Bicyclist and driver both at fault in fatal accident

They both were at fault.

That’s what police and prosecutors determined after a two-month investigation of a fatal car-versus-bicycle crash at the intersection of Indian River Boulevard and the Barber Bridge in February that created the worst traffic jam in memory on the barrier island.

In a statement released last week, Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey said there were “two factors that directly contributed” to the crash.

One, he said, was that the bicyclist, 58-year-old Christopher Hannon of Melbourne Beach, failed to yield the right-of-way to oncoming traffic and made an illegal left turn into the intersection.

At the same time, Currey added, the driver, 33-year-old Alton Gilstrap Jr. of Indian River County, was traveling at 61 mph in a 45-mph speed zone.

Despite braking, Gilstrap was unable to stop his 1998 Chevy Cavalier quickly enough to avoid colliding with the bicycle.

“Had either of these two traffic violations not occurred,” Currey said, “this crash would not have happened.”

Currey said that both the bicyclist and driver of the car had green lights when the crash occurred at 12:38 p.m. on Feb. 2.

He said that bicyclist Hannon “rode past at least one vehicle” that was stopped in the left-turn lane, and was waiting for oncoming traffic to clear.

A retired Air Force colonel with a passion for cycling, Hannon was pedaling south on the boulevard and attempting to turn left onto the bridge when he was struck by Gilstrap’s northbound car.

Hannon, a decorated combat pilot and operations group commander who retired in 2016, was transported by paramedics to the Indian River Medical Center, where he was later pronounced dead.

Shortly after the crash, police said Gilstrap showed no signs of impairment at the scene.

He was cited for speeding and fined $238.

Police conducted a traffic-homicide investigation that Currey said included “analysis of evidence from the roadway, inspections of both vehicles, interviews with multiple eyewitnesses and lab reports.”

The results of the investigation were reviewed by the State Attorney’s Office, which found no probable cause to file criminal charges.

The lunch-hour crash forced police to close the bridge in both directions for more than five hours on a Friday afternoon at the height of the busy winter season.

Combined with construction and secondary accidents that impeded traffic flow on the 17th Street bridge and caused the closure of Indian River Boulevard between 37th Street and Royal Palm Pointe,  the fatal crash induced gridlock on the island’s main roads that lasted until early evening.

Bumper-to-bumper backups were reported on State Road A1A, Ocean Drive and other local roadways, including State Road 510 from the island to U.S. 1.

Many longtime residents, in fact, described the congestion as the worst traffic mess in Vero Beach history.

“It was the perfect storm,” Currey said at the time.

“We did the best we could, but there was only so much we could do. There are only two ways on and off the island – unless you go up to 510 or down to St. Lucie County – and one of the two ways was [closed while the other was] down to one lane in one direction.”

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