The 78-year-old Bethesda driver whose vehicle struck and killed an 81-year-old Chevy Chase cyclist will not face charges in the October collision at Little Falls Road and the Capital Crescent Trail in Bethesda.
Retired University of Maryland professor Ned Gaylin, was riding his three-wheeled recumbent cycle when he was struck Oct. 17 by a 2002 Mercedes E320 driven by Nils Rudelius as Gaylin attempted to cross Little Falls Road where it intersects with the trail. Gaylin died from the injuries he suffered the same day at a hospital.
“This is a tragic case where two senior citizens crashed at an intersection that has had some issues in the past,” Ramon Korionoff, a spokesman for the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office, said in a statement released to Bethesda Beat Wednesday. “After a thorough and painstaking review with our partners in the police department, it was decided that charges against the motorist in this matter should not be filed.”
Korionoff added that motorists “must be ever-vigilant” around the popular Capital Crescent Trail, “especially when it comes to recumbent bicycles, as they are particularly low to the ground and difficult to see.” But he also said cyclists must heed traffic signs and obey traffic regulations to ensure their safety.
Recumbent cyclists typically sit in a low-riding seat and use their legs to peddle; some recumbent cycles are less than three feet in height.
The Capital Crescent Trail Crossing at Little Falls Parkway in October. Credit: Andrew Metcalf
Capt. Tom Didone, director of Montgomery County police department’s traffic division, said Wednesday that Gaylin failed to stop before entering the trail crossing.
“Investigators concluded that Gaylin entered the roadway, illegally, after failing to stop at a posted stop sign on the Capital Crescent Trail,” Didone said, reading from a prepared statement about the collision. He said witnesses told police Gaylin “proceeded into the crosswalk without remotely stopping.”
“Further, the investigation proved that the driver of the vehicle, Nils Rudelius, was traveling lawfully on Little Falls Parkway before the collision,” Didone said.
Didone explained there were no other vehicles in the vicinity at the time of the collision—and adamantly disputed earlier speculation that one driver had stopped to let Gaylin proceed while Rudelius continued through the crossing. He also said that while Gaylin had a flag on his recumbent cycle, the driver’s view of it was obstructed by a guard rail.
Reading from the statement, Didone said, “Maryland law prohibits all users of crosswalks—including pedestrians and bicyclists—to enter the crosswalk when it is impossible for the driver of an approaching vehicle to yield. In this case, Rudelius could not see Gaylin in time for him to stop. Gaylin failed to yield the right-of-way to Rudelius and should have waited to enter the crosswalk until after Rudelius had passed through it.”
“This is a tragic situation and every fatality is serious,” Didone said. “We are constantly working to improve our messaging to prevent these crashes.”
Flowers were placed at the intersection in October. A sign warns vehicles to stop for pedestrians within the crosswalk. Credit: Andrew Metcalf
Since the crash, the county has begun pursuing changes to the crossing, which pedestrian and bicycle advocates have described as dangerous. Signs at the four-lane crossing warn vehicles to yield to pedestrians and cyclists, but there are also stop signs posted on the trail where it meets the road.
Last week, Montgomery Parks, which manages the trail and the roadway, announced the traffic pattern would change at the crossing to improve safety. Starting in January, vehicular traffic on Little Falls Parkway will merge from two lanes to one in each direction before the crossing and the speed limit will be reduced from 35 mph to 25 mph.
The Washington Area Bicyclist Association commended the changes in a post on its website that said the changes would make the crossing safer.
“The road diet will remove the outside travel lanes, which shortens the crossing distance and makes trail users more visible as they approach the crosswalk,” the advocacy group noted. “Drivers will approach the intersection more slowly, which shortens the distance a car travels before coming to a stop after the driver hits the brakes.”
About 87,000 trial users crossed the intersection in September alone, according to Capt. Rick Pelicano, a spokesman for the county’s park police department. Pelicano said in October that there had been 10 collisions involving cyclists at the crossing since 2011, with park police finding the driver at fault in nine of them. None of those collisions investigated by park police were fatal. The 10th case was Gaylin’s and was investigated by Montgomery County police because it was a fatality.