Berkeley police rule cyclist responsible for fatal crash

Kurt Wehner. Photo via Facebook
Kurt Wehner. Photo via Facebook

Authorities have found a 62-year-old Berkeley cyclist at fault for the crash with a vehicle that ultimately took his life about three weeks ago.

In response to repeated inquiries from Berkeleyside, police said Tuesday that Kurt Wehner rode through a stop sign and crashed into a 2008 Volkswagen in a North Berkeley intersection Sept. 21 shortly after 8 a.m. at Spruce and Eunice streets.

Wehner, a longtime Berkeley resident, died the following day at Highland Hospital.

Berkeley police investigators said Tuesday in a prepared statement that Wehner had been riding his mountain-style bike south on Spruce toward Eunice, where there was a posted stop sign for southbound traffic.


“Just prior the bicyclist was passing vehicles on the wrong side of the roadway at an unsafe speed in violation of the posted 25 mph speed limit,” police wrote.

The Volkswagen — driven by a 63-year-old Berkeley resident whose name has not been released — had stopped on Eunice facing east. The driver had proceeded into the intersection when, police say, Wehner crashed into the vehicle. 

“Statements and evidence on scene suggest that the bicyclist did not stop for the stop sign on Spruce Street at Eunice Street, in violation of California Vehicle Code 22450(a),” police wrote.

A commenter on Berkeleyside, using the moniker “guest,” said he or she witnessed the crash: “The cyclist was racing down Spruce, blew through the stop sign at Los Angeles, passed two moving southbound cars (by riding out in the oncoming lane), slammed into the car crossing the intersection and then flew about 25 feet. A tragic turn of events at an intersection where drivers and cyclists both often disregard the stop signs (as they do all over Berkeley).”

Wehner is reported to have been wearing a helmet, but died as a result of blunt force trauma injuries, according to police. He was pronounced dead at Highland Hospital on Sept. 22.


A cyclist was struck by a car Sunday morning at the intersection of Spruce and Eunice. Photo: Larry Kudsk
Wehner’s bicycle, the morning of the crash at Spruce and Eunice. Photo: Larry Kudsk

Community meeting follows tragedy

Tuesday night, a small group of North Berkeley residents concerned about traffic issues held a meeting with their local council member and two city staffers to talk about how to make their neighborhood streets safer with respect to motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.

Berkeley City Councilwoman Susan Wengraf — who represents northeast Berkeley’s District 6 — said about 18 people attended the meeting, which was held at a resident’s home.

“Everybody in the neighborhood is intent on making sure we don’t have another tragedy,” she said, in reference to Wehner’s death.

Farid Javandel and Hamid Mostowfi, who work in the city’s Transportation Division, also attended the event. The group focused on the intersection of Spruce and Eunice, and also the block of Spruce between Eunice and Rose Street.

Issues raised at the meeting included speeding, by both drivers and cyclists; rolling stops at stop signs; and the three-way stop sign at Rose and Spruce, which can be confusing to those at the intersection who believe it to be a four-way stop, Wengraf said. (Uphill traffic on Rose does not have a stop sign.)


Residents also said they are worried about the safety of the numerous pedestrians and children in the area, many of whom attend Congregation Beth El — which has a nursery school and religious school — between Oxford Street and Spruce at Glen Avenue.

Wengraf said, after sharing their thoughts, attendees agreed on several steps forward, including immediate moves by city transportation staff to look at the possibility of painting a yellow stripe on Eunice so it appears narrower to slow traffic, repainting crosswalks in the area to make them more visible, and trimming back foliage that may block signage. The city also will investigate adding crosswalks — perhaps at the Berryman Path or at Glen — to create safer conditions for pedestrians on Spruce.

In addition to those steps, Wengraf said neighbors also plan to put in an application to the city by December for traffic calming measures, which could include speed humps or traffic circles. That process will include a signature-gathering campaign that will require 51% of residents in the immediate area to express support for a traffic study.

If that study moves ahead, it could include traffic counts and speed measurements, tallies of how many people use the crosswalks and other related analyses, Wengraf said. She said she herself plans to push the city to dedicate more money toward traffic calming measures during the next budget cycle. Currently, the city earmarks $50,000 a year for those measures.

“It’s not sufficient because there are too many neighborhoods experiencing high speeds of traffic and dangerous situations,” she said Tuesday night after the meeting. In addition to the financial constraints, she added, Spruce is both a “collector” street for smaller residential streets, and an AC Transit bus route. Those characteristics will limit what kind of changes might be adopted.

Wengraf described the meeting Tuesday as civil and orderly, and said the discussion was intelligent and focused. She said city staff provided an overview on the “three e’s” — education, engineering and enforcement — which resonated with attendees. And residents agreed they do not want to solve one problem while creating another, she added.

“It’s up to all of us, but there’s only so much we can do,” she said. “Engineering helps but, if a bicyclist wants to roll through stop signs, we can’t put a physical barrier up to prevent that from happening. We’re going to do everything we can to work with the bicyclists and do outreach and see if we can somehow influence their behavior.”

Residents want to improve traffic safety on Spruce, particularly between Eunice and Rose. Image: Google Maps
Residents want to improve traffic safety on Spruce, particularly between Eunice and Rose. Image: Google Maps

Friends mourn cyclist’s death

Many commenters shared concerns about traffic safety on Berkeleyside after the story of the crash was first reported. Some who knew Wehner also shared memories about him in the comments section.

Katy Meow Blau described Wehner as “an amazing kind and intelligent man, and one of my best-friends.”

Another person, identified only as “guest,” said Wehner had made an impression — offering advice about brake cables and disc brakes, and the need to wear a helmet while cycling — even though they weren’t close.

“Kurt was a great guy even though I only knew him from passing when I locked my bike near his hang out on Vine Street …. Berkeley will miss Kurt.”

Several mourners referenced Wehner’s affection for a particular bench at Peet’s Coffee in North Berkeley, at Walnut and Vine streets.

Said “roseman” — who described the seat as Wehner’s favorite bench — some of the cyclist’s loved ones have created a small memorial there in his honor: “The bench will always seem a little more empty now.”

Another, “warrenk,” said those who knew him came together for a “rolling celebration for Kurt ‘It’s better on a bike!’ Wehner” in late September, beginning at the cyclist’s “beloved Peet’s coffee bench” and ending in El Cerrito, where a private service was held.

Some of the memories shared on Berkeleyside dated back decades. Wrote another “guest”: “Never forget Kurt on his BMW motorcycle in the early 70s always in motion looking for a free beer. He used to make everybody laugh, he was a true Old school Berkeley soul.”

And, though there were many condolences, as well as concern expressed for both Wehner and the driver of the car he hit, some commenters described the accident as an inevitability, given his habits on the road.

A participant named “rxahart” wrote on Berkeleyside that Wehner had “lived up near Grizzly Peak all of his life, rode his bike down the hill every day, and was someone who sped through stop signs. As another cyclist who knew him, too, told me just yesterday, ‘he was an accident waiting to happen.'”

The commenter continued: “Kurt’s death was a tragedy, but he took the risk of running the stop sign at full speed one time too many, and he lost. Until everyone takes responsibility for their own behavior on their bikes and in their cars, his tragedy will not be the last.”

Related:
Cyclist dies after North Berkeley crash with car (09.23.14)
Bicyclist suffers life-threatening injuries after colliding with car (09.21.14)
Richmond man dies after Berkeley motorcycle crash (09.18.14)
7-year-old cyclist in serious condition after traffic accident in Berkeley (06.16.14)

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