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Triathletes call for safer streets for cyclists

November 27, 2012

Monica Caban in her North Side home

When Monica Caban first came to in a hospital bed, doctors told her there was little chance she’d ever walk again.

A triathlete weeks away from competing in the Arizona Ironman, Caban, 39, was in the best shape of her life when an elderly driver struck her from behind while biking with a friend on an I-10 access road last month. The collision sent Caban flying off her bike some 30 feet, she says. “When I woke up in the grass, that’s when I saw my friend running up and crying, screaming,” Caban said. “That’s when I realized I couldn’t move my legs.”

Caban narrowly escaped becoming part of a startling statistic. Some 50 cyclists are killed by motorists every year in Texas, and as KSAT reported late last month, 10 cyclists have died from collisions with drivers in and around San Antonio since 2009. Five of those deaths have been within the past year, including the September death of Devan Coulter Smith, who was struck by a 17-year-old driver weaving in and out of traffic on West Avenue.

Mack Williams started his own petition this week after fellow triathlete Chris Rulon was hit by a driver while biking near the I-10 access road in Boerne this Sunday morning. “I didn’t speak to the driver because I was being cared for by medical first responders, but when I talked to the DPS trooper afterward, I was told the driver admitted fault and admitted being distracted,” Rulon said Tuesday. Rulon is recovering from four fractures in his left wrist, a gash between his eyebrows, and scrapes and bruises on the left side of his body, where the vehicle struck him.

Although both Rulon and Caban were hit by motorists outside San Antonio city limits, their stories prompted Williams to start the petition asking for city leaders to rigorously enforce San Antonio’s safe-passing ordinance whenever drivers hit and injure cyclists – the petition had gained over 800 signatures by Tuesday afternoon.

That law needs to be enforced in a more strict manner,” he told the Current Wednesday. As E-N columnist Brian Chasnoff reported earlier this month, only six motorists have been cited under the law since the city passed it in February 2010. The law requires motorists keep a distance of 3 feet from cyclists; for commercial vehicles, the law mandates 6 feet. “Only six citations since it’s been passed, that’s it?” asked Williams. “We’ve seen several fatalities in 2012 alone from cars hitting cyclists. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Days after Caban was thrown from her bike, over 400 cyclists took a 20-mile trek down a north Loop 1604 access road trying to raise awareness for cycling safety and money for Caban’s medical expenses – having lost her job, and therefore her insurance, a month before the incident, Caban’s accident couldn’t have come at a worse time, she says. The riders wore bright orange T-shirts with the phrase, “Can you See Me Now?”

For now, Caban’s paralyzed from the waist down, confined to her wheelchair. “It just kills me sometimes,” she said. “I just want to get out of this freaking chair.” She tears up when she sees runners and cyclists pass by her Northside home.

After a nine-hour surgery on her spine and weeks of physical therapy, doctors sent Caban home earlier this month. Though doctors have told her there’s little chance of it, Caban swears she’ll walk, run, bike and swim again. She finished the Florida Ironman last year (and even has a commemorative tattoo to prove it), and insists someday she’ll complete another. — Michael Barajas

  • Dianne Villarreal

    Monica Caban is a remarkable individual who is capable of doing anything she sets her mind to. She is smart, funny, beautiful, a wonderful mother, friend, daughter who loves without boundaries. I know, that someday, hopefully soon, she is going to prove the Doctors wrong. She WILL compete in another Ironman. How do I know this? She is my cousin, and my new Hero.

  • Mack H. Williams IV

    Excellent story! The cycling, running, and triathlete community will support the efforts of our athletes safety 110%. It is such a staggering and sobering thought to see our fellow athletes injured or paralyzed due to a motorist that does not, and is not, willing to pay attention. My heart goes out to all of the families that have lost or have a loved one that has been injured. – Mack Williams

  • Deb

    I witnessed the accident in which Rulon was injured and cannot imagine a law that would prevent it happening again. The driver of the vehicle was just flat not paying any attention. He was right in front of her when she hit the gas to turn into a driveway. I have no idea what she was looking at but she sure wasn’t looking directly in front of her. Additionally, she never got out of her SUV to observe the results of her in attention. Tell me what kind of law will make people like her care enough to pay attention.