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Bicycle Safety

Oakland Cyclist Remains in Coma Following Hit-and-Run

4:22 PM PST on February 19, 2009

scan0002.jpgA photo of Brandon Thomas taken about seven years ago.

No one knows for sure how long 23-year-old Brandon Thomas lay bleeding and unconscious before he was discovered in front of his aunt and uncle’s barbershop on San Pablo Avenue near 55th Street the morning of February 4th. He was believed to be riding a bicycle not far from his North Oakland home when the driver of a red Toyota pick-up truck hit him and took off.

More than three weeks after the hit-and-run crash, Thomas, who suffered severe brain damage, remains in a coma at Highland Hospital.  His case has received very little media attention. Police have been tracking leads but they have yet to arrest the driver.

In an interview, his mother, Stella Thomas, described her youngest son as a free spirit -- a likable, kind-hearted man with many friends.  He was always on a bicycle, she said. 

"He was loved by everyone," said Thomas. "I don't care what part of town I'm in...they'll come up to me and say are you Brandon's mom?" 

"I remember he would take food out of my freezer to take to homeless people who were out cooking."

Thomas said her son may have gotten into an argument prior to the crash with a woman she thinks is his girlfriend but she doesn't know for sure what happened. That woman hasn't been located.  Many of the details remain unclear and Thomas said police haven't found the bicycle. A nearby security camera captured the crash but the black and white footage was too grainy to offer any help. 

The Oakland police officer investigating the case, Michael Cardoza, has not returned repeated phone calls from Streetsblog San Francisco.

Thomas, meantime, has been by Brandon's side in the hospital and although doctors have been telling her "things don't look good," she is encouraged the swelling has stopped and that he opened his eyes last weekend.

"That's a major step," she said. "He's not focused when he opens them. We would talk to him and his eye would open and close at that time...but how much he's hearing we don't know." 

The crash is not the first on San Pablo Avenue involving cars and bicyclists, who are the most vulnerable users of a traffic lane. 55-year-old Elena Casteneda was killed the morning of August 7, 2007 on San Pablo near Isabel while commuting from her Berkeley home to downtown Oakland.

In an email, Roger Miller with Walk Oakland-Bike Oakland said the section of San Pablo Avenue from Adeline to Ashby is a
dangerous one: 

There are two traffic lanes
each for northbound and soundbound traffic, but not a single extra inch
for bicyclists to safely ride without taking over a lane.  Drivers tend
to speed 5-20 miles above the speed limit and police enforcement in the
area of speeding is spotty.  During rush hour, this is an uncomfortable
stretch to ride and I avoid it and tend to prefer Hollis to the west or
riding east to one of the other wider parallel streets. While I've
ridden many times during off peak hours, late nights sometimes turn San
Pablo into a race course and it can be equally sketchy. 

This section of San Pablo is not included in the City of Oakland's
Bicycle Master Plan, although a stretch from downtown to 33rd is
slotted to have a Class 3A Arterial Bike Route installed at some
point.  A Class 3A bike route might have helped this unfortunate
fellow, but bike routes are sign-only (signs on posts and pavement
painted with bicycle "sharrows") and they do not give any additional
dedicated pavement space to a bicyclist that would keep him/her safer
from drivers who aren't paying enough attention.

Police only have a vague description of the truck in this latest crash but a witness said it had wooden panels and should have damage to the right front bumper and fender. There is no description available of the driver.

Thomas said she hopes the person who struck her son will come forward.

"I can understand that they're scared or feel terrified about what's going to happen to them but they need to be held accountable for what they did mainly because they hit a human being. People will stop if they hit a dog. They hit a human being and they had to know this or know they hit something. They kept going with no regard for who they hit and it's like they didn't care if he was dead or alive."

Anyone with information is urged to call Officer Cardoza at 510-867-7111.

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