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Bicyclists testify in murder trial

Members of cycling group describe final moments of friend who was killed in pickup-truck collision

Posted: April 15, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 15, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Marco Antonio Valencia, left, covers his face as he sits next to his defense attorney Robert Wilder in San Fernando Superior Court on Thursday.

 

SAN FERNANDO — Members of the bicycle group who were struck by an alleged drunken driver in July 2009 testified about the gruesome collision Thursday, and described the twists of fate that brought them there that day.

The nine cyclists switched routes before their morning ride, preferring to travel south along Bouquet Canyon Road for its shade during the 100-degree day.

The decision ultimately put bicyclists in the path of Marco Antonio Valencia’s Ford F-150 truck as it drifted into oncoming traffic.

Valencia struck four of the cyclists, killing one of them.

Bicyclists who were struck by his truck told the 12-member jury about the trauma they experienced after the crash, and about coping with the death of fellow cyclist Joe Novotny, 43, as testimony in Valencia’s murder trial continued in San Fernando Superior Court.

Valencia, 22, of Canyon Country, had two previous DUI convictions before the crash.

Taking Bouquet
Halfway through a 40-mile bike ride from Performance Cyclery in Saugus to Green Valley and back, cyclists decided to take Bouquet Canyon Road because the route provides greater shade as opposed to taking San Francisquito Canyon Road as originally planned, club member Michael Berretta testified under questioning by Deputy District Attorney William Chung.

While riding in a single-file line of nine bicyclists at 30 mph along a narrow stretch of Bouquet Canyon, Berretta said he saw a dark-blue pickup truck driving north as it crossed into southbound lanes, and heard the truck strike his fellow cyclists.

The truck came within a foot of striking Berretta, who crashed his bike into a mountain along the roadway to avoid being struck.

Novotny had been struck head-on by the truck and was lying motionless on the ground.

Berretta, who is an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department, said he ran to fellow cyclist George Munana, who was screaming for help. Munana suffered four broken ribs and four herniated disks in his spine.

“(George) grabbed me by the shirt and pulled me down and told me he didn’t want to die,” Berretta said.

Novotny was lying unconscious in a fetal position about 20 feet north of Munana. Blood was flowing out of his ears and a bone jutted out of his leg, Berretta said.

Berretta paused, bowed his head and wiped tears from his eyes with a tissue.

Valencia leaned to his side and placed his left hand on his chin as Berretta talked.

Turning left
Chad Lewin, 25, was riding in front of Munana and Novotny during the ride.

As Lewin was riding around a right turn, he saw the bicyclist in front of him slam on his brakes abruptly.  

To avoid crashing, Lewin testified that he swerved into the roadway to his left to avoid crashing.

In an instant, he was knocked to the ground by the truck. As he slid, Lewin said his skin was ripped off — in some instances to the muscle.

“As I was sliding backward, I saw Joe 20 feet in the air and hit the mountainside,” Lewin said.

Lewin, who has several scars from the collision, said he felt responsible for Novotny’s death.

“I had never been involved in anything like this before,” Lewin said. “I know when I went left, the guys behind me followed, and that’s why they got hit.”

Lewin paused, his face reddening. He sobbed for a few seconds on the witness stand before continuing his testimony.

Valencia faces 27 years to life in state prison if convicted of the murder charge, and faces charges of DUI causing great bodily injury and leaving the scene of an accident.

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