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Beachcomber
5199 E. Pacific Coast Hwy. #608
Post Office Box 15679
Long Beach California, 90815-0679
Phone: (562) 597-8000
Fax: (562) 597-9410
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Feature Stories

Ghost Bikes Mark Cyclist Fatalities

From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 2
1/25/2013


By Kirt Ramirez

Ghost Bike at Bellflower and Atherton

A white-bike memorial stands frozen in time at the intersection of Bellflower Boulevard and Atherton Street in memory of Susan Curtis, 50 – a bicyclist who was hit by a car.

Painting a bike pure white gives it a statue-like look and heavenly appearance. The haunting image is a stark reminder that cars and bicycles share the streets and must get along.

Police found Curtis lying in the middle of the roadway at about 7:17 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 15, along with a Green 2002 Honda Odyssey sitting nearby. Long Beach Fire Department paramedics responded and transported the victim to a hospital but she died later in the evening, Long Beach Police said in a news release.

“The preliminary investigation determined the Honda Odyssey was traveling southbound on Bellflower Boulevard on a green light. The bicyclist was traveling westbound on Atherton Street, on the north side of the intersection, when she attempted to cross Bellflower Boulevard against a solid red light, just south of the crosswalk, and was struck by the Honda,” the news release said. “The driver stopped, attempted to render aid and called 9-1-1.”

The driver, a 19-year-old Los Alamitos resident, was not injured and was released at the scene with no charges pending, the release added. His mother told the Beachcomber that her son was en route to a job interview at the time.

Meanwhile, the white-bike tribute – called a “ghost bike” – appeared at the intersection shortly after the accident. Who is responsible for this memorial?

The Beachcomber learned of the two people who took part in the act of kindness and called one of them at home.

“My intention with the ghost bikes is to make drivers aware and look out for bicyclists,” said a Cypress resident, who said he prefers to be anonymous. After some coaxing, the man finally agreed to go on the record with his name: Leslie Caldera.

“Whenever there’s a cyclist fatality, we make sure a ghost bike is painted and installed,” he admitted. Caldera said his friend Danny Gamboa, of Long Beach, set up the one for Curtis while Caldera made the name placard.

A little uneasy with the Beachcomber’s questions, Caldera emphasized, “My take on this is that the focus should be on the victim and the incident.”

Assistant Gamboa could not be reached immediately for comment. The two men belong to a group of three to five volunteers who place ghost bikes throughout greater Los Angeles and Orange County. Some of the group handles the Los Angeles and valley areas while Caldera and Gamboa cover the Orange County and South Bay areas. The empathetic men care about their fellow bike riders and want to bring awareness to drivers.

And there’s a website linking to chapters around the world at www.ghostbikes.org.

Caldera said Gamboa has his computer set up to alert him whenever there is media coverage of a fatal bike accident, then rushes to get a ghost bike up as soon as possible.

Asked how many tributes they have put up in Long Beach, Caldera said: “We’ve put up at least six ghost bikes in Long Beach over the past three years.”

Altogether since 2009, the two men have placed between 20 and 30 ghost bikes throughout the South Bay and Orange County.
Regardless of who was at fault, bicyclists can be injured and are fragile.

On facebook, a tribute to Curtis can be found at the group’s Ghost Bikes-LA page.

On the page, Curtis’ friend Lisa Woodruff said after the tragedy: “I need some help or advice. There was a terrible accident last night in Long Beach & a cyclist was killed. I know her & she has no family. The LBPD came to her apt to try to find out some more info on her or next of kin, etc. and found all her pets.

“They took all her beloved animals & placed them in the Long Beach shelter! Her boss (was her emergency contact) wants to get her pets & find homes for them or at least get them in a no kill shelter. This woman rescued animals & was a dog walker/pet sitter. If she knew upon her death that her beloved pets would end up in a shelter, that would have been her biggest nightmare.

“It seems like the shelter isn’t being very helpful on letting the animals go someplace else. There’s Sadie, her dog, a couple cats, I think, a bird, a snake, not sure how many altogether.”

Curtis worked at Up, Up and Away Kites in Seal Beach, where a woman said management would respond to the Beachcomber’s request for comment, but did not immediately.

Ted Stevens, with Long Beach Animal Control, said: “We currently are housing the animals as a ‘safe keep’ until a next of kin comes forward. If after 14 days, no one comes forward then we will take ownership of the animals and they will be available for adoption.
“If no next of kin comes forward to claim them, the animals will become available on Jan 30.

“It is also possible that a next of kin could come forward and release the animals to us, which would allow us to make the animals available before Jan 30.

Because we partner with spcaLA for our adoptions, I would encourage people to come to the shelter at 10 a.m. sharp on Jan 30 if they are interested in adopting one of her animals.”
The public can call Animal Control at (562) 570-7387.

kirt@longbeachcomber.com