SAN JOSE

Charges against deputy suggested

The California Highway Patrol is recommending that criminal charges be filed against a sheriff's deputy who killed two cyclists after crashing his patrol car into a group of them.

The CHP report came after a monthlong investigation into the incident, and says Santa Clara County prosecutors should file two charges of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter against Deputy James Council, 27.

Council was on patrol March 9 when his car smashed into a group of bicyclists on a training ride. Matt Peterson, 29, and Kristy Gough, 30, died.

If convicted, Council could serve up to two years in prison. The report's conclusions show that CHP investigators do not believe the deputy is guilty of gross negligence such as drunken driving, a felony charge carrying much harsher penalties.

The Santa Clara County district attorney's office is reviewing the report and will decide whether to file charges.

From the Associated Press

ORIGINAL STORY:

California Sheriff's Deputy Hits Bicyclists, Kills Two
Mar. 10--Two avid bicyclists were killed when a Santa Clara County sheriff's patrol car crossed the double-yellow line on Stevens Canyon Road in Cupertino and hit a group of riders shortly before 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

The crash on a beautiful Sunday morning left the Bay Area cycling community and the sheriff's department shaken.
"It's just horrible," said Mike Riepe of San Jose, after hauling his mountain bike up a trail near the crash site.

The opportunities for hill climbing and downhill coasting along Stevens Canyon make the road tempting for cyclists. So on Sunday morning four cyclists training for an event decided to give the hills a shot. The group was hit by the deputy's white cruiser while the deputy was on a routine patrol in the area, Sgt. Don Morrissey said.

Coming around a bend near a straightaway, the deputy accidentally crossed the center line and struck the group, Morrissey said. He called for help and immediately began CPR on one of the fallen cyclists, Morrissey said.

The sheriff's office did not release the names of the victims. But friends and bicycling Web sites identified the dead cyclists as Matt Peterson, 30, of San Francisco, and Kristy Gough, 31, of Oakland. Peterson died at the scene of the crash and Gough died several hours later after she was airlifted to Stanford University Hospital. Before and after she died, dozens of cyclists gathered at the hospital.

A 20-year-old man, identified by friends as Christopher
Knapp of Germany, was seriously injured and was listed in stable condition Sunday night at Stanford University Hospital. The fourth rider was not hurt, CHP officer Todd Thibodeau said.

Peterson was on a cycling team sponsored by Roaring Mouse Cycles, a San Francisco bicycle shop. The shop's Web site posted word of his death on Sunday night.

The Web site of USA Cycling lists numerous races in which Peterson did well, including a first-place finish in a March 1 road race in Merced. He had a fourth-place finish in the Tri-Flow Menlo Park Grand Prix on Saturday.

Friends on Sunday described Gough as a professional triathlete who recently took up cycling but immediately started winning Northern California races. The most recent was the Merco Credit Union Foothills Road Race in Merced County on March 2.

"It's a huge loss for our team," said Anthony Borba of Campbell, the captain of the Third Pillar, Gough's team. "Besides being a phenomenal talent she was a phenomenal human being."

Interviewed at Stanford hospital late Sunday night, Borba said Gough was "an Olympic hopeful" being scouted for the Summer Games in Beijing.
"It's just so sad that these two athletes who were just coming into their own were struck down," Borba said. "We're all in shock."
Sunday's accident rattled the whole sheriff's department, Morrissey said.

The deputy involved in the crash will be placed on administrative leave until the investigation is complete. He's been on the force for about a year and a half.

"He's taking it very hard," Morrissey said. "The whole department is saddened."

Fatal crashes are rare for the sheriff's department, even though deputies often drive as many as 200 miles in a single shift, Morrissey said.

The last fatal crash involving a sheriff's patrol car happened in 1994, when a deputy trying to keep a suspect from running struck and killed the man near the intersection of West San Carlos Street and Bascom Avenue. The deputy was cleared of wrongdoing.

On a good weekend, thousands of cyclists cruise the winding road leading to Stevens Creek Reservoir, said cyclist Steve Paterson, 49, of Cupertino, as he was turned away from a road block near Ricardo Road set up because of the crash.

"There are so many rides up here," he said. "Club rides, sponsored rides, groups of friends."

It's unclear whether the cyclists involved in the crash were riding as part of a larger group, Morrissey said.

Cyclists along the well-traveled stretch of road talked Sunday about the dangers of their sport -- everything from speeding cars to drivers who blare their horns in an attempt to intimidate them. One of the most dangerous things cyclists can do, they said, is ride two-abreast.

That practice is not illegal but can be extremely dangerous on narrow, winding roads with a large amount of traffic.

It was unclear if the cyclists involved in this crash were doing so, Thibodeau said. But cyclists said they've seen dangerous behavior from those on both two wheels and four.

"I've seen bicyclists who ride crazy," Paterson said. "And I've seen cars that go too fast."

In 1996, cyclist Jeffrey Steinwedel, 46, died on Stevens Canyon Road just up the road from Sunday's crash when a quarry driver struck him as he took a winter ride. The driver, Jon Nisby, was sentenced to a year in jail.

The CHP is asking anyone who witnessed the crash to call (40 467-5354, extension 337.

Contact Leslie Griffy at lgriffy@mercurynews.com or (40 920-5945.