GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) — The crash of a truck into a group of 20 bicyclists on a bridge that killed two, including one man from Michigan, and injured nearly all the rest of a Phoenix area cycling group appears to have been an accident, police said Monday.
The driver told officers his steering locked.
Goodyear Police Chief Santiago Rodriguez said the cause of the Saturday morning crash is under investigation. He said the driver told officers he was headed to work with materials he picked up for a job.
Authorities say the driver was 26-year-old Pedro Quintana-Lujan.
“There is no indication that his was an intentional act or anything but an isolated incident,” Rodriguez said.
One person remained hospitalized Monday in critical condition. The cyclists who died were identified as Karen Malisa, 61, of Goodyear, Arizona, and David Kero, 65, who was visiting from Michigan.
A charging document released by police Monday says Quintana-Lujan told officers he was driving in the left of two northbound lanes when his steering locked and he drifted into the vacant right lane, then into the adjacent bike lane where he heard “a sound similar to metal.”
The document said the driver told officers “he let off the gas and regained steering control, then turned left and stopped in the middle of the bridge.”
It said reconstruction of the collision determined when Quintana entered the bike lane he also struck the concrete barrier that separates the roadway from a sidewalk, leaving black tire marks halfway up the wall and striking several cyclists.
The department was waiting for results of a blood test acquired with a warrant that would show whether the driver was impaired. Quintana-Lujan told officer he shared a marijuana cigarette the night before, according to the document.
Quintana-Lujan was booked into Maricopa County Jail on Sunday on suspicion of two counts of manslaughter, three counts of aggravated assault, 18 counts of endangerment and two counts of causing serious injury or death by a moving violation.
He is scheduled to appear in Superior Court on March 3. His hometown wasn’t immediately available and it was unclear if Quintana-Lujan has a lawyer yet who can speak on his behalf.
The crash shook the area’s avid cyclists, who encourage other riders to travel in large groups for improved protection.
“We have a tight-knit cycling community, so this has deeply affected many,” said Goodyear Mayor Joe Pizello.
“The cyclists are out there, getting exercise, clearing their minds, they have the right to ride in safety,” said John Dollar, whose son Rob Dollar died in 2017 when he was struck head on by a motorist as he descended the roadway that goes to the top of South Mountain in Phoenix.
Police said the driver in Saturday’s crash was driving a pickup truck hauling a trailer when the vehicle crashed into a group of bicyclists about 8 a.m. on the Cotton Lane Bridge in Goodyear, which is located about 19 miles (30 kilometers) west of Phoenix.
Quintana-Lujan stayed at the scene of the crash and was cooperating with authorities in their investigation, police spokeswoman Lisa Berry said.
Authorities originally said 11 people were injured in addition to the two who died, but police said Monday that 19 of the 20 in the outing organized by West Valley Cycle were injured.
In Arizona, it is legal for bicycles to ride in traffic lanes and the state law requires drivers to give at least a three-foot (1-meter) distance between the cyclist and the car.
It was the latest in a string of deadly cycling accidents involving groups of riders in recent years in Arizona and neighboring Nevada.
An Arizona box truck driver plowed into a group of cyclists on a Nevada highway in December 2020, killing five people and injuring four. He was later sentenced to a minimum of 16 years in Nevada state prison for driving under the influence of methamphetamine causing death.
The cyclists were among about 20 making an annual 130-mile (209-kilometer) trek from Las Vegas through the Nevada and California desert.
In Show Low, Arizona, in June 2021, a driver in a pickup truck plowed into bicyclists participating in the community’s Bike the Bluff road race, critically injuring several riders before police chased the driver and shot him outside a nearby hardware store. One cyclist later died.
About 270 cyclists were participating in the race in the mountain town of Show Low, about a three-hour drive northeast of Phoenix. The truck driver, who was also critically injured, was later sentenced to 26 1/2 years imprisonment.
Also in 2021, a tow truck carrying a moving truck crashed into a group of cyclists in Flagstaff, killing a 29-year-old female cyclist and injuring five other riders.