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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Woman standing up to cyclist who smashed into her on Centennial Trail

Virginia Pearsall suffered multiple injuries after a cyclist crashed into her on Sept. 22. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)

A speeding bicyclist has taken away something dear to Virginia Pearsall.

“I can’t feel safe on the trail anymore,” said the 67-year-old Spokane woman on Friday walking with a slight limp and her left arm in a sling.

The Spokane River Centennial Trail running through Kendall Yards was a major attraction for Pearsall and her husband to move into the development overlooking the Spokane River Gorge.

“I walk the trail almost every day,” she said Friday. “Or at least I did.”

On Sept. 22, Pearsall was walking near Trail Milepost 24 at Nettleton Street with her sister when she heard someone behind her yell, “Hot pizza!”

“I didn’t know what that meant, but I thought it might be a bicyclist,” she said. Her dog, Rags, was on leash just in front of her and her sister was by her side. They were taking up less than half of the paved trail, she said.

“I was going to step onto the grass to get even farther off the trail when something hit me like a Mack Truck on the back of my leg and slammed me to the ground,” she said.

The cyclist landed on top of her and then he went into a tirade, she said.

Pearsall was taken to a hospital emergency room where she was examined for severe bruising and knee damage and diagnosed with a fractured elbow.

Cyclist Justin Haller, 44, of Spokane said he went to an urgent care where he learned that he broke his nose and rebroke a bone in a hand that was still healing from previously being broken in a glancing collision with a vehicle.

“Pedestrians have the right of way, and at the very least he should have slowed down,” Pearsall said. “He had a full view down the trail – there were little kids in the park there – and he even could have veered off onto Nettleton and had the street all to himself. Instead he rode over me.”

“It was a perfect storm of bad situations,” Haller said on Friday. “My hand was still weak so I couldn’t brake hard. If you say ‘On your left’ people get confused, but if you yell ‘Hot pizza’ people usually turn around with a smile, assess the situation and then move accordingly.”

“The woman who was hit wasn’t taking up much space on the trail at all,” said Amanda Jones, who was with two other moms and their toddlers at the park playground. “Two of us were on the trail as he went by and we saw the whole thing from about 50 yards away. The left side of the trail was wide open.

“After he hit her, he didn’t even ask if she was OK. He just started yelling and swearing at her. I ended up walking over and told him twice to stop yelling at her.

In a Facebook post from an urgent care facility he said, “So first ride without the brace and some pedestrian wouldn’t move!! Centennial trial (sic) is not yours alone pedestrians!!”

Pearsall said she filed a report with Spokane Police Department, “but was told they couldn’t charge him with anything.” SPD officials did not immediately return a reporter’s call to confirm that.

But Pearsall said she can’t forget the incident. “I have at least 14 weeks of recovery ahead of me,” she said. “If it had been one of those kids, we might be going to a funeral.

“So I’m considering a civil suit. People have to stand up to this kind of thing to keep our trail safe.”

“I think its a ruse to try to sue me,” Haller said. “Just because you have a nice bike doesn’t mean you have a million dollars.”

Pearsall said she’s talked to a number of walkers who have had close calls with bicyclists and even runners on the Centennial Trail.

“I know walkers aren’t perfect, that they take up the trail and aren’t paying attention sometimes, but when you get plowed over at the edge of the trail something’s wrong,” she said.

“People have to realize that when they’re entering a congested area of the trail they have to slow down. Somebody could get killed.”

“I hate to slow down,” Haller said when asked why he didn’t. “Most of the time people move. These people wouldn’t move,” he added noting that the moms with strollers were part of the problem, too.

“It’s a regrettable thing that happened. It didn’t need to happen for a lot of reasons and not just mine. I don’t like the fact that I hit her, but I did.”

Haller said he calls it a good day when he makes it home without an accident. “I’ve broken 25 bones,” he said. “When I lived in LA, a doctor asked me if I was a stunt man.”

“I would never suggest that bicycles don’t belong on the Centennial Trail,” Pearsall said, noting that her family includes serious cyclists.

“I’m going to pursue this because I really do feel he didn’t even care if he hit me. His remarks confirmed it. He doesn’t belong on a bicycle.

“I want people to be aware of what is happening,” she said. “I’ll get out of a biker’s way, but when there’s doubt, pedestrians have the right of way.

“More important than that, people need to be courteous and aware of their surroundings. You don’t ride 20 mph into people you can see in front of you.”

“I’m not out there trying to hurt old ladies,” Haller said. “That’s not my game. But maybe people should be more aware.”

The Centennial trail is a multi-use recreational trail where all users have to be mindful of others, said Paul Neddo, ranger for Riverside State Park which manages the entire 40 miles of the route.

“That’s why we have the 15 mph speed limit for bikes because they’re going to come across moms with strollers, and it’s why, being mindful of cyclists, we require dogs to be leashed, and not the extended leashes or 12 footers that let a dog get out in front of a bike.

“We want it to be safe for all users. We want all users to share the trail. We want to foster an environment of courtesy among all users.”

He offered no comment on this particular incident.