Police Address Fatal Bike Crash at Committee Meeting

Debra Deem was killed a week ago while riding her bike on Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach. Police say the crash investigation is continuing.

A ghost bike marks the spot where bicyclist Debra Deem was fatally hit by a minivan on Coast Highway and Newport Center Drive on Aug. 27, 2013. (Photo credit Nisha Gutierrez-Jaime)
A ghost bike marks the spot where bicyclist Debra Deem was fatally hit by a minivan on Coast Highway and Newport Center Drive on Aug. 27, 2013. (Photo credit Nisha Gutierrez-Jaime)
Debra Deem was killed a week ago while cycling along Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach, but there are still many unanswered questions about what caused her fatal accident.

At Tuesday evening's Bicycle Master Plan Oversight Committe meeting, dozens of people filled the normally empty monthly meeting to express concerns about Deem's death and bike safety. Newport Beach police Lt. Jeff Lu addressed the crowd and said police have been carefully working on the investigation.

"We are just saddened by Debra Deem's death," Lu said. "These types of things affect everyone."

Lu did not provide many details about the accident that claimed 58-year-old Deem's life. He said she was bicycling westbound on Pacific Coast Highway, east of Newport Coast Drive, when she was hit by a white minivan.

"Police and fire were on scene very quickly, she was on the roadway when we arrived," Lu said. "This was not a hit and run. The minivan's driver has been cooperative and has expressed sadness about what happened."

Lu would not confirm if Deem was riding alone, or if she was cycling with another person. He said police believed she was wearing a helmet at the time of  the accident. Lu also said he could not give a time frame of when the investigation might be complete.

"We have a pretty good understanding of what occurred, but we're continuing to do follow-up investigations," Lu said. "We try not to release too much information too soon."

Several residents and cyclists spoke at the meeting to voice their fears and frustrations. 

"I was friends with two of the three women most recently killed while cycling in Newport Beach," a woman named Kelly said. "I beg of you to please put some additional signs at the most dangerous corners and intersections."

Stacy Kline, an avid cyclist, said the drivers in Orange County are some of the worst she has seen in respect to sharing the road with cyclists.

"When I came into Orange County on a ride from San Diego, I was ashamed to be from Orange County," Kline said. "The drivers were aggressive with me, honking at me to move and I called Newport Beach police once to report a driver near Mariner's Mile who was yelling at me to get out of the way as I was stopped at a red light."

Resident H. Schneider suggested the city install security cameras to help tone down the aggressive driving.

"Maybe that might help people stop driving so recklessly," Schneider suggested.

During his brief presentation, Lu said before Deem's accident bike involved collisions in Newport Beach were on the decline. Between January and July, 62 bike related crashes were reported in the city, six percent less than last year during the same time period.

Out of the 62 collisions, 26 did not involve a moving vehicle, Lu said.

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Chip Long September 04, 2013 at 10:49 PM
Bikes and cars don't mix. You can have all the road signs and laws you want, but people on bikes are still going to get seriously hurt. Yes, there are aggressive drivers on the road. There is also an outrageous number of cyclist that ignore stops signs, red lights, ride 2, 3 abreast. I am all for creating paved bike trails, but sharing the road is always going to be dangerous in California where we have so many vehicles.
Allen Bean September 05, 2013 at 12:32 AM
Automobile driver need to get used to the fact that unless the road is a limited access road like a freeway bicyclists have full rights to use the road. Per the Santa Monica Police Department studies. The majority of car vs bicycle accidents are caused by the car. Yet SMPD only attempts to issue tickets to the bicyclists when they ignore a stop sign or ride 2-3 abreast etc... Why don't they ticket those drivers who pass too close, ignore a cyclists right of way, park in bike lanes forcing bicyclists out of the bike lanes etc... This has been done in Austin, Texas with great success. A bicycle cop with a radio rides in traffic and when a car passes too closely or at an unsafe speed, violates the right of way etc. of the bicycle cop the bicycle cop radios a partner on a motorcycle and the driver is pulled over and issued a ticket or a warning. In most areas I have ridden in Southern California this would be a pay off way more than just using a radar gun to issue speeding tickets or ticketing a bicycle rider for blowing through a stop sign. The bonus like in Austin, Texas the car vs bicycle traffic collisions would go down.


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