When Donna Trauger addressed a crowd of more than 300 in Summerlin on Saturday morning, she told them not to view the death of her husband and four other bicyclists as “an accident.”
“Cyclists are rarely injured accidentally,” she said. “On the contrary, in the overwhelming number of occurrences, a driver made a choice or failed to make a choice, and that choice caused injuries — often life-changing, sometimes fatal.”
Trauger was just one family member who spoke outside the Las Vegas Ballpark during the unveiling of a monument for five bicyclists killed Dec. 10 in a suspected DUI crash on U.S. Highway 95 near Searchlight. The memorial — a five-person tandem bicycle painted white — was built by Ghost Bikes Las Vegas and will be temporarily displayed near the Beltway 215 and Charleston Boulevard, for drivers and fellow bicyclists to be reminded of those killed, said Pat Treichel, one of the organization’s founders.
The bicyclists killed in the crash were Erin Ray, 39, Gerrard Nieva, 41, Michael Murray, 57, Aksoy Ahmet, 48, and Tom Trauger, 57. Family members and friends on Saturday told the crowd about their loved ones and urged others to help prevent such deaths.
The organization is also planning to place five more bicycles at the site of the crash. The memorial revealed on Saturday will stay in the Summerlin area for at least a month before it will be moved to the southeast valley, and then hopefully installed in a permanent location to serve as a constant reminder, Treichel said.
Family members and survivors from the crash signed the white memorial, which had handle bars painted in the favorite color of each person killed. Some in the crowd wore shirts reading “TEAMG,” an acronym for the first letter of each victim’s first name.
Cristina Nieva was the last family member to address the crowd, and her voice shook with tears on her face as she talked about her husband. She’s still struck by disbelief when she wakes up every morning and realizes he didn’t come home from the Dec. 10 ride, she said.
“But here we are,” she said. “We must find a new path forward with Gerrard only in our hearts, only in our memories.”
Push for safer roads
The five bicyclists were killed when 45-year-old Jordan Barson, who was driving a box truck, crashed into the group and pinned them against an SUV that was acting as their safety vehicle, police said. Barson, who faces numerous DUI charges, had more than nine times the amount of methamphetamine in his system needed to be legally considered impaired at the time of the crash, according to police and court reports.
In the aftermath of the crash, bicycling organizations including Ghost Bikes Las Vegas, Breakaway Cycling, Save Red Rock and the Southern Nevada Bicycle Coalition, have raised more than $260,000 for the families of those killed and injured through the Las Vegas Cyclist Memorial Fund, according to its website.
Instead of focusing on Barson and DUI crashes, the organizations have instead pushed to educate drivers about Nevada’s laws requiring motorists to stay 3 feet from bicyclists and to switch lanes when possible to avoid them.
“At this point, one of the biggest things we need in Las Vegas and around the world is education,” Treichel said. “Far too many of the motorists don’t know the laws.”
Michael Anderson, a spokesman for the Southern Nevada Bicycle Coalition who also survived the Dec. 10 crash, said he’s been riding his bicycle in the past six weeks. But sometimes, when he’s alone and vehicles speed past him on the road, he has to pull over to stop and collect himself.
Anderson, who recently retired from the Metropolitan Police Department, said witnessing the immediate aftermath of the gruesome crash was the “worst day” of his life, including when he helped respond to the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting on the Strip. But he continues to ride to honor his friends, and he joined hundreds of other bicyclists who peddled together on a Summerlin trail after the memorial on Saturday.
“We continue to ride as a group, and we continue to think of our loved ones,” he said in a phone interview this week. “And we just keep going.”
The victims’ family members also called for safer roads, including Donna Trauger, who asked motorists to be respectful, responsible and kind while driving.
“Today I ask you to choose to value the life of a cyclist when you share the road,” she said. “The seconds it takes to make the right choice may make all the difference.”
Donations to the memorial fund can be made at lasvegascyclistmemorial.com.