RANCHO BERNARDO: Cyclist hit by car was retired Navy captain, avid athlete
By SARAH GORDON - Staff Writer | Wednesday, January 7, 2009 6:08 PM PST ∞
A 55-year-old Rancho Bernardo bicyclist who died after a car hit him on Sabre Springs Parkway on Tuesday evening was a retired Navy captain, a family man and an avid athlete, friends and family said Wednesday.
Walter Carl Joller Jr. was nearing the end of his 55-mile bicycle commute from the Point Loma area of San Diego, where he was a program manager at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, when the fatal accident occurred.
A BMW drifted into the bike lane and struck him from behind, severing one of the experienced cyclist's legs and causing other serious injuries, San Diego police Sgt. Jeff Fellows said. Paramedics were unsuccessful in their attempts to save him.
On Wednesday, Joller's wife of 31 years, Susan, was not ready to talk publicly. But friends and extended family who gathered at Joller's Rancho Bernardo home on Calle Suntuoso recalled him fondly.
"He was a fun guy to be with; he was positive, jovial and ebullient," said close friend Mike Wertz, a retired Navy commander from Rancho Penasquitos who said he had known Joller for more than 30 years and served with him in five different commands.
Joller was a captain and flight officer last assigned to the Tactical Training Group Pacific in San Diego when he retired from his 30-year career in 2005, Navy officials said.
Wertz said Joller's chief concern as a Navy officer was the well-being of his sailors.
"He was in it for the people," Wertz said. "His mantra was that he could improve the Navy by improving the lot of its people."
Joller was raised in Buffalo, N.Y., and lived there before attending the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and spending most of his career in San Diego, Wertz said. A star athlete in high school, Joller remained in top shape his entire life, running, cycling, and playing tennis and racquetball.
But he was the opposite of a cut-throat competitor when it came to friends, Wertz said.
"He was a fun guy to run with; he'd stay with you whether you ran a 5-minute mile or a 9-minute mile," Wertz said.
For decades, Joller competed in marathons, including the Athens Marathon in 1979, Wertz said. About 10 years ago, he gave up distance running because of knee troubles, but he continued cycling.
Joller talked about cycling in a 2003 USS Nimitz newsletter story on the ship's cycling club:
"I am a HCC (Hard Core Commuter)," Joller said. "I bought a new bike in the late '70s during the gas crisis. I didn’t want to stand in line for gas, so I commuted to work. When we’re in port, I commute 58 miles round-trip two to three times a week. That’s why I ride. I am a commuter first, a social rider second. The people, the fun and the love of the sport keep me going on rides."
Sister-in-law Sally Fluernoy of San Diego said that in recent years Joller had taken pleasure in supporting his children's athletics.
He would ride his bike alongside his 26-year-old daughter, Emily, as she trained for marathons, and he traveled all over the country to cheer her on at races, she said. He also attended his 23-year-old son Erik's college volleyball matches.
His love of family and friends was his hallmark, she said.
"He was certainly the energy at any gathering; he hugs, he laughs, he plays ---- he loves babies," she said.
Fellows, the San Diego police traffic sergeant, said Joller was wearing a reflective vest and helmet when the crash occurred about 7:15 p.m. Friends said he also used illuminated flashers on his bicycle. The BMW's driver had not used alcohol or drugs and the accident apparently was caused by inattention, Fellows said.
"This is just an example of how important it is to keep your mind on the road," he said.
Police will forward their traffic investigation to the San Diego city attorney, who will decide whether to file misdemeanor manslaughter charges against the driver, Fellows said.
Police did not release the driver's name Wednesday.
The family said donations may be made to the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society in lieu of flowers.
Contact staff writer Sarah Gordon at (760) 740-3517 or firstname.lastname@example.org.