Dan Lewis ’09 is in critical condition after being hit by a car on Saturday in Lincoln County, Kansas, while riding his bicycle on a cross-country Habitat Bicycle Challenge trip.
The accident occurred on a country road near Vesper, Kansas, at about 2 p.m. Saturday. Lewis, who is 20, was transported by helicopter to St. Francis Hospital in Wichita, and a hospital spokeswoman said he is still in critical condition there. HBC riders on other trips said they were told Lewis was in a medically induced coma after suffering head trauma in the accident.
The Habitat Bicycle Challenge sponsors three cross-country bike trips each summer to raise money for Habitat for Humanity. Participants include college students from Yale and other schools.
Andy Wagner ’09, a leader on Lewis’s trip, said Lewis was hit on his left side by a car on a “blind hill.” At the time of the accident, Lewis was riding with one other biker about 45 minutes behind the front of the HBC pack, Wagner said. The group rides in small clusters for safety reasons, he said.
David Dohe, a dispatcher in the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, said the road, Kansas Highway 18, is usually empty.
Eric Fjeldal, who heads the HBC board, said Lewis’ family has flown from Denver to the hospital to be with Lewis. Fjeldal is currently traveling to Kansas to visit the hospital.
“We’re very concerned for Dan’s well-being … and our prayers are with him,” he said. “This was a very freakish accident. I do still feel confident in the safety of the trips.”
The Salina Journal, which covers northwest Kansas, reported that the driver was Jessica White, 16, who was taken to Salina Regional Health Center following the accident. She is no longer at the hospital, a spokeswoman said Monday. The Journal also reported that Lewis was wearing a helmet and safety gear at the time of the accident.
The rest of the riders on the HBC South trip have resumed biking, having left New Haven in early June with the goal of reaching San Francisco on August 9. Three riders spent the weekend at the hospital, but they rejoined the rest of the group today, Wagner said.
Wagner asked that anyone with concerns about Lewis’s condition contact the Greater New Haven office of Habitat for Humanity rather than trying to reach individual HBC riders. The phone number for the office is (203) 785-0794.
There are two other groups of HBC riders currently on the road. HBC North riders will end their trip in Seattle, and HBC Central will end up in Portland.
Trip leaders and participants were shaken by the news of Lewis’s accident.
“I talked to one of the leaders on the trips who told me about the accident, and at this point, it is still just shocking,” said Stephen Kappa ’07, who serves on the student board that oversees the bicycle challenge. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and all of the riders who were there.”
Rob Inglis ’07, who is currently participating in the HBC Central trip, said the news of the accident was a “shock.” But he said that the accident has not shaken his faith in the safety of the Habitat trips.
“We’ve gotten a lot of safety measures that we’ve tried to build into the trip,” he said. “We’ve stressed basic training, and everybody has read books about bike safety. We’re definitely doing as much as we can to make this trip as safe as possible.”
This is not the first accident that has occurred since the Habitat Bike Challenge was founded in 1994 by Yale students as a way to raise funds for Habitat for Humanity.
Two years ago, Rachel Speight ’06 died when she was struck by a car in western Kentucky while she was cycling on the HBC trip. She collided with another biker, spun off into the road, and was hit by oncoming traffic. According to a fellow rider at the time, “there were no cars for miles.”
In May 2006, Alexander Capelluto ’08 died in a cycling accident in West Haven while training for last year’s HBC trip.