Livermore Police Remove Fault from Cyclist Killed by Truck Driver

Christine Boyle was fatally struck in this crossing by a right-turning truck on Dec. 21, 2020. Image: Google Maps
Christine Boyle was fatally struck in this crossing by a right-turning truck on Dec. 21, 2020. Image: Google Maps

Livermore Police are removing a statement of fault against Christine Boyle, a cyclist who was riding the Iron Horse Trail at the connector between Stanely Blvd. and Isabel Avenue on Dec. 21 when she was hit and killed by a right-turning truck driver. The driver left the scene.

“We took the opportunity to discuss this with our city attorney and we are going to remove the fault from the bicycle,” Lieutenant Mike Trudeau, head of the Livermore police traffic division, told Streetsblog. “She is no longer at fault.”

Boyle had a green light and the right of way when she was killed, but Livermore police originally cited her for riding in the crosswalk. Advocates railed against the decision, which was based on a misreading of the vehicle code.

The reversal still leaves the question of how Gurdev Singh Dhillon, the driver of the gravel truck, managed to run over a cyclist who was following the law and doing everything right. “She waited for her light to turn before starting across the crosswalk. Then, when she was almost halfway across the intersection, she’s hit and killed by a trucker who was trying to time the light and avoid coming to a stop,” wrote Thomas J. McDonnell, an attorney for the family, in an email to Streetsblog. “Whoever was in that intersection that morning when this truck came through was going to be hit. That’s true whether they were walking or running or pushing a baby carriage across the street.”

“There was an obstruction (horizontal sign) that ‘could have’ prevented him from seeing her when she was waiting at the corner, and the sunlight was in his face as he turned, in fact, I think I recall he was putting down his visor as he turned, hence I couldn’t get a good look at him,” wrote Jessica Benavidez, the closest witness to the collision. Dhillon told police he never saw Boyle and was not aware a collision had taken place. Dhillon, as previously reported, was apprehended on December 30 after police canvassed area gravel haulers and identified his truck by its markings and a partial plate. So far, no charges have been filed.

Streetsblog was sent a copy of a traffic cam video of the collision under an agreement that the video won’t be published and any screen captures don’t show the collision itself.

In the video, Boyle can be seen at the moment of impact, although her image was far from the camera and fuzzy. However, consistent with witness testimony and the police report, she can be seen stopping at the intersection, perhaps to push the signal button, and then proceeding to ride across the Isabel Avenue connector when Dhillon approached and turned right, with his right turn signal activated. His turn and the angle of the sun are consistent with Benavidez’s observation that he may have been momentarily blinded by the glare.

“I do not believe he saw her. Plus the large grill/hood and wheel wells would have obstructed her from his view before he came upon her,”  she wrote, emphasizing that she doesn’t think either party is to blame.

From Streetsblog’s view, Benavidez is of course correct that the Dhillon did not see her and did not intend to kill a woman that morning. However, if he was pulling down his visor and may have been blinded by glare, he was obliged to brake until he could regain situational awareness. It’s clear in the video that his brake lights did not activate as he made the turn. If anything, he seemed to accelerate.

And looking at the video frames and sightlines seconds before the impact, Boyle should have been clearly visible from the cab of the truck. If Dhillon didn’t see her, he was either blinded by the sun or was distracted. Lieutenant Trudeau told Streetsblog the police did not check Dhillon’s cell phone records to see if he had been texting or talking on the phone at the moment of the crash. “We’re still trying to debate if we’re going to find fault with the truck driver,” he added. “There’s a lot of stuff that went on in the collision.”

It’s worth noting that in the video a similar truck, pictured below, approached the intersection a few moments earlier and made a right on red without coming to a stop or showing any sign of slowing.

This is a similar truck from the same traffic cam seen blowing right through the red light moments before Dhillon's truck approached. Image: Caltrans traffic cam
This is a similar truck from the same traffic cam seen blowing right through the red light moments before Dhillon’s truck approached. Image: Caltrans traffic cam

All of which is consistent with something a Livermore resident wrote in the comments section of the first article about this tragedy: Gravel trucks “blow though this intersection even on the red light – I have seen that literally dozens of times.” That’s a strong argument for speed and red-light cameras at this location.

And then there’s the intersection design itself. The soft curves, as is typical of Caltrans-controlled roads, are designed to be forgiving of driver inattention and excessive speeds (note the tire marks in the lead image caused by cars whipping around that curve). But that helped create the situation that killed Boyle. Dave Campbell of Bike East Bay wants the intersection made safe, first with a clearly striped bike lane. “Do it and do it right away,” he said, emphasizing that advocates have long asked for safety improvements at that intersection and a similar one at Jack London Boulevard where the Iron Horse trail crosses another busy roadway. “The city needed to do a bike crossing here and didn’t,” Campbell said.

“This intersection is where the big rigs leaving the CEMEX plant and all the bicyclists using the bike path along E. Stanley are funneled together. That is a dangerous mix,” said McDonnell. “With the volume of bikers that need to cross the connector and the number of trucks turning right here, the City of Livermore needs to take some steps to make this intersection safer.”

Trudeau said the city and his department will be working with Caltrans to improve the intersection. He said they also plan to put up more signs to make it clear cyclists can legally cross, to avoid future errors by officers. “We will do some roadway improvements and we will continue to allow bicycles to cross because it’s a trail,” he said.

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