A bicyclist's hit-and-run death brings sadness and outrage


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James Price saw his health improve in the two years since he started bike riding. He shed pounds and watched the symptoms of his diabetes fade.

His family never imagined that his workout routine -- his pre-dawn bike rides around the East End -- would be what put the 46-year-old father in danger.

"He's been riding his bike forever, and he's never even had a flat tire," Mr. Price's niece, Briana Jackson, said. "He'd always come back, and it would be good."

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Mr. Price, of Homewood, on Wednesday morning was cycling inbound on Penn Avenue in Point Breeze, a route he often took, when a driver in a white vehicle struck him and took off. Mr. Price, who was wearing a helmet, was thrown about six feet from the bicycle, landing on the sidewalk below the steps of a nearby home, where officers and paramedics tried unsuccessfully to save him. Mr. Price was pronounced dead about 5:30 a.m. at UPMC Presbyterian.

Paramedics "gave this man every opportunity to live, but the trauma was great," said police Sgt. James Vogel of the Zone 4 station in Squirrel Hill.

The driver remained at large Wednesday night. A witness, a fellow driver, could describe the vehicle only as white, but the sergeant said it likely has front-end damage.

The witness said the vehicle took off toward East Liberty at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour.

"We're following up on leads," Sgt. Vogel said. "We're looking for anyone who might have information."

Accident investigators and homicide detectives, who are handling the case, studied the mangled black bike -- a Raleigh Passage 3.0 -- and the street around it for hours.

Mr. Price's relatives and members of the cycling community said his death underscores the dangers bicyclists face every day on the city's streets, where they often encounter narrow roadways and discourteous drivers. Ms. Jackson, 20, who was learning to ride under her uncle's supervision, doesn't plan to hit the road anytime soon.

"It's traumatizing," she said.

Bike-riders, pedestrians and motorists have a duty to share the road though "it's not equal," said Scott Bricker, executive director of Bike Pittsburgh. Though traffic laws apply to those on two wheels or four, he said the onus is on drivers to be mindful of more physically vulnerable travelers. "A motorist at the wheel of a 4,000- or 5,000-pound vehicle going 35 to 40 miles per hour has the ability to kill or maim another human."

The situation on the road has not necessarily improved since a law went into effect in April designed to keep bicyclists safe. It specifies that cars should pass a bike with a minimum of four feet of clearance space, prohibits the "classic right hook" in which a right turn by a motorist interferes with a bicyclist going straight and says that bicycles must use the right-hand lane, or as close as possible to the right edge of the roadway, unless road conditions are unsafe.

But leaving the scene has always been a crime.

"If you can't control your vehicle or stop or slow down, then you're driving too fast or you shouldn't be driving," Mr. Bricker said. "We're not animals to be left for dead on the side of the road."

The city's accident investigations unit typically probes about 50 to 60 serious crashes each year, just two or three of which are critical or fatal hit-and-runs involving bicyclists or pedestrians, said police Sgt. Daniel Connolly, who oversees the unit.

Still, this year has not been without its troubling cases. In May, cyclist Dan Yablonsky, 23, was struck head-on by a Jeep as he rode with friends on Liberty Avenue in Lawrenceville. He suffered serious injuries -- a ruptured aorta, severe cuts and many broken bones. Police found the Jeep that fled the scene, though no charges have been filed in the case. Sgt. Connolly said the investigation continues, as trace evidence from the scene is being processed at the crime lab.

Hit-and-run investigations can take months to complete, even after a suspect is identified. The wait can further frustrate and confound cyclists, Mr. Bricker said.

"We have to put everything together first," Sgt. Connolly said. "We investigate a crash, determine what happened and then assign blame."

Applying for and obtaining search warrants, backups at the county crime lab, and gathering evidence often takes more time in accident investigations than in other major cases, the sergeant said.

But relatives of Mr. Price, the light-hearted father of an 11-year-old daughter, want whoever struck him to come forward much sooner.

"Come out and give them what they need," said Mr. Price's mother, Glenice Price. "Why would you kill my son?"

neigh_city - Transportation

Sadie Gurman: sgurman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878. First Published July 26, 2012 4:00 AM


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