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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.

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.
bobby lazi June 24, 2014 at 03:35 PM
It's a year ago today that we said goodbye to my brother Joey, and not one day since then has he been absent in our thoughts and hearts, we love and miss him beyond words, til our paths cross again this void will everlast.

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