June 18, 2013

Maine police: Cyclist probably fell into truck

Evidence indicates the rider was killed when he lost his balance while sipping water, police say.

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The 23-year-old cyclist from Massachusetts who was killed last week on the opening day of the annual Trek Across Maine most likely lost his balance while he was sipping from a water bottle and fell into a passing tractor-trailer, state police said Monday.

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The driver of the tractor-trailer, left, who the police believe was involved in the fatal accident in Hanover, looks on as his truck is inspected by police in Rumford on Friday, June 14, 2013. The bike involved in the collision is leaning against the vehicle.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer

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David LeClair, 23, is shown in an undated photo from the Athena Health corporate team web page.

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David LeClair, riding with a large team from his employer, athenahealth, was among more than 2,000 riders who started the fundraising ride Friday morning at the Sunday River ski resort in Newry. He was only a few miles into the ride when he was hit by a truck hauling bulk corn on Route 2 in the Oxford County town of Hanover.

An autopsy by the state medical examiner showed that LeClair died of head injuries, and that the truck may have hit his left arm, police said. LeClair's head either hit the truck as it passed in the 40 mph zone or hit the pavement, killing him instantly, police said.

The force of the truck hitting his left arm may have accelerated his fall, police said.

Police interviewed several of LeClair's fellow riders and viewed videotape from a police cruiser and a local business in their effort to determine what happened.

The tapes did not show the accident itself, but did confirm that the Canadian truck that police stopped five miles away in Rumford was involved.

State police Lt. Walter Grzyb said troopers still have a significant amount of investigating to do before an accident report is complete, but they believe they have a good idea of how the accident occurred.

"He pulled his water bottle out and he's taking a drink of water. He has the left hand on the handlebar, a little less stable than two (hands)," Grzyb said. "The truck comes by, creates a draft, suction, whatever, and he just loses his balance and over he goes.

"He fell down into the path of the truck and he was struck," Grzyb said," as opposed to being knocked off his bicycle by contact with the truck.

The tractor-trailer was 3 to 4 feet from the bicycle just before the accident, witnesses told police. The truck was in the travel lane, and the cyclist and others were in the breakdown lane, riding two or possibly three abreast.

As the accident occurred, one other cyclist fell or tipped over as he stopped but was not injured, Grzyb said.

Police have not determined how fast the truck was going, in part because it did not collide with the bicycle. A collision would have given them a way to measure the force of the impact, which could indicate the truck's speed.

The speed limit on the road drops from 55 mph to 40 mph just before the area where the accident occurred.

Commercial vehicles have event data recorders, similar to the black boxes on aircraft. But the devices record only a few seconds of information at a time, and by the time the truck was stopped, the data that was recorded at the time of the accident had been written over, Grzyb said.

Troopers will look at any global positioning system information that might aid in the investigation, he said.

The accident occurred on a stretch of road with a relatively wide shoulder. There were at least 5 feet between the guardrail and the white line separating the breakdown lane from the eastbound travel lane, police said Friday. The roadway is wider there than on other parts of the Trek Across Maine's 180-mile route, police said.

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