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Cycling advocates air concerns after Culver City crash that injured 11 riders

Bicycling activists have responded forcefully in support of cyclists involved in a collision last week with a drunk-driving suspect accused of plowing into them near a hilltop park in Culver City, sending 11 to hospitals.

Cycling advocates at Bikeside LA have posted a video reconstructing the early-morning incident from their perspective and organized fundraisers and legal representation for the victims. And they have complained to police and media outlets about suggestions that cyclists bear some responsibility in the collision, which is under investigation.

The driver involved in Thursday’s crash, Christine Dahab, was booked on a charge of misdemeanor drunk driving and released on $15,000 bail.

Early accounts identified the injured cyclists as part of a Midnight Ridazz group, but the Ridazz website organizer, who goes by “Roadblock,” said there isn’t an organized group any longer. His initial posse of eight friends in 2004 has grown to 12,000 registered users, with the site becoming a forum to organize rides and communicate.

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Motorists have valid complaints against individual cyclists who don’t follow road rules or common courtesy, said cyclist Mikey Wally, 26, a downtown resident; but regardless of fault, a cyclist nearly always loses in a collision with a car.

Wally was among cyclists gathered at the Flying Pigeon bike shop in Cypress Park for a ride on the evening after the accident. They aired complaints, including some about uninvestigated accidents and officers who sided with motorists.

But some riders have praised officers, including Los Angeles Police Sgt. David Krumer, who responded directly to concerns from cyclists on an Internet message board within hours of the crash.

On Wednesday, about 60 riders began their ride to Culver City in Koreatown, as they have weekly for two years, and setting off about 10 p.m.

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“We enjoy the freedom of not having traffic,” said organizer Jesus Lizama, 20, of East Hollywood. “The city becomes this really big playground for us to enjoy.”

The destination was the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook in Culver City. The entry from Hetzler Road abuts an open stretch of Jefferson Boulevard “without a lot of traffic signals,” said Culver City Police Sgt. Mike Poulin, who asked crash witnesses to contact his department. “People do have a tendency to drive over the posted speed limit.”

Deborah Harris, who lives in the area, said fast-moving traffic around the increasingly popular park poses risks for “people jogging, walking dogs, skateboarding, and bicycling — all healthy and positive activities.”

Lizama said some of the riders last week probably stopped to enjoy the view from the park with a beer but were not riding recklessly. And enough riders had reflective gear to make the group visible, he said. Shortly before 2 a.m., most were waiting at the Jefferson intersection for stragglers to return from the park.

“We yell ‘car back’ when we see lights or hear an engine, and we move to the right,” he said. “Other drivers had circled around us. This time the driver came through on the right going pretty fast.”

A 16-year-old girl sustained a shattered jaw, elbow and pelvis and broken legs. A man had a broken nose, jaw and leg. A woman had two broken legs and a separated shoulder. Only seven riders made the return trip by bike after the crash, Lizama said.

Lizama said he wanted to postpone the next Wednesday ride. “But even some of the injured riders are saying I can’t stop,” he said, “that I have to keep it rolling.”

Biking has surged in the Southland, with some pedaling to be hip or fit and others trying to save money, spare the environment or simplify commutes.

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Tensions among cyclists and motorists were highlighted after a 2008 crash on Mandeville Canyon Road in Brentwood, when an enraged driver slammed on his brakes, causing serious injuries to two riders. He was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and other charges and was sentenced to five years behind bars.

howard.blume@latimes.com


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