ENCINITAS — As the reward for information on the driver who struck an avid cyclist in Encinitas this month grows, friends of the cyclist said they are trying to take valuable lessons away from the tragedy — for both motorists and non-motorists.
A driver of a white sports utility vehicle struck cyclist John Abate in the early morning hours of Aug. 14, when he and a friend were cycling on Leucadia Boulevard near Quail Gardens Drive. Abate was thrown 25 to 30 feet and suffered major injuries — a compound leg fracture, a broken back and fractured ribs among other serious lacerations.
Abate, who will be coming home from the hospital this week after nearly a week in the intensive care unit in Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas, did not wish to speak to The Coast News, instead wanting to focus on his recovery.
But friends of the Category 1 cyclist said that they are focused on finding the driver and the lessons that can be gleaned from the incident.
Jessica Noyola started the reward for information that leads to law enforcement locating the driver. The GoFundMe page, which started with a goal of $2,500 for the reward, has raised nearly $6,000 to date.
“We really feel that the feel that there is someone out there who knows or saw something, and we are trying to get the word out to the community,” Noyola said. “People are definitely seeing the signs we have posted in the community and word of mouth is spreading across the state.”
She urged the driver of vehicle to turn himself or herself in to authorities.
“Wherever they are, I know that their lives are on pause, too,” Noyola said. “I hope and pray they can do the right thing.”
Noyola and Kelly Swamberg, the cyclist who was at Abate’s side at the time of the accident, said they didn’t want the focus to be on the tragedy, nor did they want to make this a cyclist-versus-motorist debate.
Swamberg said that he feels the incident underscores the shared responsibility for all modes of transportation that share roads — pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.
For his part, Swamberg said the biggest takeaway is for him as a cyclist to be visible on the roadway.
“People are more distracted behind the wheel than ever, and that is not going to decrease anytime soon,” Swamberg said. “What I can do on my end is make sure that I am extremely visible when I am on the road. It is not the coolest factor, and it can be a little obnoxious, but we need to be seen.”
Swamberg said that all people can do their part to make the roadway a safer place, the onus shouldn’t fall solely on motorists.
“This isn’t a cyclist versus motorist conversation,” he said. “This is about the community getting to and from where they want to go safely. How do we do that? We all have to be accountable.”
Swamberg also credited Abate’s wearing of a helmet as potentially lifesaving.
While some in the community have taken the incident as a call for the city to continue to improve bike and pedestrian lanes in the roadway, Noyola said that it might not have made a difference in this case, because Abate and Swamberg were riding on one of the widest bike lanes in the city.
“I am not sure the city has the resources to make completely separate bike paths across the city,” she said. “But we need to continue raise awareness about distracted driving.”
Noyola said she believes that drivers should be required to put away their mobile devices entirely, including hands-free devices, which she said could still be a distraction.
Ultimately, both agreed that the key word to take away from the tragedy is awareness.
“My friend is going to live,” Swamberg said. “And he is some day going to be back on a bike. But I think if we can just take away from this is the fact that all of us have to be aware and accountable.”