Two cyclists claim they saw a case of road rage this week on the George Washington Parkway.
A driver in a gold Cadillac Seville caused an accident Sunday morning that seriously injured cyclist Phil Hepburn of Alexandria, and then fled the scene, said two of his cycling companions, Max Rogozinski of Woodbridge and Jim Strang of Fairfax County.
"There was no doubt he was either trying to scare us and went too far or actually was doing it just to hurt someone," said Rogozinski.
Hepburn was hospitalized after falling under the car, which pulled over and braked in front of him and four other cyclists, according to Rogozinski and Strang. In the fall, Hepburn fractured his hip socket and pelvis area, they said.
Fairfax County Police spokesman Officer Bud Walker on Friday referred all questions about the case to the U.S. Park Police. A call to a U.S. Park Police spokesman was answered by a voice mail message that did not leave an after-hours phone number. A U.S. Park Police news blog does not mention the incident.
"I've been cycling in the area for 40 years and I've seen some aggression, but never to this extent," said Strang, owner of Spokes Etc., a group of bicycle shops in Northern Virginia.
"It's possible he [the driver] miscalculated his speed but maybe it was intentional," said Strang, who also acknowledged that the cyclists themselves were in violation of a "no bicycles" rule on the parkway.
"A car, a gold Cadillac, came up going 60, 65 miles per hour, and came within two or three inches of me," recalled Rogozinski. "I kind of sat up, and my hand went up as in 'What is all this about?' He ripped by me, got in front of the group, and slammed on his brakes."
Of the five cyclists, the first cyclist, Chris Regan, quickly veered off, missing the car. The second cyclist, Hepburn, "laid down" his bike. The bike fell to the wayside and Hepburn went sliding under the car.
"You see in the movies, where a motorcyle slides into a car? That’s what happened," Rogozinski said. "The rest of us were able to pull up in time."
Without getting out of the car or speaking to the cyclists, the driver of the car then backed up and drove away from the scene, crossing into the southbound lanes of the parkway and onto Collingwood Road, according to Roginski and Strang. "He must have been going 60, 65 [miles per hour] onto Collingwood Drive," Rogozinski said.
Hepburn's two friends said the driver was a white male in his late 50s. The cyclists said the car may have been a Cadillac Seville from 1996-2000.
After realizing that Hepburn was injured, the cyclists called 911, Strang said. Mount Vernon Fire and Rescue Station 9, on Sherwood Hall Lane, responded, a station spokesman said.
Both U.S. Park Police and Fairfax County Police arrived at the scene, said Rogozinski. Fairfax County Police helped look for the driver in the Collingwood Road area, according to Rogozinski, but did not find him.
Passersby also stopped to help. "From what we understand, there was one guy trying to chase the guy down, but he couldn't get a license plate and the guy just flew through there," said Rogozinski. "You just don't do this and then go on your merry way."
Hepburn was taken to Mount Vernon Hospital, and then transferred to Fairfax Hospital for surgery. Rogozinski said he thinks Hepburn will recuperate at Mount Vernon Hospital, known for its rehabilitation services.
What makes the incident worse, Strang and Rogozinski said, is that they are fairly certain they saw the gold Cadillac pass them going south about five minutes before the incident that sent their friend to the hospital. Then, the car veered across the lanes of the parkway toward the cyclers, crossing the center line into the northbound lanes, and back. "As we were coming up north, this Cadillac was driving south and he made a turn toward us," Rogozinski said.
About five minutes later, Rogozinski said, possibly the same car, this time in the northbound lanes, pulled over and slammed on its brakes in front of the cyclists. (Rogozinski and Strang surmised that the driver may have made a U turn on the parkway or turned around in the circle at Mount Vernon.)
"It’s not as though the group rides in the middle of the road, or waves into people’s faces and all that," Rogozinski said. "We're a few inches off the gutter—99.9 percent of the time, we’re right in back of each other."
The cyclists are part of a group of expert athletes who have ridden the parkway in a loop down to Fort Belvoir and back on the weekends for about 15 years. The cyclists, who often compete in races, travel at speeds of about 25-27 miles per hour on their weekend rides, which is faster than cyclists using the nearby bike trail, who can travel no faster than 15 miles per hour, Strang said. The other cyclists with Hepburn, Rogozinski and Strang on Sunday were Chris Regan and Scott Crabtree of Alexandria.
In recent months, signs have gone up on the parkway, stating "No Bicycles." Although the signs are new to some, the National Park policy dates back at least four years. The group on Sunday was not ticketed, they said.
Anyone with information about the driver should call U.S. Park Police at (202) 610-7515.