Wrongful death suit filed by family of cyclist killed in Kansas City race

Crowd-control barriers and the death of an elite cyclist

Racing cyclist Casey Saunders died in June's Tour of Kansas City Criterium race after he crashed into metal fence barriers that witnesses say were not secured together, exposing a hard edge that Saunders hit with his forehead.
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Racing cyclist Casey Saunders died in June's Tour of Kansas City Criterium race after he crashed into metal fence barriers that witnesses say were not secured together, exposing a hard edge that Saunders hit with his forehead.

The family of Casey Saunders, a cyclist who died in a crash in the Tour of Kansas City Criterium race last June, filed a wrongful death petition this week in Jackson County Circuit Court.

Witnesses told The Star that Saunders, 29, from the St. Louis suburb Kirkwood, crashed into steel crowd-control barriers that were not properly secured. That collision knocked the first barrier back and Saunders hurtled head-first into the exposed edge of the next barrier, suffering a fatal head injury.

The lawsuit claims the race organizers exhibited “reckless and wanton disregard of the safety of Plaintiff and the other race participants because the conduct created an unreasonably high degree of risk of substantial harm.”

The family is suing race director Matt Maher, his company, Prologue Racing, the national organization USA Cycling that sanctioned the race and a Skokie, Ill. company – Lake Shore Athletic Services, Inc. – that the family contends provided the steel barriers.

The family is also claiming that the race organizers did not provide for appropriate on-site emergency medical services.

The lawsuit does not seek a specific high amount in monetary damages, but requests whatever relief the court deems “just and proper” in addition to an amount in excess of $25,000 each from Maher, USA Cycling and Lake Shore Athletic Services for the family expenses including funeral and burial costs.

The family’s motivation, said Jill Saunders, Casey’s mother, in an email to The Star, is to protect future racing cyclists.

“As an elite racer, who loved and lived for the joy of cycling, Casey always considered the other riders’ safety as well as his own,” Jill Saunders wrote. “This never should have happened, plain and simple.

“We are devastated by this preventable tragedy and miss our son terribly every day, but we are committed to pursue this to get answers. It is what Casey would have wanted ensure the future safety for all cyclists so this never happens again.”

Attempts by The Star to reach Maher were unsuccessful Saturday. The director did not reply to previous requests from The Star for comment on the Criterium, which raced June 25 in the Crossroads in downtown Kansas City.

USA Cycling’s technical director, Chuck Hodge, in previous comments told The Star the organization would be doing its own investigation of the fatal crash, but has declined further comment because he said USA Cycling was anticipating there would be a lawsuit.

The Criterium was a tightly run race with sharp turns laid out in the Crossroads. According to witnesses interviewed by The Star, Saunders was in a pack of racers going west on 18th Street approaching a turn to the north at Oak Street when he tangled with another bicycle.

The barriers in front of the sidewalk separated the racers from crowds watching from outdoor seating and the sidewalks at restaurants at 18th and Oak. Witnesses told The Star that the barriers were not secured together, but were zip-tied together after the crash and before the race resumed.

The lawsuit claims that the unsecured setup exposed “the blunt, unprotected end of one of the metal safety barriers” and that “Casey hit the end of the barrier head-on at approximately 25-30 miles per hour causing his forehead to be impaled by the metal end of the exposed barrier resulting in a fatal head injury.”

And then after the crash, the lawsuit claims, “no ambulance/EMS was available to provide first aid and other medical care, treatment or transport to Casey for a significant period of time.”

The Tour of Kansas City has been putting on races annually for 54 years, but it has added the intensive Criterium racing in the past two years.

Saunders was mourned by the racing community as an amateur racer whose perseverance and dedication to the sport enabled him to compete at an elite level with full-time professional racers – while remaining one of the sport’s friendliest riders.

“An honest racer,” Dogfish Racing Team coach John Merli said about his rider, Saunders, after the crash. “He was tenacious but humble.”

Both the Tour of Kansas City and USA Cycling expressed grief on social media after the crash.

USA Cycling posted on Twitter, “We are deeply saddened by the loss of Casey Saunders.”

And the Tour of Kansas City posted on Facebook, “Our hearts are heavy as we mourn the loss of a member of the cycling community.”