Driver claims steering wheel ‘locked’ before plowing into a group of cyclists in Goodyear

Lawyer Benjamin Dodge says most drivers don't follow the laws, and the penalties for hurting cyclists are slaps on the wrist.
Published: Feb. 27, 2023 at 11:01 AM MST|Updated: Feb. 27, 2023 at 2:14 PM MST
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GOODYEAR, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- Court documents revealed that the pickup driver was on his way to work when he allegedly plowed into a group of cyclists in Goodyear over the weekend.

The crash happened around 8 a.m. Saturday morning on the Cotton Lane bridge over the MC-85 highway. A total of 17 cyclists were injured, and two died as a result of the wreck. Karen Malisa, 61, was a long-time math teacher from Goodyear, and David Kero, 65, was visiting Arizona from Michigan and was on his very first ride with West Valley Cycle group. “He was just here visiting for spring training and heard about the group and decided, hey I want to ride because I’ve heard about this group,” said Steven Rhode, who was also involved in the crash.

“I blacked out. I know something hit me from behind, I was flying through the air. It was like I was in a dream. I guess I hit my head pretty hard. Probably was unconscious,” said Cheryl Herzog, a cyclist in the crash. “I could hear voices; I could hear moaning. But I just thought it was a dream, a bad dream.”

Herzog was a longtime friend of Malisa. “I could hear her back there because you could always hear Karen, and all the sudden, I was like on the side of the road, up against the side of the bridge, and she wasn’t there,” said Herzog. “Karen’s laugh, smile, and endless energy will be missed by everyone who had the honor of calling her our friend.”

According to court documents, 26-year-old Pedro Quintana-Lujan told officers that the steering wheel of his F-250 locked and drifted to the right suddenly while he was driving. Lujan claims that once he heard a noise similar to “metal,” he let off the gas, regained control of the wheels, turned left, and then stopped in the middle of the bridge. The posted speed limit in the area was posted as 45 mph, and he told investigators he was going about 45-50 mph. Crash scene investigators say that speeds at the time of braking were about 41 mph. Court paperwork also details that investigators believe that Lujan made no signs of stopping before eventually hitting a concrete barrier that separated the road from the sidewalk.

Detectives described the initial scene as having bikes “broken into pieces and clothing littered” throughout the street. At the time the police report was filed, three cyclists remained in the hospital with severe injuries that included a broken arm, a fractured pelvis, and a “bladder laceration.” Investigators also looked at the vehicle and concluded that the steering rack was intact and in working order and that “all bolts and nuts appeared to be secured and all major frame elements were intact with no damage.” Detectives added that all damage appeached to be above the front bumper.

Pedro Quintana-Lujan faces various charges including manslaughter.

“When I got there, there were…bodies everywhere,” said David Herzog, Cheryl’s husband, and founder of West Valley Cycle. “What actually struck me was not the truck. It was the actual bodies and parts that were being pushed up from behind into me,” said Rhodes.

During an interview with Lujan, he stated that he was driving to a job site from Chandler when the crash occurred. He also indicated to police that he had smoked a marijuana blunt 11 hours before the wreck happened, but investigators were still working to obtain the blood analysis results. Lujan also denied any physical or mental conditions that could have impacted his driving ability.

The 26-year-old currently faces two counts of manslaughter, three counts of aggravated assault, 18 counts of endangerment, and two counts of causing serious injury or death by a moving violation.

Goodyear Mayor Joe Pizello said, “We have a tight-knit cycling community, so this has deeply affected many across the West Valley. I appreciate our great first responders who rendered aid quickly and those still investigating the incident.” Goodyear Police Chief Santiago Rodriguez said that there is no indication that the crash was intentional at this time. He also confirmed that a blood sample has been taken, and detectives are awaiting the results.

The chief also warned that vehicles have to give bicyclists three feet of clearance. “Where bike lanes may not be available, bicyclists may take up that first lane of travel.” Public Information Officer Lisa Berry said that the police department is searching for other witnesses who are willing to contribute information to the investigation. Anyone who is willing to share with the department what they know can call the Goodyear Police Department’s non-emergency line.

Benjamin Dodge, a bike accident attorney from Gilbert, said his father-in-law was T-boned in 2013 by a driver and later died from a stroke months after. He said doctors believed it was caused by his injuries sustained in the crash. Since then, he’s dedicated the past ten years to working exclusively with cyclists. “Cyclists are allowed to be on the roadway. They’re allowed to occupy a whole lane. If you come across a cyclist or group of cyclists, you can pass them, but only if you can give them 3-feet of space. It has to be 3-feet of space, otherwise you gotta wait to pass them,” said Dodge.

However, he said most drivers don’t follow those laws and that the penalties for hurting cyclists are typically slaps on the wrist. “If you throw out trash out of your car on the roadways here in Arizona, you can be fined up to $500. If you hit or injure a cyclist, you can be fined $500. If you hit and kill a cyclist, you can be fined up to a $1,000. If you feed animals, wild animals from your car in a spot you’re not supposed to be in, you can be fined $2,400,” he said. Dodge said the penalties and enforcement for drivers must be increased. “It’s just not a big deal if you don’t have to really pay for it, right?” said Dodge.

Dodge explained it’s unusual for criminal charges to be applied to cases, even when there’s been a cyclist death. In his career, Dodge said the only times drivers received criminal charges were when impairment was a factor, and that’s only been the case a couple of times. He also said cyclists should ride on the far right of the road, but only far enough to ride safely. He explained cyclists can take up more space on the road when bike lanes have debris. However, road shoulders are not dedicated for cyclists. Dodge explained sidewalks are never a safe option for cyclists since they could end up hurting pedestrians.

A GoFundMe has been launched to support the victims’ hospital stays as well as memorials for those impacted by the tragedy.