By Daryl Kelley
Local public official Richard Handley was involved in a traffic accident early Tuesday morning, when the vehicle he was driving struck and severely injured a 27-year-old bicycle rider on state Highway 33 north of Ojai.
After the 4:30 a.m. accident, Steve Prager, 27, was taken to Ojai Valley Community Hospital for emergency treatment for major head injuries, according to the California Highway Patrol. A hospital spokesman said Prager was in stable condition late Tuesday morning, “but does have critical injuries.”
The CHP reported that Handley, 55, a director of the Casitas Municipal Water District and preserve manager at the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy, “was entering a curve when he saw the rear red light on the back of Prager’s bicycle in the northbound lane. Handley struck Prager as he tried to pass him.”
In an interview, Handley said “I did the best I could” to avoid Prager.
Handley said that a few seconds after spotting Prager’s taillight, “as I tried to get around him, the guy made a sharp left turn right in front of me. I was about 20 feet away. He hit on the left side of my vehicle and broke the windshield right in front of me.”
Handley said he routinely drives during the pre-dawn to Matilija Canyon or Wheeler Hot Springs so he can start his day with a walk in the woods. But Tuesday, just after passing Bodee’s restaurant, he saw the bicycle rider and moved left so there would be plenty of room to pass.
Handley said he was traveling about 45 mph when Prager swerved and Handley’s 1992 GMC minivan struck the man. Handley said he flagged down a pickup, whose driver called 911.
Prager suffered a gash in the back of his head, but was conscious when firefighters arrived from the Meiners Oaks station a few minutes later. The man was taken by ambulance to the Ojai hospital, where Handley said he had twice checked on his condition by mid-morning.
“I was just there,” Handley said, “and he was conscious.”
Four CHP cruisers responded, blocking traffic on Highway 33 for about 40 minutes.
Dr. Gordon Clawson, an Ojai emergency room physician, said such accidents are fairly common.
“You’d be surprised at how often this happens — at least once or twice a year.”
By Daryl Kelley