A Clinton cyclist was killed Saturday morning after colliding with a vehicle near Itta Bena when he apparently failed to hear the warnings of state troopers, who were directing traffic at the scene, to stop.
Jim O’Daniel, 50, one of about 1,000 cyclists participating in the 12th annual Bikes, Blues & Bayous bike ride, died after being hit by a pickup truck at the intersection of U.S. 82 and Mississippi 7 at about 7:40 a.m., according to Staff Sgt. Ronald Shive, a spokesman for the Mississippi Highway Patrol.
O’Daniel, a civil engineer and avid cyclist, was biking with the lead group on the ride’s 62-mile route when they approached the intersection, which does not have a traffic light. Shive said three state troopers were at the intersection but had not yet gotten all the traffic to stop when O’Daniel proceeded across the four-lane highway on his own.
The troopers, Shive said, “rushed toward (O’Daniel) in a loud voice, shouting, trying to get him to stop, which he did not. Soon after, he was struck by a truck.”
Emergency personnel attempted to revive O’Daniel at the scene, and he was transported by ambulance to Greenwood Leflore Hospital, where he was officially pronounced dead at 8:30 a.m., according to Leflore County Coroner Debra Sanders.
She said his death was caused by trauma from the collision. An autopsy will be conducted early next week.
Shive said an MP3 player with a set of headphones belonging to O’Daniel was found at the accident scene. He said authorities believe O’Daniel “had it in his ears when they were attempting to stop him” and did not hear their commands.
Shive said the driver of the pickup, who was traveling east on U.S. 82, was not considered at fault and no charges were filed. Shive said he did not know how fast the vehicle was moving at the time of the impact.
Minutes before the accident, O’Daniel and the first group of cyclists had just left the Itta Bena rest stop and were trekking toward the next, which was in Schlater. After word trickled back to the Itta Bena rest stop about what had happened, volunteers and a couple of cyclists formed a circle to pray for the victim.
The first fatality in the history of Mississippi’s largest bike ride stunned its organizers.
“It’s absolutely breaking my heart,” said Richard Beattie, one of the event’s founders and a principal member of the Greenwood-Leflore County Chamber of Commerce committee that puts on the ride.
“We put on something so many people have come to love,” Beattie said, his voice breaking off as he searched for the words to communicate his grief over the accident.
“I’m just heartbroken for the town and the event and this person’s family. I don’t know how to face them, though we’re going to. I don’t know what to say.”
According to O’Daniel’s social media profiles, he was originally from Vergennes, Vermont, a town of 2,600 in the northwest corner of the state. He had a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Cornell University and master’s and doctorate degrees in structural engineering from Penn State University. He had worked as a research structural engineer at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Waterways Experiment Station in Vicksburg for all 21 years since completing his education.