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Bayern Rundfahrt
Photo ©: Schaaf

News feature, March 11, 2008

Police vehicle hits cyclists in California, kills two

Mark Zalewski, North American Editor

Kristy Gough (Third Pillar Racing) after winning
Photo ©: Larry Rosa
(Click for larger image)
Matt Peterson (Roaring Mouse Cycles) after winning
Photo ©: Larry Rosa
(Click for larger image)
After 3 years and countless hours of training Matt Peterson (Roaring Mouse Cycles)
Photo ©: Larry Rosa
(Click for larger image)

Three cyclists ascending a winding road on a training ride on Sunday, March 9, 2008, were struck by a Santa Clara County sheriff's patrol vehicle that had crossed the centreline while travelling downhill in the opposite direction.

Two of the cyclists - Matt Peterson, 30, of San Francisco, and Kristy Gough, 31, of Oakland, - died from their injuries sustained in the accident on the mountain road near Cupertino, California. Peterson passed away at the accident scene and Gough hours later after being airlifted to Stanford University Medical Center.

Two other cyclists were riding with Peterson and Gough at the time of the accident. Reports said Christopher Knapp of Germany was also seriously injured, while the fourth was not hurt and not identified. Knapp was most recently listed in stable condition.

The two riders who were killed had just seen success on the California road racing circuit, most recently at the Merco Cycling Classic. Kristy Gough (Third Pillar Racing) won the category 3/4 women's road race and Matt Peterson (Roaring Mouse Cycles) won the men's category four criterium and wore the race leader's jersey during the category 4 road race.

The accident occurred on a bending section of Stevens Canyon Road near Cupertino. Sergeant Don Morrissey of the Santa Clara County sheriff's department told the San Francisco Chronicle that the deputy, James Council, 27, accidentally crossed the centerline and struck the group.

He was reported to have admitted to falling asleep at the wheel, and to appear disoriented after the accident. Morrissey said that Council, who had been on the force only 18 months, started his shift at 6:00 a.m. that morning and was scheduled to work until 6:30 p.m.

Morrissey also said that Council is now on administrative leave pending an investigation. "The deputy is very distraught over this right now," Morrissey said. "It's devastating for everybody involved."

According to reports, this is not the first time a cyclist had been struck and killed by a vehicle on this stretch of road that is often used by cyclists for training. In 1996, a 46-year-old cyclist was killed near the scene of Sunday's incident after being hit by a gravel truck headed to a nearby quarry. The driver of the truck was sentenced to one year in prison.

The California Highway Patrol is handling the investigation and is asking anyone with information about the incident to call +1 408 467 5354, ext. 337.

Promising careers cut short

Kristy Gough was new to racing on the road but not new to cycling by any means. She was an accomplished triathlete whose palmares included a third place finish at the 2006 UK Ironman. Jon Orban of her Third Pillar Racing team said she was a unique combination of utter talent and pure selflessness. "She was always giving to other people, but would absolutely crush everyone on the bike," Orban told Cyclingnews. "In the Snelling Road Race, she had gone out solo and had a huge gap after the first lap but felt bad about the other girls so slowed up and only won by like 12 minutes!"

"I have never, ever seen any woman have her ability. And she was just getting started in road racing three months ago! We were climbing a well-known climb out here, Old La Honda, and she was doing it faster than the elite guys on the Safeway team! Kristy was a world-class athlete but had no ego whatsoever. She was so strong that all the other female teams had literally coordinated an attempt to beat her! It made her feel a little bad because she didn't want to have people riding against her, but I just told her that is racing."

"She just got her upgrade to category one after winning last weekend," Orban added. "There is only one race she didn't win this year. She was a machine but was always smiling."

Orban said that her road racing was meant to supplement her triathlon training and that Gough was aiming for the Beijing Olympics in the triathlon. "She was doing the road racing to improve her triathlons," Orban said. "She took a year off last year because the guy she was dating was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, and she took off a year of her life to take care of him."

"That is the kind of person she was."

Matt Peterson had only been racing his bike since 2004, according to friend and Roaring Mouse team-mate Larry Rosa. Rosa told Cyclingnews that Peterson took up cycling as a continuation of a weight loss plan. "He started in 2004 and when I met him we both joked about losing a little weight," said Rosa. "He said in high school he was close to 300 pounds and was about 200 when he started racing. That was a big motivating factor for him, but I think what appealed to Matt is that cycling is not an individual, go out by yourself sport, but a team thing. He was a huge proponent of that -- a real team player that understood road cycling is a collective effort."

Peterson's win at Merco last weekend was the culmination of a love-hate relationship he had with the Merco race. "We have all been racing that race for years now and that race was his favorite," said Rosa. "He always would attack to try to win that race, but for whatever reason, crashing or something, would never get it. But he always said he had to win that race."

"Last year he started training with a couple of guys from Belarus, which is how he met Kristy. And he dropped another 30 pounds in the off-season saying that Merco is all I want."

"Before his race a guy walked by with the trophy and he said, 'I have to touch that. Today is my day!' With one lap to go he took an unbelievable flyer across the start/finish line and had 200 meters on the field, taking everyone by surprise. Everyone was going crazy and it was a total nail biter. Once the lead moto came around the last turn, two seconds later it was him solo and everyone went wild!"

"We all went to dinner that night and he put his rock trophy at the center. And when the bill came he put his $50 he won from the race in the middle of the table to say thanks to the team for the victory.

"I found out later that he told his parents that if he never got on the bike again that would be fine," said Rosa. "That was his glory."

Cyclingnews extends its condolences to the family and friends of both cyclists. Planning for a memorial ride through Napa, California is underway for Kristy Gough. Information regarding Matt Peterson's memorial can be found at:


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Larry Rosa/

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