Cycling Family Broward
- Nicole Vanderweit struck a group of 15 cyclists during a morning ride on November 25, 2018, in Broward County, Florida, killing two people and injuring others.
- Last week she was sentenced to pay a $1,000 civil penalty, complete 120 hours of community service, and her license will be suspended for six months.
- Survivors of the crash and family members of the victims said the penalty is like getting “run over all again.”
More than a year after she drove her Honda Fit into a group of 15 cyclists, killing two, Nicole Vanderweit, 34, stood in front of a Florida judge last week and pleaded no contest to careless driving. Survivors and family members of the victims say the sentence she was given victimized them all over again.
In November 2018, a distracted Vanderweit killed Denise Marsh, 53, and Carlos Rodriguez, 62. Three other Cycling Family Broward riders—Edgar Reyes, 48; Maria Bautista, 56; and John Beitz, 49—sustained serious injuries, while a 14-year-old rider suffered road rash and a concussion.
According to the Sun-Sentinel, Vanderweit was speeding, traveling more than 65 mph in a 55 mph area when she looked down “for a second,” then felt an impact. Although a crash expert told prosecutors that Vanderweit should have been able to see the bicyclists almost 10 seconds in advance of a crash, she didn’t begin to brake until between 1.1 and 2.5 seconds before the fatal collision.
Despite that evidence, prosecutors declined to seek criminal charges against Vanderweit, saying her carelessness didn’t amount to vehicular homicide. Instead, Vanderweit pleaded no contest to a careless driving traffic violation and will pay a $1,000 civil penalty, as well as complete 120 hours of community service in a hospital trauma ward. Her license will be suspended for six months, and she must also attend traffic school.
One of the survivors of the crash said that’s not nearly enough.
“The state attorney said the families agreed to the sentence, but not one of us did,” said Maricha Delacruz-Tuason, one of the survivors who attended to the wounded that day. “I do not know how they got that. It was a slap in the face. It was like we were run over again.
“Vanderweit got away with murder.”
Danny Rodriguez, the son of Carlos Rodriguez, told local media, “It’s like their lives didn’t even matter. There was no justice.”
For many, the wounds of that Saturday morning in Broward County are still fresh. Riders still remember Vanderweit’s Honda Fit sitting motionless in the road, its roof, hood, and windshield caved in. Broken bikes and bodies were strewn across the road, as injured riders screamed in pain. Cycling Family Broward rides had been known for their camaraderie and emphasis on safety; it would soon be synonymous with tragedy.
“My club isn’t like it was before,” Delacruz-Tuason said. “A lot of our club members don’t ride on the road anymore. We are trying to continue with our lives, but it’s hard. … It’s difficult to help others when I am still trying to keep it together for myself and my family.”
Moments like this are every cyclist’s worst nightmare, but are becoming increasingly commonplace, especially in Florida. Bicycling fatalities are higher in the Sunshine State than any other state, with the Orlando Sentinel calling it “a killing field for cyclists.” But despite that, there aren’t enough laws on the books to protect riders’ rights, said Miami attorney Eli Stiers who represents six of the victims.
“The Cycling Family Broward ride was a mix of all ages and skill levels, who were doing everything right,” Stiers said. “Despite that, they were hit from behind by a possibly distracted driver, killing two of them and causing catastrophic injuries to several others. Even the ones who weren’t physically injured were mentally scarred; one of the riders was a 13-year-old child who suddenly was confronted with his own mortality. It’s not right.
“Despite that, (Vanderweit’s actions are) considered a traffic offense and not a criminal matter, so she walks away with a slap on the wrist. We need to make changes to the existing laws to ensure that drivers hitting vulnerable road users are held accountable. Having more serious charges levied against Vanderweit might not have brought the victims closure, but at least there would be a sense that justice prevailed.”