Greater Victoria’s cycling community is frustrated over the recent hit-and-run incidents that have gone unsolved despite a licence plate and convincing descriptions of both cars.
Oddly enough both are Dodge Dakotas, though the incidents are unrelated. Both are presumed intentional by the cyclists.
The first occurred on Feb. 24 when elite road cyclists Kurt Penno, 17, and Mitchell Ketler, 19, were on a training ride heading south on Millstream Lake Road going onto Millstream Road when a silver Dakota passed them, Ketler said. The truck then intentionally drove onto the shoulder in front of them and slammed on its brakes, forcing Penno to slam into the back of the truck at nearly 45 km/h, suffering only minor injuries.
The latest incident was April 21 when elite cyclist Megan Barnes, 14, was hit on Willis Point Road by a different Dodge Dakota while on during a training ride with Casey Garrison, 15. Barnes flew through the air and landed on a grassy patch and avoided a much worse fate.
The driver who hit Barnes is described is a blonde woman, possibly heavier set, while the suspect who hit Penno is a young male in his 20s with a young woman in the passenger seat.
“I’m watching for Dodge Dakotas everywhere I go,” said Lister Farrar, coach of Tripleshot Cycling team that features Barnes and Garrison. “I’m of two minds, I don’t want to doubt the police but I also don’t want this to slide.”
In both incidents the drivers sped away from the scene but neither the West Shore RCMP, who investigated the Penno incident, nor the Saanich Police, who investigated the Barnes incident, have been able to identify a suspect. And while there is a belief that the Barnes incident was intentional, Saanich Police doesn’t have the evidence yet to support that, said Sgt. Jereme Leslie.
“We’ve don’t have the evidence to support the fact that in this particular set of circumstances that [Barnes was struck] intentionally, though that’s what is out there,” Leslie said. “Some people feel that is the case, but our investigations are evidence based, we don’t know if she was intentionally trying to run the cyclist off the road.”
Regardless, Saanich Police believe the driver who hit Barnes knew what happened and should have stopped.
“This is unacceptable, there’s a huge push for justice to be done, not just awareness,” said Jon Watkin, former pro cyclist and well known local cycling promoter. “Everyone in the cycling community is rallying around Megan and want Saanich Police to find this person.”
The use of a car as a weapon is of particular concern, said Watkin, a former elite level cyclist who was intentionally hit during a race in the 1990s in Courtenay.
“I know what Barnes is going through,” Watkin said. “I was hit from behind by a pickup truck during a time trial race in Courtenay and thrown 25 feet in the air. Like Barnes I was lucky I wasn’t injured worse. This is a [4,000- to 5,000-pound] truck against a cyclist.”
In the Penno collision Ketler said he was lucky he had his head up when the truck hit the brakes.
“I was able to swerve into the oncoming lane to avoid the truck,” Ketler said. “Penno had his head down and had no chance, he barely hit the brakes if at all.”
There was absolutely no reason to stop there other than to antagonize the cyclists, Ketler said.
“We were riding on the shoulder doing intervals of about 45km/h when the truck pulled onto the shoulder in front of us and slammed on the brakes,” Ketler said.
Despite Penno crashing into the truck, the driver took off but stopped briefly about 5o metres up the road. Ketler, unharmed, made a quick decision to chase it in an attempt to get the license plate number.
“It allowed me to catch up, he did a bit of a look back through his rear view mirror, but took off when he saw me coming,” Ketler said. “I memorized the license plate and gave it to the [West Shore RCMP].”
Ketler said the RCMP told him the owner of the truck was out of the country during the time of the incident and he hasn’t heard anything since.
In both cases the riders expressed they did nothing to provoke the drivers, who clearly violated B.C.’s one-metre distance rule between cars and bikes.
“I don’t know of any 14 year old girl who would enter into a conflict with a driver, let alone [Barnes and Garrison],” Farrar said. “They are model kids, great students and athletes, and two of the kids I could least imagine doing this.”
Watkin said he still goes for long cycling rides and did the Munn’s Road-Millstream loop, which is close to both of the hit-and-run incidents, with a cyclist who happens to be an off-duty police officer.
“We were on the lookout for Dakotas,” Watkin said.