By CLINT FOSTER
GRAFORD – Four women cyclists were seriously injured in a crash during the second day of the Iris Stagner Memorial Stage Race in Palo Pinto County, Sunday.
Race Director Andy Hollinger said the collision occurred about four-and-a-half miles north of Division Road on State Highway 337, northwest of Graford, during the last 5 miles of the last race of the day. During that hilly portion of the race, Hollinger speculated that a strong gust of wind might have blown one or more of the riders off course, leading to the accident.
One rider was transported by ambulance to Palo Pinto General Hospital, while the other three women were airlifted to John Peter Smith and Harris Methodist hospitals in Forth Worth for varying levels of head injury. Hollinger described the women's injuries as "serious but not life-threatening."
"It's part of racing," Hollinger said of the crash. "Everybody got banged up bad. But the biggest concern was head injury and that's why (three riders) got care-flighted. Their helmets saved their lives."
Hollinger said some of the injuries the riders suffered – in addition to the head injuries for the three care-flighted – included road rash and multiple broken bones. Hollinger said one rider, in particular, had already sustained a serious brain injury recently and, therefore, required special attention. He said the rider who was transported to PPGH has since been released, adding that the other three hospitalized "should be out by the end of the week."
Hollinger was especially complimentary of Mineral Wells and Palo Pinto County law enforcement and emergency management that worked the event and responded when the accident occurred. He said the police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians all "worked together flawlessly" and "displayed an unmatched level of professionalism" to ensure the cyclists received everything they needed.
"I can't thank the rescue squads and Palo Pinto County Sheriff Ira Mercer – for the quality of his deputies – enough," Hollinger said. "Part of my job is making sure injuries are addressed quickly and properly. When this accident happened, they snapped into very professional crisis management. It was as much as you could expect anywhere in the country."
The accident marred an otherwise successful event which attracted 320 cyclists for the two-day, 25-mile stage race across Palo Pinto County.
Hollinger was thankful to Mineral Wells for its part in the race that began Saturday in Fort Wolters.
"The race was a tremendous success," he said. "It was a real civic effort. The (Lake Mineral Wells) State Park, the City, the school system and Chamber of Commerce all did their part to make this event work well."
The race's namesake, Iris Stagner, was killed during a bicycle ride in September of 2012 when she was hit from behind by the driver of a pickup truck crossing the Brazos River bridge on US Highway 180, just west of Mineral Wells. The longtime administrative assistant for Palo Pinto County's Commissioners was an avid cyclist and strong advocate of the "Share the Road” campaign, bringing caution signs to Palo Pinto County roadways almost single-handedly. She also served on the board for the non-profit bicycle advocacy organization, Bike Texas, and coordinated the annual "Ride of Silence" to raise local awareness about cyclists who died or were injured by motorists.