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Hit-and-Run Nightmare in Marin

3:54 PM PDT on October 9, 2017

The remains of one of the bikes. Photo: Marin County Bicycle Coalition/Jim Elias

Cyclists participating in Saturday's Jensie Gran Fondo of Marin, a fund raising ride for the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, were nearing the end of their ride at about midday Saturday. A group of cyclists were on Point Reyes-Petaluma Road outside of Petaluma, when a blue pickup came up behind them, swerved and crashed into four riders, and drove off.

"I came on the scene a few minutes after it occurred," said a still audibly shaken Jim Elias, Executive Director of the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, in a phone interview with Streetsblog. "Medical services, which fortunately were stationed right down the road at a fire station, also arrived about the same time. The four riders were in various conditions along the side the road."

A screenshot from the California Highway Patrol's Facebook page.
A screenshot from the California Highway Patrol's Facebook page.

Fortunately, a motorcyclist with a GoPro-style video camera caught a shot of the truck and turned the evidence over to the California Highway Patrol. Apparently, someone recognized the truck and tipped off police.

A Picture Posted by the Califonria High
A Picture Posted by the California Highway Patrol of suspect Aaron Michael Paff. Photo: CHP's Facebook page

The suspect's name is Aaron Michael Paff, a 21-year-old maintenance worker for the Marin Municipal Water District.

"Thank you everyone for all of the tips and information regarding the bicycle collision on Point Reyes-Petaluma Road on Saturday morning. Your help has proven invaluable yet again," wrote the CHP on its social media feeds. "We received numerous tips that lead us to a house in Novato where our officers located the vehicle involved in the collision. Shortly before midnight, approximately 12 hours after the collision, Marin CHP officers along with members of our Investigative Services Unit placed the driver under arrest."

Elias, meanwhile, saw the video footage provided by the motorcyclist. "I viewed the video numerous times--it’s clear what happened. The truck was in the middle of the lane approaching the cyclists who were on the right side. Then the truck moved to the right side of the road where the cyclists were riding single file, he hit them, and then moved back to the center of the road and sped off."

A frame from the passing motorcyclist's video of the truck. Image from CHP.
A frame from the passing motorcyclist's video of the truck. Image from CHP.

Witnesses, according to reports, told CHP that the motorist appeared to intentionally steer his truck into the cyclists.

Paff, according to the PressDemocrat, was charged with of felony hit-and-run and was subsequently released Sunday on $50,000 bail. "I deal with hit-and-run every day and usually they happen where some kid is driving his parents car and he accidentally clips a cyclist, he freaks out, and drives home," said Michael Stephenson, a Senior Attorney with Bay Area Bicycle Law of San Francisco, responding to the reports of this case. "That’s not what this is--this is assault with a deadly weapon or attempted murder. He didn’t want to go to jail so he fled the scene."

Stephenson and Elias agree this reinforces the importance of riding with a camera. If not for the passing motorcyclist it's unlikely the police would already have a suspect. "It’s an important piece of safety equipment and this unfortunately confirms the value of that sort of evidence," said Elias.

That said, they also hope this terrible incident won't deter people from cycling. On the whole, motorists this egregious are rare. "As cyclists we face drunk drivers, pot holes, dangerous road design," Stephenson said. "There are dangers, but on the whole there are gains to our mental and physical health--it is safe and we should all keep cycling."

Elias, meanwhile, visited 48-year-old Spencer Fast of Mill Valley, the cyclist with the most critical injuries, on Sunday. "I saw him in the hospital and he’s improving, including seeing light from the eye that was badly injured--he didn’t know if he was going to regain vision in it." Fast suffered multiple injuries, including to his back, but is expected to recover.

"As awful as this incident was, I am heartened that so many people came forward in an effort to locate and apprehend the driver," said Elias. "I've heard from a lot of people, whether they ride bikes or not, who have said they were heartbroken to learn of what took place."

First responders treating one of the cyclists wounded in Saturday's hit and run. Photo: Marin County Bicycle Coalition/Elias
First responders treating one of the cyclists, presumably Spencer Fast, wounded in Saturday's hit and run. Fast was airlifted to the hospital. Photo: Marin County Bicycle Coalition/Elias

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