On the morning of November 25 in Broward County, Florida, more than a dozen people embarked on a routine group ride with a local cycling club. Denise Marsh, a 53-year-old office manager and mother of two, helped organize these weekend rides, which emphasized safety and camaraderie over competition. The club, Cycling Family Broward, is known for its no-drop policy and participation in charity events. Marsh served as its vice president.
So that morning she was riding sweep, making sure no one got dropped, when Nicole Vanderweit, 33, drove straight into the back of the group.
Vanderweit struck six riders before her car, a 2012 Honda Fit, came to a stop on the side of State Road 84 in Davie, a town about 25 miles north of Miami. The scene then descended into chaos. One rider, who asked to remain anonymous on the advice of her attorney, said days later that she’s unable to fall asleep at night because “I can’t get the images out of my head.”
The Honda sat motionless, its roof, hood, and windshield caved in. Nearby, bikes and bodies were strewn across the road. People screamed in pain, and one rider performed CPR on another. Someone’s leg was broken and bent at a 90-degree angle. The youngest rider, a 14-year-old boy, was still clipped into his mangled bike. Two nurses who had joined the ride moved frantically from one injured person to another. A single tooth lay on the blacktop, and no one knew whom it came from.
Marsh was declared dead in the crash’s immediate aftermath. Two days later, Carlos Rodriguez, 62, succumbed to his injuries. Three other riders-Edgar Reyes, 48; Maria Bautista, 56; and John Beitz, 49-were hospitalized in serious but stable condition, while the 14-year-old, who was not identified, suffered road rash and a concussion.
Both Marsh and Rodriguez were beloved in the South Florida cycling community. Marsh’s son Christopher told Local 10 News that his mother was generous woman with a passion for riding. “The way that she expressed her love for others was through giving,” he said. “She would drop everything she was doing. She would inconvenience herself to the full extent just to help other people.”
The Facebook page for Cycling Family Broward has seen a stream of tributes and remembrances over the last few days. Marsh had just posted an itinerary for the weekend on Friday, while Rodriguez was still uploading videos to the page the day before the crash.
“Just can’t believe that she will not be making announcements at the next ride,” one member wrote. “She was such a good person with an inspirational spirit. Denise Marsh you will be missed by so many.”
Vanderweit told police that at the time of the crash, the glaring sun made it difficult to see. She also said she was momentarily distracted by something in the passenger seat-exactly what, she or the police wouldn’t say. A spokesperson for the Davie Police Department said there’s no evidence she was impaired or speeding-the road where the crash occurred has a posted speed limit of 55 mph and an unprotected shoulder-but told reporters that authorities are examining her phone. Police did not respond to a request for a followup comment.
No charges have been brought against Vanderweit. Two attorneys who specialize in bike-related cases, Megan Hottman and Steve Magas, said they doubt any ever will.
Florida doesn’t have a vulnerable road user law, and the penalties for distracted driving are some of the most lenient in the country. A first-time offense is considered a noncriminal traffic infraction, while second offense within five years-if it causes the death of another person-can result in 120 hours of community service, as well as civil penalty fees.
Both attorneys did agree that if the case were brought to court, the glaring sun wouldn’t carry much weight as a defense. “If you are operating a big, fast piece of dangerous equipment and you can’t see, then your legal duty is to pull over to stop and wait until you can,” Magas said.
On Monday, Vanderweit issued an apology via local reporters off camera, saying, “Please know that if I could trade places with Mrs. Marsh, I would.”
Florida has a higher rate of cycling fatalities than any other state, at 6.2 deaths per 100,000 people. That’s almost 60 percent higher than Louisiana, the next-closest state in the grim rankings. In September, the Orlando Sentinel called Florida roads “a killing field for cyclists.” https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/group-ride-turns-deadly-205900048.html