The Dallas Morning News
Death on Katy Trail detailed
Tapes give biker accounts of collision with jogger
It was one of those perfect autumn evenings that routinely clog the Katy Trail with walkers, bikers, skaters, moms with strollers and dogs on leashes.
The 3.5-mile pathway — from Airline Road in Highland Park to American Airlines Center downtown — was particularly crowded on the September day that Lauren Huddleston, a 28-year-old tax consultant, jogged along the trail.
But in the blink of an eye, that idyllic scene would turn to confusion, chaos and, ultimately, tragedy, when Huddleston was struck head-on by a bicyclist trying to pass her.
Months after the accident, through two tape-recorded police interviews obtained by The Dallas Morning News using the Texas Public Information Act, a clearer picture is emerging of what happened that day,
though questions remain.
Huddleston, an avid user of the trail, died at Baylor University Medical Center three days after the Sept. 30 accident. The official cause of death was blunt-force head injuries.
Perhaps the most chilling recollection came from the bicyclist who struck Huddleston, 31-year-old Asher Hamilton of Dallas. He was not charged in the collision, and Huddleston’s death was ruled accidental.
In one of the police interviews, Hamilton said:
“We’re going down and I was to the left of her. And for whatever reason, she stopped and turned abruptly right in front of me. And I … as soon as it happened, I couldn’t think of any other word other than just saying, ‘No.’ I just screamed out, ‘No.’ And I slammed on my brakes.”
Hamilton continued: “What happened was I hit her and, quite frankly, I hit her hard. And as soon as I was about to hit her, I veered left real hard. And then it hit her and I fell on my left side, which is why my left shoulder is the way it is.”
He was interviewed by police while awaiting treatment at Baylor University Medical Center’s emergency room.
Piecing together what happened on the Katy Trail that day has not been easy. Hamilton has not spoken to the media and has not responded to several interview requests by The News.
Dallas police never revealed how fast the bike was going or exactly how Hamilton might have alerted Huddleston as he tried to pass her.
In addition, Huddleston was wearing headphones connected to an iPod, and no one knows what the volume was set at. She may not have heard anything.
But the two police recordings obtained by The News — including one from Hamilton’s riding partner, Vincent Carrizales — reveal some new details about the collision:
Hamilton, president of Jack Boles Parking Services, exercised almost daily on the trail with Carrizales, a Dallas lawyer.
Both men were riding their bikes south on the trail, heading toward downtown, when they approached Huddleston from behind. They estimated they were traveling 17 to 19 mph. The collision occurred at marker 107, near Routh Street.
Carrizales, who was behind Hamilton, told police he heard his friend call out, “On your left,” a warning that typically means someone is trying to pass on the left. Other witnesses said they heard the biker cry, “No, no.” But one witness told police he thought he heard the words “On your right,” a warning that might indicate someone was passing Huddleston on the right.
In the police interview, Hamilton said he would routinely alert other Katy Trail users to his presence by calling out “On your right” as he approached them from behind on his bike.
Warning signs on the trail advise calling out, “Passing on left.”
Hamilton explained why he did it differently. “If there’s a group of people or a dog, you just say, ‘On your right,’ and you slow down or whatever.”
One of the officers asked Hamilton why he would announce, “On your right.”
“You got to be really careful for people with dogs,” he explained. “And so, as you approach them, if you see that they’re veering or if you have any concern that they aren’t paying attention, you’ll tell them, ‘ On the right.’ You’re on their right, so they have notice of you.”
‘No way’ to stop
It was unclear from his statement whether Hamilton called out “On your left” or “On your right” as he was approaching Huddleston before their fatal encounter.
Carrizales also did not respond to interview requests by The News. But in his police interview at Baylor, he offered his own recollection of the collision:
He said Huddleston was jogging on the part of the trail he described as the “bikers’ path.” The trail to which he is referring is actually used by both runners and bikers. A parallel path is reserved for runners and walkers.
Carrizales also described how Huddleston abruptly turned into Hamilton’s path at the 21⁄ 2-mile marker on the pathway.
“She took a big, wide turn, which was why Asher was dead in line with her, hit her directly in the stomach,” he told police. “There was no way for him to stop. I mean she turned directly into it.”
After the collision, Carrizales said he pulled his bike over and called 911 on his cellphone. He said he tried to help Huddleston but focused his attention on Hamilton after others stopped to help the jogger.
Carrizales told police that he and Hamilton always called out warnings when they passed someone. “We are religious about saying ‘On your left,’ ” he said.
It was their practice to meet after work at a parking lot at Southern Methodist University and bike to the trail’s northern end. They were training together for triathlons.
On the day of the accident, Hamilton was riding a Royal Windsor Triathlon bike, which is used for road biking and time trials, according to an online advertisement.
Before they came upon Huddleston, the bikers had covered about 10 miles, completing a full lap and going nearly halfway on a second lap.
Carrizales estimated they were going 17 to 18 mph, while Hamilton told police it was about 17 to 19. Both had speedometers on their bikes.
“It’s actually downhill from the beginning of the Katy Trail to Victory for the most part,” Hamilton noted. “So you’re going quicker going that distance.”
Carrizales noted they had made the first loop in 24 minutes and were eight minutes into the second when the collision occurred.
“We passed hundreds of people because it was really fast,” Carrizales said. He then seemed to correct himself. “Well, not really fast. But it was really packed that day. We passed easily hundreds of people.”
The Katy Trail has no speed limit for bikers, regardless of how crowded it becomes. However, the accident was so shocking that a citywide trail-safety advisory committee is now considering a host of new rules. Those could include limiting bikers to 10 to 15 mph and encouraging headphone users to keep the volume low. Some cities have already imposed speed limits as low as 10 mph on their trails.
Hamilton’s interview with police lasted about 10 minutes and was conducted by two homicide detectives. He was sitting in a hospital bed, his left arm in a sling, his left shoulder scraped and a bump forming on his right temple. He thought he had fractured his collarbone, but that diagnosis was never confirmed publicly.
The detectives were trying to figure out if the collision was an accident between strangers or an intentional act between people who knew each other. Both bikers said they did not know Huddleston.
Hamilton said during the interview that he wanted to comfort Huddleston’s relatives, who were arriving in the emergency room. But he knew it would be too awkward.
Instead, he called his own family and asked them to pray for her, he told police.
‘Not a homicide’
Detective Paul Ellzey concluded the interviews by telling Carrizales that the investigation probably wouldn’t go much further.
“We work homicide,” Ellzey said. “This is not a homicide. They just sent us out here to follow up because the Katy Trail is the Katy Trail. You know what I mean?”
Reached by telephone Tuesday, Huddleston’s mother said she was relieved that more details about the accident were being made public.
“It does change things for everyone to know how fast the biker was going,” said Tricia Rohde of McKinney. “The fact Lauren was blamed just didn’t sit right with us. Why is she the bad one?”
Rohde recalled talking to her daughter about using an iPod while jogging. “She told me, ‘Mom, I don’t keep it high enough to where I can’t hear anything,’ ” Rohde said.
About three weeks after Huddleston’s death, Rohde said, she decided to talk to Hamilton about what happened. During their telephone conversation, she said, Hamilton urged Rohde and other family members not to talk to the media until all the facts were known.
“He said he was real sorry that it happened,” but that he didn’t blame himself for the accident, Rohde said. “That was very hard to hear.”
Rohde said her family has paid a terrible price.
“I’m not out for anything other than for people to have knowledge of what happened and when these rules get changed that people pay attention to them,” she said, “because my daughter paid for them.”