Bicyclist Killed in Redwood City Was a Fixture of Peninsula Bike Paths

IMG02.JPGMary Yonkers, right, with a bike trail friend. Photo courtesy Barry Grossman.

Mary Yonkers, 58, of San Mateo, was killed by a truck driver while riding her bicycle to work on Shoreway Road in Redwood City last week.

That stale description of her death belies the incredible impact she had on a countless number of people during her life. Not even her closest friends had grasped the breadth of that impact. During her daily routine of running, bicycling, and walking with her beloved dog, Moe, Mary got to know so many people that no single friend of hers realized how many other friends there were.

Yonkers was headed to work last Wednesday when the crash happened shortly
before 8 a.m. as a truck driver was turning right onto Holly Street from
southbound
Shoreway Road, Redwood City police said. Sgt. Eric Stasiak said their
investigation had concluded that Yonkers tried to pass the truck on the right, while she may also have been turning right, but was struck and killed, based on eyewitness accounts. The driver later
claimed he was unaware he had hit her.

Ken Stecklein, Mary’s roommate for over 20 years, said the response to her death made him realize how little he really knew about her in some ways. After 25 years, Stecklein said, "you’d think you know everything about a person. I found I knew very little about her. She’d come home and tell me about all these people, but it’s amazing. Now, I walk on the streets and they see Moe, and the response is unbelievable. People are crying, and they’re telling me these stories about her. One lady said she was ‘an angel on earth.’"

Stecklein said about 20 people have stopped by in the past week to express condolences and share stories about Mary, but the number of people who ask about her when he’s out walking Moe on the streets and on the extensive trails she frequented positively dwarfs that.

"I’ve been walking him three times a day and half-hour walks have been turning into two and three hours because I’m constantly running into people that are just now hearing about it," said Stecklein. "I’m not sure they even knew her last name, just that she was the lady that was always out there, always had time to stop and talk, very friendly."

"I passed out flyers Wednesday. Anybody with a dog, I’d say, ‘excuse me, but this lady…’ Then they would start crying, they have stories to tell me. I just cannot believe the reaction I’m getting."

IMG26.JPGMary Yonkers. Photo courtesy Barry Grossman.

Just a minute into our phone conversation, the proof of that response came in the form of an interruption. A friend of Mary’s was at the door.

There was further proof in the comments to the first two reports of the crash on Streetsblog. Comments started pouring in from neighbors she’d babysat pets for, friends from the biking and walking trails, a childhood friend, her roommate, and her sister-in-law, Cindy Yonkers.

A friend, Karen, wrote:

Her name was Mary. She rode her bike to work everyday for the last 15 years unless it was pouring down rain like it did yesterday. It’s too bad it didn’t rain today. What Mary did everyday when she came to work was care for people, she was one of the most naturally compassionate people I’ve ever known. She also loved to listen to people and their concerns, she truly cared about them … We drove out to the intersection today and tried to make sense of it. From the looks of that intersection I can’t see how she survived the last 15 years. It is my understanding that Mary feared this intersection, I can see why.

Shelley, a friend from the Foster City bike path, wrote:

I was stunned to read today that Mary is gone. I have seen Mary running and biking on the Foster City bike path for more than 10 years, most recently with her adorable dog, Moe. She always gave me a cheerful greeting and often we spent a few minutes chatting. My heart goes out to those who were close to her, her coworkers and roommate … I am sure that my husband, my running partner and I are just a few of many bikepath "friends" who would love to pay our respects. We will miss Mary.

Another friend from the bike paths wrote, "From what we knew, Mary lived a life of kindness and compassion … We knew her as ‘mom’ to an energetic toddler dog named Moe, who did not always appreciate Mary’s early morning running routine. Moe lost his best friend yesterday."

mary_by_herself.jpgMary Yonkers. Photo courtesy Ken Stecklein.

Mary worked in San Carlos Monday through Thursday as a dental assistant, biking to work most days. On the weekend, said Stecklein, her routine involved a nearly mind-boggling feat of stamina. "She’d sleep in until six, she would take Moe for a six-mile run, she’d come back, she’d work out with the weights, hour and a half, hop on her bicycle, ride 40 miles, 20 miles each way, come back, take a shower, put her backpack on, and walk to Safeway with about 50 pounds of food coming back, and a couple of grocery bags."

"Then she’d take Moe, and they’d go for a ten-mile walk, he’s getting tired by now, so she’d bring him back and she’d take off again, come back about five," said Stecklein. After dinner, she’d head back out for another walk with Moe.

Mary grew up in Cicero, IL, a suburb of Chicago. After living in San Francisco’s West Portal neighborhood briefly, she moved to San Mateo, and quickly became a fixture of the trails, the sidewalks, and the neighborhood. She took care of people’s pets, even donating money to an elderly woman she knew to help her feed her rescued cats. With Stecklein’s help, she rescued her own dog, Moe, who had been abused. Countless people she met on the trail confided in her. When she was younger, Stecklein said they rode their bicycles to Yosemite three times. "She was a jock," he said of her with awe.

Tomorrow, friends will have a chance to come together and share stories at a Celebration of Life for Mary. Her running friends, her walking friends, her pet friends, her grocery store friends, her work friends are welcomed to gather at the Laguna Vista Clubhouse at 3324 Kimberly Way in San Mateo from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. Friends can bring an appetizer to share for a potluck table. In lieu of flowers, Stecklein requests that people donate to the Peninsula Humane Society/SPCA in Mary’s name.

Cactus_Flower_Pictures_1_.jpgPhoto courtesy Ken Stecklein.

  • stephen

    I’m an avid cyclist, former bike messenger, and triathlete. So I’m almost always on the side of the cyclist, but this story reflects a trend that makes me want to scream at my fellow cyclists: if a vehicle is turning right (or waiting to do so), then PASS THEM ON THE LEFT!!!!!!!!

  • Patrick Lynch

    She sounds like a classy lady who will be missed!

    I wonder if Redwood City has any plans to make unsafe intersections safer for bicyclists?

    I should also say that it bothers me when I read articles about bicyclists and pedestrian deaths where the drivers say “I didn’t see (them)”. The article isn’t clear if the police consider this to be an “acceptable” excuse or if they prosecute. Drivers are SUPPOSED to be aware of what is around them and drive with respect for other users of the roads.

  • zsolt

    stephen: have you no class? This place is to pay her life a tribute not to discuss what she did wrong.

    My condolences to her family, including the animals.

  • poop99

    Why on earth was she passing a truck that was turning left in a busy intersection ON THE LEFT SIDE OF THE TRUCK???? Boggles the mind. She must have been a very aggressive rider.

  • Cindy

    Thank you to Michael Rhodes for doing this article/tribute to Mary. For those wondering about her bicycle riding habits, she was safe. The truck was turning right and so was Mary so the above post is a bit off base.

    Thank you Zsolt for reminding everybody that this is a tribute page, not a blame page. Her family is hurting, so’s the truck driver’s I’m sure. No sense to go there.

    Mick & Cindy Yonkers

  • Regular Bicycle Commuter

    We don’t know the full details. But there is no way any cyclist is going to pass any vehicle on the right which is indicating that they are turning right.

    On my every day commute, I so SO MANY cars that turn without indicating. If I had to guess, I would say that the truck did not have its turn signal on. I never get on the right of any truck because I know the driver would not see me.

    It only takes one mistake to erase a bicyclist. The more experienced you are, the fewer you make. But mistakes are made. We just have to pray that we are not in the wrong place at the wrong time when we do.

  • SFResident

    Thanks Michael. Mary sounds like a wonderful person and I’m sad that I’ll never get the chance to meet her.

  • Peter Smith

    sounds like she was an awesome person.

    as for the turn, it’s tricky — in just cruising around the accident scene multiple times in the days afterwards, i turned right, left, and went straight across (south) the intersection. on going straight across, i let a truck ahead of me turn right — i don’t remember if there was an indicator or not — i was just wary because i knew of Mary’s death a couple of days previous.

    Then I realized that the entire southbound/eastbound Shoreway Rd, up until it intersects Holly Street — if you are driving a car/truck, you never really need to straighten your wheel out, because you already entered into a big right turn 300 ft earlier, and the intersection with Holly Street is so rounded off that you can just about keep your steering wheel cranked to the right (I suspect), and it may be difficult – or impossible on older cars/trucks – to engage/use your right turn signal after you’ve already entered a right turn. That’s the way at least one of my old cars used to be, anyways — if already turning right, pushing up on the indicator would do nothing…it would just push back, and the right arrow/blinker/indicator would never go on.

    In any case, it feels like a dangerous intersection. I hope we can fix it and all of Redwood City. I’d like lanes painted over the 101 overpasses in the area, and it seems Redwood City will paint the bike lanes if Caltrans can find money to do the drawings. I’m not positive this would directly affect the collision scene, but the entire area is like a highway plopped into the middle of a park — just feels very dangerous, and unnecessarily so.

  • thanks to all who wrote about her….it was most interesting and personal. I appreciated all stories about her.

    About Stephen’s comment – passing on the right….it needed to be said.

  • zsolt

    Why was it “needed to be said”? AGAIN? Her alleged inability and unintelligence to recognize this “simple” dangerous situation (despite her being a bike commuter for decades), that is oh-so-clear cut to many who are now typing in front of a computer, has been discussed ad nauseum before. Follow the links in the article to the other posts with all in all 69 comments.

    Now I know one thing: should I ever get killed by a motor vehicle, I will try to make sure that it’s in a way that’s easily judged by my fellow cyclists commenting on it online afterwards. Next time you see a ghost bike somewhere, why don’t you stop and hang a sign on it describing what the dead person did wrong?

    I know, don’t pass a garbage truck on the right — gee wow! The world’s so much safer now that this has been said for the twentieth time on here. At this point this is completely redundant and in the way of paying tribute to someone who was one of us and was trying to do the right thing by riding her bike.

    She was one of us, guys.

  • Just wanted to give my condolences as well… I ride by that area every (week) day on bike and unless you ride it — you just won’t understand. It’s a scary scary area that is horribly unsafe , even if you follow the bike lane! It’s in the middle of 2 merges on and off a highway with large industrial trucks durring rush hour… even walking the sidewalk feels dangerous.

    Every day I pass through that intersection I think of Mary (kind of hard not to when you fear your own life!).

    Again, hopefully San Carlos will gets it act together and provide a safer path for cyclists.

  • How sad to hear of another tragedy, my condolences.
    This is the reason colorizing bike lanes should be a priority for cities, like the small exampled just installed on Edgewood Rd at Scenic Drive, Redwood City using “Ride-A-Way” product.

  • Michele Stiavetti

    Today I went to my dentist and found out that my friend, Mary, was killed while riding her bicycle. We rode many times together along the Redwood Shores bicycle trail. I can only say, hug everyone you love and as many times as possible, even if it’s embarrassing! Because I just couldn’t take in the horrific news, I wanted to find out more information, and to my additional shock, I saw the first picture in this article of me with Mary. We begged a stranger to take the picture. This particular day, in the picture, was a great day to ride, (not too hot, not too cold), to Millbrae and watch the airplanes take off/land at SFO while we (mostly me), caught our breaths.

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