By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Alice Swanson was uneasy about riding her bike through city streets to work every morning, so a colleague told her to always wear a helmet for the trip, which was just over two miles.
The helmet was not enough yesterday morning. Swanson, 22, was hit by a trash truck during rush hour near Dupont Circle and killed.
The accident took place at 7:40 a.m. in the 1900 block of R Street NW, just north of Dupont Circle. Police said Swanson was riding in or next to a designated bike lane. She and the truck driver were traveling west on R Street when the truck driver turned right onto 20th Street, hitting her, police said.
Swanson was trapped beneath the truck, police said. An officer in the uniformed division of the Secret Service who was nearby pulled her out and unsuccessfully tried to revive her.
The driver of the truck was identified as Marco Rosendo Flores-Fuentes, 56, of Falls Church. No charges had been filed in the incident as of last night.
Swanson, who lived on Park Road in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood, started work in January for the International Research and Exchanges Board, a nonprofit group on K Street NW. Keith Mellnick, a co-worker and friend, said she asked him about bike commuting, because she knew that was how he got to work.
"She was nervous because of D.C. traffic," Mellnick recalled.
Swanson was the first cyclist killed on D.C. streets this year, police said. Last year, two people died in bike accidents in the city.
Swanson's father, Brian Swanson, choked back tears as he spoke briefly in a telephone interview from Northborough, Mass., Alice Swanson's home town.
"I'm still in a daze," he said. "She was so full of energy and life."
Eric Gilliland, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, said he was surprised that the accident happened on R Street, saying he bikes there frequently. He called it "one of the better roads to bike on" because it has a long bike lane. The accident took place about a block from his Connecticut Avenue office.
"This hits us very hard in the office," said Gilliland, who works to promote bicycle safety.
He said trucks are generally more hazardous to cyclists than cars because they are higher off the road and have more blind spots.
The truck is owned by KMG Hauling, a Sterling-based company. KMG Hauling owner Hugo Garcia said his company is investigating the accident.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the deceased," Garcia said.
Garcia declined to say how long Flores-Fuentes had been employed by KMG or whether his company was working for the city or a private residence or business.
Swanson had an internship in Washington last year at the Middle East Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. She graduated from Amherst College with a degree in Middle East history, according to the institute's Web site. The site says she studied Arabic at the institute.
She remained in the city after that and began work in January as a program associate at the International Research and Exchanges Board, an organization that promotes international education.
The organization released a statement saying: "The loss comes as a terrible shock to all of us here. She was a well loved employee and friend to all who knew her."
Her former co-workers at the Middle East Institute said that Swanson was also well liked there.
"She was the absolute sweetest girl you could ever know," said Stephanie Richardson, deputy director of communications for the institute. "She was not just a good person to be around, but a fantastic addition to our group."
Adam Mendelson, managing editor of the Middle East Journal, the department where Swanson interned, said: "Alice's intelligence and passion for learning was rivaled only by her great warmth and friendliness. I can't ever remember her without a smile on her face."
Traffic fatalities have claimed 20 lives this year in the District, compared with 27 at this time last year.
D.C. Assistant Police Chief Patrick Burke said that he used to commute to work on his bike along the street where Swanson was killed. With rising gas prices, he said he expects to see more cyclists and pedestrians in the streets.
"It's imperative that drivers are cognizant of this and that we all share the road," Burke said.
About two hours after the accident, the mangled bicycle was still visible under the truck's right front tire. A helmet and a backpack were on the street a few feet away.
Staff writer Debbi Wilgoren and staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.