Back-to-Back Bicycle Deaths Shine Spotlight on City's Fatality Record

The recent deaths of Sarah Leaf, 29, and Catherine "Kit" Campion-Ritz, devastate the community and prompt efforts to find ways to make the roads safer for cyclists.

As family and friends prepare to lay bicyclists Catherine "Kit" Campion-Ritz and Sarah Leaf to rest, the community of Newport Beach is trying to figure out how to move forward.

The back-to-back deaths of Campion-Ritz, 57, a beloved Newport Beach physician, and Leaf, 29, a nutritionist from Corona del Mar, have devastated residents. Since 2006, nine cyclists have been killed in Newport Beach, and the latest tragedies force the community’s cycling safety record into the spotlight.

Mayor Nancy Gardner said the deaths of Leaf and Campion-Ritz have shone a bright light on the work that needs to be done to pave a safer relationship between cyclists and drivers.

"Bikes and cars are a difficult mix, particularly when we are so car-centric. We have work to do," Gardner said. "That said, until these two incidents, our accident statistics were down from the previous year."

"It saddens all of us that Sara and Catherine were killed this way and we will do what we can, working with the community to try and prevent this from happening again," Kathy Lowe, spokeswoman for the Newport Beach Police Department, added. "The unfortunate part about all of this is that these tragedies involve human error. No one wanted this to happen, but it did."

Leaf, who was an Arizona native, lost her life in a bicycle collision on the morning of Friday, Sept. 14 when she was cycling on Pacific Coast Highway and the driver of a stake bed truck turned right onto Bayside Drive. No arrests or citations have been made as a result of Leaf's death.

"I loved Sarah, she was like my little sister," said Renee Sampedro. "I am still in shock and denial. I can't believe the world has lost such a beautiful, vibrant young woman."

Mike McCarthy, who rented a room to Leaf, says everyone involved in the tragic accident will be damaged forever.

"I told Sarah biking on the street was far too dangerous for the exercise and enjoyment derived from it," McCarthy said. "How many times have all of us made a right turn without looking for a biker passing us? I would dare say everyone is guilty of that. No fine or even prison sentence would be as punishing to him as that memory haunting him the rest of his life."

Campion, a doctor who treated patients in Newport Beach for close to 30 years, was killed during a fatal hit-and-run on Saturday as she cycled on Newport Coast Drive with her husband.

Michael Jason Lopez, 39, of Anaheim, was arrested Tuesday in connection with Campion's death. If convicted, Lopez faces a maximum sentence of eight years in state prison for the deadly hit-and-run crash.

"Dr. Campion was my doctor for over 25 years, I'm in shock," said Susan Hoffman, a Patch photographer. "I just saw her a couple of weeks ago."

In recent years, there have been other cycling tragedies that prompted calls for safety improvements. Forty-four-year-old Amine Britel, a Newport Coast triathlete and local businessman, was among the nine people killed in cycling accidents since 2006. He was killed on Feb. 21, 2011 while riding his bike on San Joaquin Hills Road. Danae Marie Miller, 23, also of Newport Coast, pleaded guilty in February to vehicular manslaughter and was sentenced to four years in state prison for Britel's death. Authorities say Miller was text-messaging behind the wheel and veered into the bicycle lane where Britel was cycling.

The other fatal collisions occurred at the following locations:

  • 8/23/2006- West Coast Highway & Riverside Drive
  • 6/8/2007 - West Coast Highway & Hoag Drive
  • 3/17/2008- Back Bay Drive & San Joaquin Hills Drive
  • 7/23/2009- Ridge Park Drive & Tesoro
  • 12/9/2009- Jamboree & Ford Road
  • 7/15/2010 - Spyglass Hills Road & Harbor Ridge

Going Forward

On Monday the Newport Beach bike safety committee gathered for a special meeting dedicated to bike share programs. But the meeting went into a different direction, thanks in large part to the more than 100 people that crammed into the usually bare-boned meeting.

Frank Peters, a CDM cyclist and committee member, requested the meeting's agenda be postponed in order to give the residents a chance to share their feelings about the cycling tragedies.

"Hearing, firsthand, from the grieving friends and neighbors of these two cyclists was critical," Peters told Patch. "Every one of these bike riders is bullied every day by motorists. It's time to do something to change that."

"We all need to show more courtesy," Gardner said.

One safety measure the bike committee and city council have been working collaboratively are on sharrows or shared-lane markers for bikes and cars, which are painted on streets that are too narrow for a bicyclist and a vehicle to share side-by-side. In July, the Newport Beach City Council voted to approve sharrows along East Coast Highway in CDM. In light of the recent cycling deaths, the safety feature is expected to show up in the village faster than planned.

"Sharrows say two things: cyclists may be present and they have a right to the lane," Peters explained. "The awareness features of Sharrows can be one element of a game changing strategy of cycling safety."

In CDM, the sharrows will be deployed along East Coast Highway from MacArthur Boulevard to Poppy Avenue. Sharrows are already in place on Bayside Drive.

In the meantime, city officials say it is imperative for drivers and cyclists to take extra precautions while on the road.

"Both have a legal right to the roadways and both need to understand and respect the rights of the other," Lowe added. "As a motorist or a cyclist, be a defensive driver."

The Department of Motor Vehicles reminds drivers, “When you turn right, be sure to check for pedestrians crossing the street and bicyclists coming up behind you on the right. When you turn left, give the right-of- way to all vehicles approaching that are close enough to be dangerous. Also, look for motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.”

"Drivers need to understand the rules of the road where bikes are concerned, and cyclists need to be sure they are observing the rules in turn," Gardner said.

A memorial will be held for Sarah Leaf on Saturday at 4 p.m. at Shape-Up Fitness Center in Corona del Mar. Funeral services will be held in Arizona. A funeral mass has been scheduled for Campion-Ritz on Saturday, Sept. 29 at 10 a.m. at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Irvine.


Is there anything that should be done to make the community safer for cyclsits?

Andy Somerville September 21, 2012 at 09:39 PM
Thanks for this well-written article. I was at the public meeting last Monday and was heartened to see us normally docile road cyclists galvanized by these tragedies. Let us not have all these deaths be in vain!
Amused September 22, 2012 at 12:08 AM
Just to be clear....Danae Marie Miller got 4 years for killing Amine....according to the OC Register, " A 23-year-old woman from Newport Coast pleaded guilty Tuesday to killing a bicyclist while driving intoxicated and driving while texting on her cellphone."
Frank Peters September 22, 2012 at 12:44 AM
The next meeting of the Bike Safety Committee is Monday Oct 1st at 4:30pm in the Friends Room at the Central Library. If cycling safety matters to you then you must attend and have your voice heard.
Dan Murphy September 22, 2012 at 04:08 PM
A vehicle/bicycle accident on three consecutive days in Newport Beach. Two with fatalities and one with injuries. Incredibly tragic. You're right, Nisha, the bike safety meeting last Monday was overflowing with people that had come to express their grief. Hopefully this meeting will be the flash point for something positive to come out of these three days- measurably improved bike and pedestrian safety for all of us.
Laguna Streets September 23, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Since 1991 Mobility advocates in Laguna Beach recognized the emerging trend in mobility alternatives driven by economic, ecological, global and safety incentives. Despite years of formal and informal meetings with city officials to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety, little has been done to improve the streets. Since 2008 Laguna has spent a grand total of $5000 in street improvements for bike safety while spending embarrassing amounts on city self-promotions, salaries, and unnecessary studies. Newport's leadership like Laguna's still fail to focus on the message. So make no plans for late afternoon 1 October at 4:30p, attend the Bike Safety meeting. Remind your city officials it is time to act before another cyclist or pedestrian is killed.
Peter Desforges September 24, 2012 at 04:12 AM
The reality is, with bikes and cars on the same streets, there will be accidents. Unfortunately, unlike "car on car' accidents, the cyclist always loses and can sometimes end up dead. As long as people insist on texting/talking on cell phones while driving, this kind of thing will continue to happen. Hopefully, a County wide safety awareness campaigne (neither of these drivers lived locally) will help educate the driving community to the fact that they need to be on constant lookout for cyclinsts on our streets. My condolences to the families involved. The only good that can come out of these tragic deaths is a hightened awareness of the community to the fact that they share the streets with cyclists who have the right to be there and be safe.
Andie Tena September 24, 2012 at 05:01 PM
The funeral service on Sept 29th is a Private service for Family only. There will be a Public Celebration of Life Service on Oct 6th at Mariners Church.
Billy September 26, 2012 at 07:35 PM
Although it is sad at what happened, how come no one is talking about how many times cyclist break the law. How they run red lights or how they crowd the bike lane when it should only be two abreast at the max.
Great Big Pick-Up Truck September 30, 2012 at 05:02 AM
Billy, no one talks about those things-- which are the TRUTH, because this is all about the sweet, wonderful, loving, intelligent, careful, law abiding bicyclists who are constantly slaughtered by all those horrible, disgusting, illiterate, lawless vehicle drivers. These exceptional, loving people will not be happy until four of the five lanes on the 405 are designated for bicycles only. Even then, when one of them falls down and skins their knee, they will all shout, at the top of their voices, that it was caused by someone in a vehicle. Hey bikers: the next time you need an ambulance, I hope it arrives under pedal power. I'm just saying.
Missy M October 15, 2012 at 07:17 PM
My boyfriend was almost killed in a crosswalk on his bike on the Peninsula in Newport Beach recently a block from my home.It was a hit and run and the police asked if we wanted him prosecuted....hello yes. Its sad but those boys deystroyed his bike, busted open his head and then left...all while we were told making a uturn in a crosswalk to quickly grab a parking space....Someone must learn.
James October 17, 2012 at 01:08 PM
I train for triathlons and I'm very familiar with close encounters with motor vehicles. This is a very sad story that happens all to often. States are adopting the "4 foot safety rule". Pennsylvania is the most recent state to proactively sign this into law. " Vehicles passing on the left of a bicycle shall pass NOT LESS THAN 4 FEET at a careful reduced speed". When this new safety code is adopted in California, it will greatly reduce bicycle/vehicle related accidents and fatalities as it has in other states. It's all about safely sharing the road. For more information, go to www.bicycleAccess-PA.org
David Huntsman August 20, 2013 at 02:29 PM
Bikinginla relays the news that Danae Miller is out of jail one year into her four year sentence: http://bikinginla.wordpress.com/2013/08/20/a-look-at-camp-pendleton-collision-site-a-killer-driver-may-be-back-on-the-streets-three-years-early/.


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