A truck driver who slammed into a group of bicyclists, killing five, on a Nevada highway last week, has been charged with multiple felonies after he was found to have methamphetamine in his system, prosecutors said.
The driver, Jordan Alexander Barson of Arizona, was charged with five counts of driving under the influence resulting in death, one count of driving under the influence resulting in substantial bodily harm, and five counts of reckless driving resulting in death, according to Steven B. Wolfson, the Clark County district attorney.
Mr. Barson, 45, was taken into custody on Wednesday morning and was awaiting extradition from Mohave County, Ariz., the Nevada Highway Patrol said. It was not immediately clear if Mr. Barson had a lawyer. There was no answer on Wednesday afternoon at a phone number and an email address listed under his name.
According to the Highway Patrol, Mr. Barson was driving an Isuzu box truck on U.S. 95, about 60 miles south of Las Vegas, on Thursday morning when he approached a group of about 20 cyclists who were being escorted by a Subaru Outback.
The cyclists, who were taking part in an annual 130-mile ride, had split into two packs — one riding in front of the Subaru and one riding behind it, the Highway Patrol said.
Mr. Barson hit the slower-moving group that was behind the Subaru and then hit the Subaru, the Highway Patrol said.
Seven cyclists were thrown from their bikes. Five died on the highway.
The cyclists who were killed were identified by the authorities as Erin Michelle Ray, 39, Michael Murray, 57, Aksoy Ahmet, 48, and Thomas Chamberlin Trauger, 57, all of Las Vegas; and Gerrard Nievas, whose age and hometown were not listed.
Another cyclist was hospitalized in critical condition and later upgraded to stable condition. The driver of the Subaru was also taken to a hospital in stable condition.
Mr. Barson, who was not injured, remained on the scene of the crash and spoke to investigators afterward.
The Highway Patrol had initially said that Mr. Barson was not believed to have been driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. But Mr. Wolfson’s office said on Wednesday that Mr. Barson was ultimately found to have methamphetamine, a highly addictive stimulant, in his system.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Mr. Wolfson said in a statement. “I have said hundreds of times, to countless people, making the choice to get behind the wheel of a car when you are intoxicated is reckless. Those actions are unacceptable, and they have consequences. Tragically, this type of reckless behavior has left five people dead, several injured, and our community in mourning once again.”
The cyclists had been taking part in an annual tradition: a 130-mile ride across long stretches of highway from the M Resort Spa Casino in Henderson, Nev., through Searchlight to Nipton, Calif., and back.
The portion of the highway where the cyclists were hit has a speed limit of 75 m.p.h. But the highway is generally considered safe for biking because of its wide shoulder, local cyclists said.
“It’s really disappointing because I’ve done that ride the last three years and, at that time in the morning, there’s no traffic,” said Yash Gokul, the founder of a local bike-racing team, who said he knew the cyclists who were killed.
Mr. Gokul said he had planned to be on the ride that day but canceled to help his daughter with her remote schoolwork.
He said he was not surprised that Mr. Barson had been charged with driving under the influence when he hit the cyclists.
“There’s nothing out there,” Mr. Gokul said. “You’d see cyclists coming for a while, so now it makes sense that he must have been impaired when he hit them.”
News of the crash has plunged the local cycling community into mourning.
“Everyone is just devastated,” Clay Weeks, who works at Pro Cyclery, a bike shop in Las Vegas, said last week. “Hopefully this opens eyes for people and will make them more vigilant of cyclists on the road because stuff like this happens way too often in the community.”
Bicycle rides account for only 1 percent of all trips in the United States, but cyclists face a higher risk of crash-related injuries and death than people in cars and trucks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that more pedestrians and cyclists had been killed in 2018 in the United States than in any year since 1990.
The number of pedestrians killed rose by 3.4 percent in 2018, to 6,283, and the number of cyclists killed rose by 6.3 percent, to 857, even as total traffic deaths decreased, the agency said. On average, about 17 pedestrians and two cyclists were killed each day in crashes.
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