Tragedy strikes Cycle Oregon tour after West Linn woman plunges from road on descent near Williams
By BILL KETTLER
A West Linn woman died Tuesday when she lost control of her bicycle on a twisting mountain road near Williams, marring Cycle Oregonís swing through Jackson and Josephine counties.
Karen Holmes, 60, was the first person to die from an accident in Cycle Oregonís 17-year history.
The weeklong bicycle tour raises money for local communities along a different route each year, and regularly draws 2,000 riders.
Holmes was three or four miles into a long descent down Holcomb Peak, in Josephine County, on the way to Williams, where riders were scheduled to stop for lunch on their way to Jacksonville, their destination for Tuesday night.
"It happened real fast," said John Adams of Lake Oswego, who had stopped to check his brakes just before the accident occurred. He happened to look up and saw Holmes coming downhill fast.
"She was really moviní," Adams said, "and her front tire was wobbling like crazy. She was totally out of control and clearly panicked."
Adams said Holmes shouted something unintelligible that made him think she was in trouble as she hurtled toward a sharp curve in the road.
"The road turned left," he said, "and she just went right over the side.
"If you went over the side you were in big trouble," he said. "It wasnít straight down but it was pretty damn steep."
Adams said the road was surfaced with a mixture of rock chips and oil, a mixture known as "chip seal," thatís commonly used on rural roads.
"Iíve been on worse (roads)," he said. "It was not wet, not slippy, but very steep."
An ambulance brought Holmes down to Williams, where she was airlifted to Providence Medford Medical Center. She lost vital signs along the way, and efforts to revive her failed, said Jonathan Nicholas, president of the Cycle Oregon board of directors.
Nicholas announced Holmesí death to riders who had gathered at the Britt Grounds for the nightly entertainment that is one of the features of the tour.
He said Hughes was riding with her husband, Keith, 71, and "was very proud to be on top of the Siskiyous at 10:25 this morning.
"It was a beautiful day and a beautiful place and she was doing something she loved to do," he said.
"Letís take a moment to think about Karen, who left us today," Nicholas said as Portland singer Linda Hornbuckle, who had come to Jacksonville to entertain the crowd, sang "Amazing Grace."
Nicholas said in an interview it was still too early to know why Holmes lost control of her bike. All cyclists had their brakes checked by mechanics at the top of the descent.
"Safety is the most important thing to us," he said. "Itís our number one priority as an organization to keep people safe."
The only other death in the tourís history happened in 2002, when a man died of a heart attack.
Adams, who saw the accident, said the descent was so steep that some ridersí tires blew out from heat generated by friction from their brakes. Hearing so many tires pop prompted him to stop and check his own brakes just before Holmes barreled past him out of control.
Adams said he initially thought Holmes had blown a tire, too, because her front wheel was wobbling badly, but he later saw her bike in camp at Jacksonville and the front tire was not flat.
Most bicycle brakes have two pieces of rubber on each wheel that grab the rim to slow the machine and rider. The brakes are about 2 inches long and less than an inch wide. Each wheel has its own brake lever, one on each handlebar.
For brakes to fail completely on a bike would be rare, said Brian Combs of Portland, who is following the tour selling equipment for Bike Gallery, a Portland-based bicycle store.
Combs did not ride the course, but said friends who did told him they were riding their brakes "80 to 90 percent of the time."
He said Holmesí death will inevitably alter the tone of the tourís final three days.
"It will cause people to reflect on their own mortality," he said, "and think about how they want to die."
Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org