to an uptick in traffic collisions during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Colin Sweeney, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.
L.A. City Councilwoman Nithya Raman, who represents the Griffith Park area, said she had already been “considering Crystal Springs Drive as part of a series of safety improvements across the district to prevent tragedies like this from occurring.”
“Cycling in this city should never be a life or death calculation, and it is our job as city leaders to create streets that serve the needs of everyone,” she said in a statement.
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