By Jessica M. Pasko
Santa Cruz Sentinel
DAVENPORT — Not far from the spot where a cyclist was struck and killed in May, three filmmakers exploring the hazards of cycling in the U.S spoke Tuesday with the woman who found his body and with California Highway Patrol officers.
In an incident that served to highlight the focus of their documentary, one of the team, Lauren Gardner, was clipped by a car as she rode through Boulder Creek. The driver didn’t stop, and Gardner wasn’t badly hurt, fortunately, but the accident shook the cyclists up as they continued to Santa Cruz and Davenport. Once there, Gardner and her cohorts visited the ghost bike memorial set up off Highway 1 to honor Joshua Raine Laven.
Gardner, Nick Navarro and Em Baker, who left from San Francisco earlier this week, plan to spend the next three months traversing the country, ending up in St. Augustine, Fla., widely considered one of the most dangerous places for cyclists in the country. Their footage and interviews will be turned into a documentary titled “Spoke.”
Along the way, the trio will be meeting with families affected by bicycle accidents, law enforcement, cycling advocates and many others.
“The laws surrounding cyclists are kind of hazy sometimes and you do run into situations where driver will, say, hit a cyclist at low-speed and then kind of panic,” said Baker, who lives in San Francisco. “But we want to emphasize that we aren’t coming from a perspective of ‘oh, all cyclists are angels’.”
She said the film will focus on the interactions between cyclists and drivers, and to look at ways at how these can be improved. They’ll be visiting cities including Austin, Baton Rouge, New Orleans and numerous others.
“We want to examine the hows and whys” of bicycle-car accidents, she said, and explore the various types of infrastructure in place across the country.
“We don’t want to create a perspective that’s biased — we are trying to represent all different viewpoints,” Baker said.
“We also don’t want to entirely turn people off cycling.”
The filmmakers reached out to Joan Leitner of Capitola, who was riding a tandem bicycle with her husband on the morning of May 4 when they found Laven’s body and his Cairn terrier on the side of Highway 1, not far from Wilder Ranch.
Laven, 39, was riding across the country with his dog from Florida to California in honor of his best friend, who had died while on vacation in Cambodia. He was struck sometime between May 3 and May 4; the person who hit him and drove off has not been found.
Leitner has developed a friendship with Laven’s mother, Jennifer Putnam of Cape Cod, Mass., and has since adopted Laven’s dog Ozzie, also known as Ozziet. The 5-year-old dog accompanied Leitner on Tuesday to meet with the filmmakers, who will be spending the night with the Leitners before heading off on the rest of their journey.
Meanwhile, Laven’s family members are hoping that someone will come forward with information leading to the person who hit him and left him to die on the side of the road.
CHP officers Sarah Jackson and Troy Vincent, who joined the filmmakers at Laven’s memorial bike Tuesday, said they are actively pursuing a number of leads. The vehicle that struck Laven is believed to be a 2002 to 2005 Dodge Ram pickup, color undetermined. It sustained damage to the passenger side headlight.
The Santa Cruz CHP office has a pretty good track record of solving hit-and-run accidents, Jackson said, and they remain hopeful that they will be able to find the person. They ask anyone with information about the incident to contact their Aptos office at 662-0511 or call dispatch anytime at 796-2160.
Laven’s death also has helped inspired Leitner and her husband to take their own cross-country trip in a van emblazoned with the words “Ride America for Safe Routes,” borrowed from friends involved with the bicycle advocacy organization of the same name. They’ll be riding their bikes along their trip and will also be stopping in Cape Cod, with Ozzie in tow, to meet with Laven’s mother and stepfather.