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‘Ghost Bike’ on Avenue 64 Memorializes Cyclist Who Crashed There and Died

Two weeks after José Cuellar met with an ill-fated accident on the border of Garvanza and Pasadena, the LAPD finally launches an investigation.

Ghost bike on Avenue 64. Credit: Noel McCarthy
Ghost bike on Avenue 64. Credit: Noel McCarthy

When Noel McCarthy and his wife Pilar Reynaldo returned to their North Avenue 64 home in Garvanza last night on Tuesday, they were pleasantly surprised by what they saw: Locked to the fence of their house on the 1000 block of the street was a shiny white-colored bicycle illuminated by candles placed underneath.

It turned out that the “ghost bike,” as McCarthy and Reynaldo instantly named it, was the handiwork of a local neighbor who wished to honor the memory of a 43-year-old cyclist named José “Joey” Cuellar.

On the night of Sunday, June 16, Fathers' Day, Cuellar crashed while riding a bicycle, landing almost exactly on the same spot where the ghost bike appeared.  

According to a witness, Cuellar was riding south on Avenue 64 without a helmet when he “speed-wobbled” while approaching the intersection on Church Street where Garvanza meets Pasadena. The cyclist was thrown head first onto the pavement, where he lay unconscious for 15 minutes until Los Angeles Fire Department paramedics rushed him to Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena.

A reader who responded to an announcement on this site about the crash wrote that Cuellar died sometime in the 10 days following his hospitalization. (The reader is apparently a family member of the ill-fated biker.) According to the Biking in L.A. blog, a call to the coroner's office confirmed that Cuellar died on June 24.

Titled "Helmetless Cyclist Suffers Traumatic Head Injury at Avenue 64 and Church Street," the announcement on Highland Park-Mount Washington Patch was posted by Garvanza resident Ana Meza. “This incident traumatized neighbors and only served to remind them that the high velocity with which vehicles and bike riders travel south on Avenue 64 remains a problem even though 4-way Stop signs were placed at the intersection just a few years ago, demanded by residents of both Los Angeles and Pasadena,” Meza wrote.

“At this first phase intervention to control speeds on Avenue 64 has not worked to the degree we needed it to, it has become necessary that these two cities support the installation of traffic lights to control vehicular speeds to ensure complete stops are made by all travelers on the road,” Meza added. 

At the most recent meeting of the Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council on June 20, Reynaldo gave a brief presentation about Cuellar's crash and the urgent need to slow traffic on the Avenue 64-Church Street intersection. The Pasadena Police Department, Reynaldo said, had suggested constructing a roundabout at the crossing—a relatively cheap and effective way of reducing traffic speeds.

Reynaldo also informed the HHPNC that one recent morning, acting at the behest of nearby residents, Los Angeles Police Department Senior Lead Officer Fernando Ochoa parked a decoy LAPD car at the Avenue 64-Church Street intersection for about four hours. The result: A dramatic reduction in traffic speed.

For days, however, what many Garvanza residents, including McCarthy, found disconcerting was what they say is the complete absence of any investigation into Cuellar’s fatal crash by either the LAPD or the Pasadena Police Department. 

“No police from either side came to the scene to take a statement from the witness,” McCarthy told Patch, adding: “There has yet to be a formal investigation [and] both agencies are struggling to find out—anything. This exposes a serious and frankly unacceptable black hole in the jurisdiction of these two cities.” 

It was only on Tuesday, two weeks after the crash, that McCarthy learned from Pasadena Police Officer Pete Hettema that the LAPD has finally opened an investigation into the crash.

Meanwhile, a neighborhood meeting is scheduled for Sunday, July 7, to discuss traffic control solutions for Avenue 64, between La Loma Road in Pasadena and Meridian Street in Los Angeles. The meeting will begin at 5 p.m. in the Church of the Angels Parish Hall, 1100 Ave. 64. Garvanza and Avenue 64 residents are encouraged to attend.

La vie en rose July 03, 2013 at 10:13 AM
Let's hope the"ghost bike" has some "ghost padlocks"!
Culturevator July 03, 2013 at 10:22 AM
We Highland Parkers respect our shrines. We do not desecrate. (Okay, maybe a ghost padlock wouldn't hurt.) I like that someone cared enough to create this in memory of Joey.
insideguy July 03, 2013 at 12:24 PM
I'm all for the stoplight but I haven't seen any enforcement of the traffic laws. I see bicyclists run stop signs and lights all the time. They take a cursory look and if the coast is clear they plow right through. Are our traffic laws just for drivers of cars? We are told to share the road and show courtesy to cyclist, well, that sentiment needs to be for all those who travel the roads
Marino July 03, 2013 at 12:25 PM
As a reader I was "traumatized" twice rereading Ana Meza's garbage. A man dies and uses the opportunity to berate him and preach about her beliefs.
Noel McCarthy July 03, 2013 at 01:20 PM
I'm sorry - Would you prefer nothing is said about a dangerous intersection and bicycle safety? If we don't learn something from tragedies like this - when do we learn? What you refer to as preaching beliefs, I would call statements of fact. Believe me - this is not "berating" Mr. Cuellar - We are deeply and collectively saddened by this event and should be doing as much as we can to prevent it from happening again.
Marino July 03, 2013 at 01:46 PM
First of all we don't know the facts. The witness is not identified and there are contradicting statements about screeching tires (a sound bikes don't make). Facts don't get in her way to blame the victim not only for his death but also for "traumatizing" her.
Noel McCarthy July 03, 2013 at 02:12 PM
This is why we've asked the police to do an investigation. There were, I believe three witnesses - so hopefully a definitive cause can be found. There is no 'blaming the victim' going on here. I don't understand where you're getting that. Regardless of how he came to fall (the investigation should reveal that) Would it make you feel better if the fact that he wasn't wearing a helmet be left out of the story? And for the dozen or so people that were there - we were ALL traumatized. It's not every day you see a gravely wounded person.
Danielle Jimenez July 03, 2013 at 03:00 PM
On behalf of myself and my family. I would just like to thank the whole community and the neighbor that made this beautiful shrine.. Joey (my big cousin) was a funny loving guy. Its hard to accept that he is now gone, but it settles my heart to see this and the determination from the neighborhood to help prevent these tragedies from happening. Thank you again!
True Freedom July 03, 2013 at 03:51 PM
i do think the fact he was not wearing a helmet is germane to the conversation. As a cyclist, I always wear a helmet. There are things we can't control (other drivers, mechanical failures, etc), so being prepared for the worst is paramount.
Armez July 03, 2013 at 08:22 PM
Marino, I wasn't preaching my beliefs, nor berating and blaming the victim. Far from it. My motivations to report were not as you perceive them to be. I am not a professional journalist. As you are the owner of the yahoo group "nelalist", a group I found useful over the years, I am now shocked and disappointed by your belligerence toward me and the subject, especially because you will not tolerate such behavior on your own site. It speaks to inconsistencies in your character. Your comments are hurtful, and disparaging.
Bob Bailey July 03, 2013 at 08:27 PM
There's another Ghost Rider on Roscoe just west of Balboa Blvd.
Marino July 03, 2013 at 08:32 PM
The first word of the title of the original article was "helmetless". If that's not blaming the victim I don't know what is. It was also implied that he was speeding as if a bike can go over the speed limit. There are plenty of good arguments against helmets: http://bicyclesafe.com/helmets.html I would argue that having a stop sign for a downhill cyclist, poor road conditions and poor lighting is what caused the accident but I don't know so I'm not going to use this poor man's death to promote my agenda. If someone gets shot on the street we don't describe them as "man without bullet proof jacket gets shot". If a woman gets raped we don't describe her rape as "woman without male companion for protection gets raped."
insideguy July 03, 2013 at 09:45 PM
Hey Marino, your argument on having a stop sign on a downhill street as unsafe doesn't make sense for Ave 64. Are you saying that bicyclists shouldn't have to stop for stop signs? They usually don't anyway. The investigation will reveal that the rider lost control (while possibly going faster than was safe), fell and struck his head and later died of his injuries. A helmet probably would have saved his life, but maybe not. Sounds like you want you blame the stop sign, or unsafe street but ignore other obvious contributions to this unfortunate death. And you came down way too hard on AR Me a.
Noel McCarthy July 03, 2013 at 09:52 PM
I'm still trying to decipher what Marino's agenda is. -Clearly against helmet wearing. -Seems like he's against stop signs in downhill situations (or just this one) -Definitely has the Angry Jerk agenda covered.
The Gavel July 04, 2013 at 12:02 AM
Not to gang up or anything, but I think Marino may be missing the point. Although a helmet is not a guarantee for survival, it is statistically better than a human skull. If the person had been wearing a helmet, maybe he would be here today to give his own account of the accident. Also...let's face it...the rider was neglectful. Even if a vehicle was responsible for his loss of control, his lack of responsibility made the situation much worse.
Greg Saunders July 04, 2013 at 12:33 AM
Cuellar should have worn a helmet *and* there's a serious speeding problem on Ave 64 near Church. Downplaying the former doesn't invalidate the latter. This tragedy is an opportunity to highlight a serious public safety issue that needs to be addressed. As a resident that lives one block over, I really like the idea of installing a roundabout at the intersection, though I'm not sure if there's enough room for it. A stoplight would be fine, but it would take away from the charm of the neighborhood a bit. It would also need to be a three-way intersection due to the way Church splits on either side of 64. Anything would be better than those stop signs, which end up confusing people.
Marino July 04, 2013 at 01:14 AM
I don't like to make assumptions so I just rode my bike up and down Ave 64. Downhill the top speed I was able to reach was 23 mph and I was wobbling like crazy because the surface is so bad. It may not be bad enough for cars but it's bad for bicycles. Also the last 200 yards of southbound Ave 64 before Church are pitch black. There is a light on the east side but with all the trees it does nothing for the west side. I still don't know what caused the accident but if I was to make the street safer for cyclists I would add lights and resurface the street. Roundabouts are good too. Every bicycle accident I had in Los Angeles was from poor road conditions (potholes, cracks) exacerbated by bad lighting. I've cracked a few ribs never scratched my head. This discussion on helmets after someone's death reminds me how people used to discuss the clothing and morality of rape victims. I know you mean well but it's very inappropriate and disrespectful to the victim and the family.
El Cid July 04, 2013 at 02:28 AM
Mr. Jose "Joey" Cuellar, may you live in the hearts of those who loved you and will thus never die or be forgotten! Heartfelt blessings and condolences to Mr. Cuellar's loved ones. Rest in Peace!
The Gavel July 04, 2013 at 02:52 AM
Referring to your use of the rape analogy, wearing tight and/or skimpy clothing does not mean that a person can be rightfully assaulted, but rather that it might send an unintentional invitation to potential perpetrators. Similarly, neglecting to wear a helmet does not give a motorist the right to run down a bicyclist, but it makes sense to take proper precautions. I'm sure that the people posting to this site (including myself) have no intent of disrespect. Rather, we want to learn from this situation so that it doesn't happen again. By the way, this is not an attempt to preach personal beliefs...this is an attempt to share knowledge that is based on a vast amount of empirical data. In other words, "learn from history or be doomed to repeat it."
Bob Bailey July 04, 2013 at 12:51 PM
Marino the top speed was 23 mph? On a bike I know that may seem fast but going down hill I don't know. You speak as thou you've many accidents on a bike! If you've had more 2 or 3 I think it would be good idea to wear a helmet or just give riding. I only had one accident and that was because of horse play. When the lighting is bad as in car you slow down and pay a little more attention to whats around you.
insideguy July 05, 2013 at 01:29 PM
I want to know if Marino stopped at the stop sign.
Anonymous July 05, 2013 at 05:57 PM
Isn't Marino Pascal the same guy who wanted to ram the 710 freeway through our city on this street? I think this explains a lot about his thought process.
Marino July 05, 2013 at 10:04 PM
Nice name anonymous. And nice mud. The only 710 extension I have supported is a tunnel under the original route of South Pasadena. Without it, ave 64 and other streets in our neighborhood will continue being used as the de facto freeway alternatives.
Patrizzi Intergalactica July 06, 2013 at 12:19 PM
The car addiction is over. Ordinary people, not the spandexed, are riding bikes, taking their wheelchairs, and bike wagons to the streets. I'm sorry. I know it hurts. Love,
The Gavel July 06, 2013 at 12:24 PM
We are within a seismic zone. I don't think undermining that instability on a grand scale is all that intelligent.
Linda Torn July 07, 2013 at 02:10 AM
I worked across the hall from Joe for several years. Joe was warm, friendly, interesting, and had the greatest smile. My heart goes out to his family and loved ones. He talked often about his nephew, whom he was crazy about and proud of. The people he worked with would like to express our sympathy to Joe's family. if there will be a memorial service or funeral, please let us know. Please email any info to e.sill@aol.com. Thank you.
Noemi M July 07, 2013 at 08:04 PM
It's even dangerous for drivers who aim to drive safely on Ave 64! I have seen the traffic patterns change over the years on this street. I can only imagine how even more dangerous it is for bicyclists!
Me July 10, 2013 at 01:08 AM
I grew up with Joey Rodriguez as I knew him. That was his mothers last name. He was the first friend I had at Buchanan street school. I just saw him a few weeks back as I was headed on an afternoon run passing his home. He smiled as always and we talked briefly about our families as I continued on my way. He will most definitely be missed. By his friends and family.

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