Sad news from the 206-mile LOTOJA bicycle race where a 42-year-old Arizona man swerved to miss a pothole, lost control of his bicycle, and catapulted off a bridge 35 feet to his death in the Snake River.
Robert Verhaaren of Mesa, Arizona, leaves behind a wife and three children; the family had recently flown to London for the 2012 Summer Olympics.
The one-day race starts in Logan, Utah, and ends in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It’s the longest US Cycling Federation-sanctioned bicycle race in the nation and summits three mountain passes in the first 110 miles.
Some do the event as a competition, while others can bike it as a “fun ride.” All of the approximately 1,000 cyclists must finish before dark.
The Teton County Sheriff’s Office says that Verhaaren was only about 8 miles from the finish at 3:15 p.m. Saturday when he crashed. Authorities say he swerved to miss a road hazard, believed to be a pothole, lost control of his bicycle and crashed into the guardrail.
He catapulted over the rail and fell 35 feet to this death in the river, which is about 12 to 15 inches deep where he landed. Other cyclists and bystanders stopped to aid Verhaaren until medical personnel arrived. He was pronounced dead at the local hospital. The Sheriff’s office says Coroner Kiley Campbell believes the victim suffered a possible broken neck.
A race spokesman told the Deseret News that the bike route has crossed that bridge for 30 years. Dave Bern said:
“We’ve been fortunate, just blessed. People have been careful, motorists have been careful and this didn’t even involve a car. We always thought that it would involve a car.”
Our condolences to Verhaaren’s family and friends.
Survivors and services
According to the East Valley Tribune, Verhaaren is survived by his wife, Bridget, and three children, Ansel Helena and Karl. Bridget was providing rider support during the race.
Verhaaren was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Hermosa Vista Stake in East Mesa. He owned Verhaaren Companies, a financial and private investments firm in Mesa, and served on the board of the nonprofit AZBrainFood that provides school lunches.
Funeral services are scheduled for Friday and Saturday at the Hermosa Vista Stake of the LDS Church, 2701 E. Lehi Road in east Mesa.
The viewing is scheduled for 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday. Funeral services are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday with another viewing an hour prior.