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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Somber accidents bring bicycle safety into spotlight

December 26, 2008
Copyright The Coloradoan

BY NATE TAYLOR
NateTaylor@ coloradoan.com

In the decade before 2008, three people died in car bike crashes in Fort Collins. This year, tragedy struck twice when cyclists were killed in accidents that brought public outrage.

Rebecca Allen, 32, died July 22 after being struck from behind by a drunken driver while riding her bicycle in the bike lane on Drake Road.

About four months later, on Nov. 25, 9-year-old Erica Forney was riding her bicycle home from school when a woman police say was distracted by her cell phone drove her SUV into the bike lane and struck Forney. She died two days later.

The deaths of Allen and Forney occurred in a year when the Fort Collins biking community received a "gold" designation from the League of American Cyclists and its Bicycle Friendly Community program, had record turnouts on bike to work day and opened a free bike library.

"They were both tragic accidents and reminders that we've got lots to do still as a cycling community," Fort Collins Bikes Coordinator DK Kemp said.

Daniel Price, 21, the driver of the vehicle that killed Allen, pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide on Nov. 15 and is likely to be sentenced to eight years in prison.

According to court records, Price, who was 20 at the time of the crash, had blood-alcohol levels of 0.091, 0.078 and 0.067 in the hours after the crash. Records also indicate Price tested positive for THC, the active compound in marijuana, in his blood when the fatal collision occurred. Price will be sentenced Jan. 16.

Michelle Smith, 36, also of Fort Collins, has been charged with careless driving resulting in death in connection with the crash that killed Forney and faces a maximum penalty of a one year prison sentence and/or a $1,000 fine if convicted. She is scheduled to appear in court Jan. 7.

At Allen's funeral service on The Oval on the CSU campus, more than 300 people showed up to remember the undergraduate administrator at the Colorado State University Department of Journalism and Technical Communicationn. Many wore flip-flop sandals, which Allen wore on her wedding day.

The CSU journalism department also renamed a scholarship in memory of Allen and a public relations class dedicated a semester-long project working with Bike Fort Collins to bridge the gap between cyclists and drivers to Allen's memory.

"She impacted me so greatly that I was moved to do something for her," Sarah Pooler, a CSU adjunct journalism professor, said in September. "This project is an opportunity to come up with a campaign to honor Rebecca, who was a very adamant supporter of biking safety."

The Forney family received similar support from the community in south Fort Collins. Two days after Erica died, hundreds of family, friends and neighbors gathered at Coyote Ridge Elementary School despite frigid temperatures to lend their support during a candle-light vigil.

"We wanted to show Daren and Shelley how many people are here to support them," Ginger Hillyard, a close family friend, said the night of the vigil. "We're here to support them for the long haul."

State lawmakers have begun looking into the possibility of proposing legislation for more stringent laws prohibiting cell-phone use while driving.

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