Taking in a “beautiful, sunny day” on a two-lane highway surrounded by Southern Nevada desert, the bicyclists pedaled a strenuous route they had frequented since the early 2000s.
The cyclists, about 18 strong, kicked off the “Nipton Loop” at a Henderson resort early Thursday. They rode south on U.S. 95 and would pass through Searchlight and Nipton, Calif., before heading back home along Interstate 15.
For five of the riders, the trek was tragically cut short past Boulder City when a box truck plowed into the group and the Subaru hatchback that was acting as their “safety vehicle,” according to the Nevada Highway Patrol.
Emergency responders were summoned to the sizable stretch of debris on mile marker 36 at 9:39 a.m., said Trooper Travis Smaka, noting that the crash occurred on the right travel lane with a speed limit of 75 mph.
The safety vehicle had riders in front, but others were behind it when the truck rammed the group, Smaka said. Cyclists were struck from behind, as was the Subaru, which hit others in front of it, he said.
Two other cyclists were injured, one of whom was in critical condition. That rider was flown to University Medical Center, while the safety car driver was taken to Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center with survivable injuries, Smaka said. Metro Police, Boulder City police and fire departments, and the Clark County Fire Department assisted.
Investigators were trying to determine how the crash happened. The truck driver, who wasn’t injured or suspected of being impaired, was collaborating, Smaka said.
There were few words that could describe the scope of the crash, Smaka said. “It’s a horrific tragedy,” he said, noting the inconsistency between the “beautiful, sunny day” and the scene troopers were probing.
A few hours after he lost his friends, Michael Anderson, a freshly retired Metro Police officer, struggled to describe the crash he’d just survived, seemingly physically unscathed. When reporters caught up to him, he was pedaling back north, having traveled 12 miles to the area where troopers were restricting traffic into the opposite direction on U.S. 95.
The 22 years he spent as a cop before retiring in November couldn’t have prepared him for what he witnessed Thursday. “I’ve seen stuff, obviously as a police officer,” he said in a low voice, pausing and tearing up. “But it’s your friends … I’ve never seen that.”
He said the long-established ride was on its 15th iteration Thursday when the wind picked up, making the group break up. The more experienced riders were in the front while the others took shelter from the gusts behind the Subaru, Anderson said.
Anderson avoided the “gruesome” details but described the immediate aftermath.
“It’s the worst thing I can ever see in my life,” he said, noting that he had contacted the victims’ families. “(I) didn’t know how to say it to them. It’s terrible.”
Southbound U.S. 95 was shut down for several hours.