Three Quebec triathletes killed as pickup hits cyclists

Six cyclists were struck from behind by a pickup truck Friday at 10 AM on Highway 112 east of Montreal and three of them were fatally injured.

Sandra de la Garza, 36, of Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville; Lyn Duhamel, 39, of Boucherville; and Christine Deschamps, 44, of Brossard were killed. The other three riders were seriously injured, according to The Canadian Press.

The six cyclists were members of the Saint-Lambert Triathlon Club in south Montreal and were riding as part of a three-day training camp in Sherbrooke, preparing for Ironman Lake Placid this July.

Shortly before the crash the survivors had been riding two by two, a spokesman for the club, Eric Lemyre, told CBC News, but they returned to a single file formation because there was no paved shoulder. The cyclists were hit from behind by a pickup truck which was headed east on the four lane highway, Sgt. Claude Denis of the Sûreté du Québec told the Montreal Gazette.

The crash scene near Rougemont stretched more than 30 meters along Highway 112, with mangled bike frames, shoes, water bottles and a wristwatch covering the road, the Gazette reported.

Alcohol was not a factor, said Denis. The pickup truck driver, a volunteer firefighter in his 20s who lives in a nearby community, gave first aid to the victims, Denis said.

The accident was like a "bowling match," Jean Dessureault, one of the survivors, told CBC News. “I felt like I was flying and everyone around me was flying.” Dessureault, and the two other injured cyclists — both women — were released from hospital Friday afternoon. "We trained together all the time," Dessureault said. "It is horrible — they were young women in perfect health."

Police will investigate whether speed, driver distraction or mechanical problems played a role, Denis told the Montreal Gazette. “It was not raining so it appears weather was not a factor, said Denis. “It’s too early to say whether the driver will face criminal charges.”

Coroner André Dandavino, who is investigating the accident, told CBC News
he would investigate whether the driver of the truck was on cruise control at the time of the accident.

Dandavino told CBC News that the four lane road needs a paved shoulder so that cyclists can be safe.

Suzanne Lareau, president of cycling advocacy group Vélo Québec, told CBC News that the cyclists might have had more room if the shoulder had been paved. Under Quebec highway rules, any road travelled by more than 5,000 vehicles a day must have paved shoulders.

"I can't understand why on this part of the road, why the shoulder was not paved," Lareau told CBC News. Officials with Quebec's Transport Ministry said the province had planned to repave the section of the highway where the crash occurred, and would also pave the shoulders. Work is to start in the next few weeks, said ministry spokeswoman Julie Morin.

Several people in the area called that stretch of road particularly dangerous for cycling. The speed limit on the two-lane highway was 90 kilometres per hour, but residents said that was rarely respected. “It's very dangerous. The cars drive too fast,” Bruno Marcil, a cyclist who travels often along the road, told the Montreal Gazette.

Police said there was a bike path nearby but the path had paved and gravel parts, and the Saint-Lambert Triathlon Club riders' bicycles had thin road tires not designed for gravel.

The crash was reminiscent of an incident last summer in Ottawa when five cyclists were struck by a car whose driver was charged with hit and run. None of them died, but one of the riders was hospitalized for months.