By Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje
October 29, 2012
As the dawn sky brightened, more than 400 bicyclists moved as one along a Loop 1604 North access road on Sunday in a show of support for one of their own recently injured when a motorist struck her from behind as she rode her bike.
Each rider wore a bright orange T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase “Can You See Me Now?” — a message to motorists imploring them to be mindful that cyclists legally share the road, in hopes that such accidents might be averted in the future.
Before the riders took off, Monica Caban — a 39-year-old triathlete and mother of two who suffered a serious spinal cord injury when an elderly woman driving a pickup struck her as she rode along an Interstate 10 access road earlier this month — addressed the throng via Skype.
“Just be careful out there and enjoy the ride,” she said from her rehabilitation bed at University Hospital.
The 20-mile bike ride — news of which spread through the cycling community through word-of-mouth and a coordinated effort among the dozen or so cycling shops in the city — sought to raise money to help pay medical expenses for Caban, who was recently laid off from her job in medical sales and has no health insurance.
By Sunday morning, about $40,000 had been raised through the sale of the $20 orange T-shirts, other cash and check donations and through online giving, said Lynda Stewart, who led efforts to organize the event.
Caban has already undergone surgery and faces many months of arduous rehabilitation, Stewart said.
The event’s other goal was to raise awareness among motorists about the need to watch out for cyclists.
“Just pay attention to what you’re doing out there,” she said. “Driving a vehicle can be deadly. (Cyclists) are people — we’re mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. This is a human life out there.”
Caban was training for her second Ironman triathlon — a grueling marathon of biking, swimming and running that will take place in November in Arizona — when she was hit.
Veronica Kinney was riding with her on that afternoon when seemingly out of nowhere the 82-year-old driver plowed into her longtime friend.
“I heard this crash, and then I saw Monica flying through the air,” she said. “She flew more than 30 feet and then landed in the grass on the side of the road. I ran over to her. It was hard for her to breathe, and she was in a lot of pain. She asked me if she was dying, and I told her no. I thought I was lying to her.”
Several drivers pulled over to help until an ambulance arrived, Kinney said, including one man who was a paramedic. The elderly driver stayed at the scene.
“She just kept saying, ‘I didn’t see her,’” Kinney said, adding that law officials at the scene told her the driver wasn’t ticketed or cited.
The accident occurred outside of city limits, where an ordinance instructs motorists to keep a safe distance when passing “vulnerable” road users, including bicyclists — 3 feet for cars and 6 feet for commercial vehicles.
Kinney said Caban is a “fighter” — if anyone can overcome such a severe injury, her friend can. Already she has regained some feeling in her legs and can move her toes a little, although doctors said a true prognosis won’t be known for at least a month.
“She’s amazing, extremely outgoing and energetic,” Kinney said. “She’s working every day in rehab to pain level 10, pushing through the tears.”
Caban’s accident was hardly the first time a motorist collided with a cyclist in San Antonio.
In September, a 17-year-old driver hit and killed a 55-year-old bicyclist on West Avenue. Witnesses said the teen had been driving at nearly 60 mph and was weaving in and out of traffic when he struck Devan Coulter Smith, an experienced cyclist.
Police are still investigating the case.
Some cyclists at Sunday’s event drove a long way to show solidarity with Caban and to communicate the message that drivers need to be more careful.
Robert Remmers came from Dripping Springs, outside of Austin, to take his place in the sea of orange.
“I was hit by a truck while I was riding about four years ago,” he said, putting air in one of his tires as the first streaks of pink stole across the pre-dawn sky. “I missed two months of work. Rides like this mean a lot to me. We need to get the word out about the need for safety.”
Donations also can be made to the Monica Caban Benefit Fund at Broadway Bank.