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Tandem bicyclists die in pickup accident

The San Antonio Express-News: Tandem bicyclists die in pickup accident

By Michelle Mondo and Eva Ruth Moravec - Express-News

A couple who survived a head-on collision two years ago were killed Thursday morning when a truck slammed into them as they rode a tandem bike in Northwest Bexar County, authorities said.

Gregory and Alexandra Bruehler, parents of a 7-year-old girl, were struck from behind while riding their two-person bicycle on the shoulder of Texas 16, about three miles north of Helotes.

Alexandra Bruehler, 36, was pronounced dead at the scene. Her 42-year-old husband was airlifted to University Hospital, where he died about an hour later. Their daughter, Kylie, was not with them.

Lizette Fiedler, a cousin, said the family is devastated.

“After years of rehab, they got their bodies back into shape and Alex was even accepted into the New York Marathon,” Fiedler wrote in a comment she posted on mySA.com. “Tragically, they were struck yet again this morning and now killed.”

The Bruehlers were southbound in the 18500 block of Texas 16 when a pickup driven by Gilbert John Sullaway Jr., 40, plowed into them about 10:45 a.m., said Deputy Ino Badillo, spokesman for the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office. The truck then dragged the bicycle about 200 feet, Badillo said.

He said it appeared that Sullaway, a resident of Helotes, veered off the highway in a Ford F-150 at least once before the cyclists were hit, but investigators don’t suspect alcohol played a role. Both cyclists were wearing helmets.

“He lost control of his vehicle and drove off the road,” Badillo said. “He overcorrected and as a result of that struck the bicyclists.”

Badillo said the collision appeared to be an accident and didn’t think the driver would face charges.

Fiedler said the wreck reminded her of the near-tragic accident the family encountered when Gregory, Alexandra and Kylie all had to be airlifted to a hospital following a head-on collision in San Antonio about two years ago. A relative in the car with them was killed.

“Alex broke her back and they had all kinds of internal injuries,” Fiedler said. “I’m not sure they expected that she’d make it, but they all did.”

An erratic driver was the cause, according to a police report from that incident.

On Aug. 25, 2007, the Bruehlers, along with Mary Pina-Garza, 65, were eastbound on Loop 1604 when a truck swerved, overcorrected, crossed the grassy median and then collided with their vehicle.

Pina-Garza was killed, as was the driver of the truck.

Fiedler said that after recuperating, the couple enjoyed all sorts of activities, from running and swimming to hiking and, of course, cycling. Both Bruehlers participated in a variety of competitive events, including local triathlons and marathons.

While neither cyclist was registered for this weekend’s Bike MS: Valero 2009 Alamo Ride to the River, their deaths underline the need for safety during the event, according to Tony Ralf, vice president of the Lone Star Chapter of the National MS Society.

“It has always been in our plans to press safety as a priority on the ride,” Ralf said. “We need to focus on safety for everyone on a bike and, more importantly, everyone on the road.”

Nonie Cabana, 53, said he cycles every day on Texas 16 after rush hour. He was heading north when he saw the crash.

“This is my routine, but I normally ride after traffic hours so I don’t have to compete with traffic,” he said. “I was really surprised to see an accident at this hour.”

That particular stretch of highway is known for fast driving, said Michael Garcia, executive vice president of the San Antonio Wheelmen, a local cycling group.

“There’s a very wide shoulder, but people tend to drive higher than the posted speed limit,” Garcia said, “and as a cyclist there’s not that much you can do other than go to the right side of the shoulder.”

The truck that hit the cyclists was going about 70 mph and the speed limit in that area is 65, authorities said.

Fiedler said the family is left with questions about how this could have happened to the couple a second time after they worked so hard to rebuild their lives.

“Why did they have to go through so much to have it all end this way?” Fiedler wrote.

Staff Writer Valentino Lucio contributed to this report.