Over 100 people gathered in Embarcadero Hall last night to remember Kendra Payne, the 21-year-old triathlete and aquatic biology major who died in a crash on Gibraltar Road last week, while the investigation into the accident that claimed her life continues.
Payne’s friends, neighbors and teammates from the UCSB Triathlon Team spent Tuesday evening sharing their memories of her and watching a slideshow of her that was accompanied by music including Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.” Mechanical engineering graduate student Mike Sevier, a friend of Payne’s, said the evening was intended to honor Payne’s memory. At the event, mechanical engineering graduate student Shane Flores, who was biking with Payne the day she died, said he thinks the accident happened because the driver of the trailer truck that hit her miscalculated the width of the road.
Sevier said Payne’s friends wanted the chance to celebrate her life and comfort each other about her death.
“It’s needed for a lot of people,” Sevier said.
Flores, who accompanied Payne to the hospital after the accident, said Payne was biking up the road with a triathlon teammate and was hit as she traveled around a sharp curve where the road was only 14 feet wide. He said the truck driver who hit Payne overestimated the width of the road.
“The driver thought he had clearance to pass Kendra,” Flores said. “He didn’t even realize what happened.”
Flores said he and two other triathlon teammates started to worry about Payne when they noticed she was not with them on the narrow road and did not answer when they called her cell phone. He said he was the first of the group to make it back to where Payne was found lying on the road. She regained consciousness and spoke to her friends, Flores said, and although she was alive when she arrived at the hospital, she died before reaching the operating room.
Flores said he thinks the truck could have pushed Payne off the road, causing her bicycle to slip. He said the truck driver did not know he hit Payne until the driver behind him radioed him the news.
California Highway Patrol Officer Jason Bahlman said no charges had been filed against the driver as of Tuesday. The accident is still under investigation, Bahlman said, and no information will be released until it is complete.
“New evidence could come to light,” Bahlman said. “If criminal prosecution is sought, I couldn’t speculate [about evidence that would be used in the case] too soon, because it could taint the prosecution.”
Brian Smith, who lives near the scene of the accident, said he thinks the County of Santa Barbara is partially responsible for the crash because it failed to properly maintain the roads in that area. Smith said truck drivers who travel on Gibraltar Road often drive recklessly, and he said the poorly maintained roads can also make it harder for emergency personnel to respond quickly to accidents.
Bahlman said he could not comment on whether or not the condition of the road contributed to Payne’s death.
“It’s not our job to investigate whether the roads should be fixed,” Bahlman said. “I would hope if the roads were a contributing factor to the accident, then [the] county should fix it.”
Until the official accident report is complete, no criminal charges against the driver will be filed, Bahlman said. He said the investigation could take anywhere from three weeks to four weeks.
“We definitely want to get [the investigation] done, but we want to be thorough,” Bahlman said. “We want to follow all leads.”
Senior zoology major Liz Alexander, a friend of Payne’s, said the university is starting a scholarship fund in memory of Payne. She said there will be a celebration of Payne’s life at the Rec Cen on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Sevier said Chancellor Henry Yang is arranging for the university to confer on Payne an honorary degree in aquatic biology.