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DUI suspect in deadly crash to be charged, arraigned Tuesday

One bicyclist dead, two injured on Bouquet Canyon Road

Posted: July 13, 2009 5:37 p.m.
Updated: July 13, 2009 5:37 p.m.
 
The 20-year-old suspect in a drunk-driving crash that left one bicyclist dead and two injured Saturday is set to be charged and arraigned today in San Fernando Superior Court, said Los Angeles County District Attorney's spokeswoman Jane Robison.

Marco Antonio Valencia's alleged collision with a group of bicyclists that left 43-year-old Joe Novotny of Stevenson Ranch dead and two others injured followed a series of crashes and close-calls along Bouquet Canyon Road, witnesses and investigators said.

About 11 a.m., Saugus resident Sheldon Haselwood said a dark blue Ford F-150 nearly sideswiped him. Haselwood pulled up alongside the truck at a Bouquet Canyon Road stop light near Central Park and looked at the driver.

"It was this kid. He was sitting kind of low in the seat, his eyes were kind of puffy," Haselwood said. "He looked over at me and gave me a ‘peace' sign."

The 43-year-old got on his cell phone and started following the truck, reporting information to sheriff's deputies.

Haselwood said the truck kept drifting across lanes, running up onto the sidewalk and the median. At one point, Haselwood and Highway Patrol officers said, Valencia ran into a chain-link fence near David Way.

And after every misstep, the truck would stop, back up, then start down the road again.

Haselwood said he followed the driver as he began weaving back and forth on the narrow, winding stretch of Bouquet Canyon Road past Plum Canyon Road. The truck skidded and crossed into oncoming traffic as it took the road's blind curves.

Several cars had to swerve onto the shoulder to avoid a head-on collision, Haselwood said.

"We come around the curve and then there's about 10 guys on bikes," he said.

The truck crossed the double-yellow lines near the Big Oaks Lodge and slammed into the single-file line of bicyclists on the opposite shoulder, Haselwood and investigators said.

"They had no place to go," Haselwood said. "My wife's screaming as he's taking these bicycles out. The last guy in the line gets hit by the truck. This guy flies 20 feet ... doing sommersaults in the air."

The truck sped off, and Haselwood lost him. He pulled over to help the bicyclists; one had broken his hand, another was leaning up against a rock, panting, with back injuries and the third, Novotny, was lying face-down, motionless.

"I couldn't - I just couldn't believe it. It was like watching a horrible movie," he said. "When you see it in real life, it was like - it just didn't seem real to me, that it was really happening. That this guy was lying right there in front of me and I was putting the blanket on him."

Sheriff's deputies arrived just moments too late, Haselwood said. By 12:30 p.m., they had arrested the driver near Elizabeth Lake Road.

CHP Officer George White, an investigator in the case, described some of the damage to the truck: Fresh scrapes from prior crashes on the right side of the car and "impact damage from maybe a helmet on the lower-left of the windshield. He fled the scene. Obviously, he knew what happened."

The bicyclists were all members of the Santa Clarita Velo cycling club. Club member Thomas Barron said Monday that Novotny was a native of Belgium who had only recently moved to the Santa Clarita Valley. He described Novotny and the other bikers on the ride as "very skilled," and, though he wasn't there when the collision occurred, added it didn't seem as though anyone could have avoided the careening truck.

"It shook everybody up really good," Barron said. "We're all taking stock on our mortality."

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