A Seattle Police Department investigation found she was riding in between the First Hill Streetcar’s tracks, but could not determine if they played a role in her crash.
The Seattle Police Department did not find evidence to conclude that Desiree McCloud, the cyclist killed on East Yesler Way this spring, crashed because of the First Hill Streetcar trolley tracks, documents show.
But surveillance images taken moments before the crash show McCloud riding in between the tracks as she passed another cyclist, who told police she saw McCloud’s bike wobble before she tumbled to the pavement.
The images, taken from a nearby building, were released within a 100-page investigative report obtained by The Seattle Times after a public-records request.
“It is unknown if McCloud attempted to cross back over and if interaction with the rail was what led to her loss of control, and that question appears impossible to resolve,” police wrote in the report. “What is known is that no other vehicles were involved and that McCloud lost control of her bicycle, which caused her to fall to the ground. This incident, though obviously tragic, appears to be the sole result of some form of operator error on the part of McCloud.”
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Cyclists say streetcar tracks are dangerous because their tires can slip and their wheels can get caught in the flangeway gap, or the groove where trolley wheels run. More than 100 cyclists detailed falls caused by rail tracks in response to a request from the Times.
McCloud was riding with three other cyclists from a home on East Capitol Hill to Alki Beach. The crash took place about a block from where streetcar tracks curve onto East Yesler Way from 14th Avenue. Analysis of the video footage shows McCloud and another cyclist, Maria Antoniak, were traveling near each other at about 20 mph.
Antoniak told police she was riding in the bicycle lane on East Yesler Way when McCloud attempted to pass on her left in the roadway’s general-purpose lane. That’s where the streetcar tracks run. Antoniak saw McCloud’s handlebars wobble, and then she crashed in front of Antoniak, who could not avoid running over her riding partner. Antoniak was also thrown from her bike and suffered minor injuries.
McCloud was taken to Harborview Medical Center, where she died 11 days later. An autopsy found that McCloud, who was wearing a helmet at the time of the crash, died as a result of blunt-force head trauma.
McCloud’s bike was painted white and returned to the scene as a “ghost bike” to serve as a visual reminder of her death. Police found the bike was not noticeably damaged. Nor was there any damage to the trolley tracks. A helmet attached to the “ghost bike” was missing its outer shell and its inner foam was cracked in two places.
An investigator found a ”serpentine-shaped scuff” about 10 feet long that curved from the general-purpose lane into the bicycle lane, but could not determine if it was related to McCloud’s wreck.
Antoniak, friends and family members have all said they believe the tracks played a role in her death.
Earlier this summer, McCloud’s family retained a lawyer to investigate a potential wrongful-death case against the city.
The attorney, Jeff Campiche, plans to continue work on the case. He said the evidence police collected was consistent with a streetcar-track wreck.
“They attributed the fault to an unexplained operator error. Well, the only thing that would turn the bike over like that is the tire in the slot,” he said. “They (police) measured, they photographed, they presevered. That’s really helpful. But they didn’t consider the cause of so many accidents in the city.”