Dozens of bicyclists were trying to promote their transportation alternative when they crowded onto the Ferry Street Bridge.
What they did, however, was block an ambulance carrying a 14-year-old boy who had just been shot in the chest.
Fourteen-year-old Steven Thurston’s condition was deteriorating quickly, said paramedic Benton Ulm.
The ambulance was forced to take a detour over another bridge Friday, costing it four to five minutes, paramedics said.
That could have cost the boy his life if the wound had been any more severe, Ulm said.
But Thurston pulled through and was in fair condition Tuesday.
Critical Mass is a loosely-knit international movement that sponsors large, impromptu rides designed to slow traffic and raise awareness of the benefits of riding. It has gotten the most attention for San Francisco rides, which have sent several thousand bicyclists into the streets at one time.
Friday’s ride in Eugene involved 60 bicyclists who weaved their way through the city for over an hour.
As the group swelled on the bridge, Eugene police officers used megaphones to ask bicyclists to move to the right to make way for an ambulance.
The bicyclists stopped and looked but didn’t immediately pull over. Several bicyclists said they didn’t see or hear an ambulance and thought police were trying to trick them into letting regular traffic pass.
“The police aren’t always truthful,” said Mike McCarthy, a bicyclist and local protester. “If there’s blame in this, they share in it.”
The bicyclists eventually pulled to the right, but moved back into both traffic lanes as police vehicles and other cars, but no ambulance, pulled beside them.
Ambulance driver Robert Murphy, whose vehicle had its emergency lights and siren on, saw the bicycles and traffic congestion in front of him as he headed toward the bridge.
“I had very little time to react,” he said. “The whole bridge was blocked. All I could see were people. I was getting sweaty palms, thinking ‘I have to get the patient to the hospital, quick.”’
Murphy used another bridge instead.
“This time, everything turned out fine,” he said. “But I’m worried. The next patient may not be so lucky.”
Eugene police Lt. Rick Siel said Eugene’s Critical Mass appears primarily to draw local protesters and anti-police activists. He said police have tried to work with the group but said the bicyclists have refused to talk to officers and are unwilling to identify a spokesperson.
“They don’t get permits, they don’t give us routes, they block all lanes, they ride the wrong way,” Siel said. Critical Mass riders said police refuse to listen to them, and that seeking permits and divulging routes would defeat their purpose.
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