ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — She heard the whir of bicycle wheels, saw the flicker of a red bike light pass on the dark street in front of her home near Morningside and La Hacienda NE just before 10 on a clear, cool Albuquerque night.
Kiera Duddy didn’t think much about the man on the bike that Oct. 8 evening. Cyclists often spun through her quiet neighborhood long past sunset.
But minutes later, when she heard the sickening thud, the sound of someone struggling for breath, the sound of someone dying, the man on the bike became more important to her than she could have imagined.
“You witness something like that and you’re changed,” she said. “You see this person who was alive one minute and gone the next and you wonder who he was, why this happened.”
Neighbors had no answers. No one did. There was nothing in the news, nothing from Duddy’s daily calls to the Albuquerque Police Department.
Those who knew that the man on the bike was dead didn’t know who he was, and those who knew who he was didn’t know he was dead.
Because of what an APD commander calls a perfect storm of unique, unfortunate circumstances and the department’s failure to make one crucial call, the man on the bike went unclaimed, his family unaware for three days.
Duddy had called 911 that night. It was dark, the lone streetlight had sputtered off, and maybe the man on the bike had not seen the dark-colored sedan parked at the curb before he hit it.
But she could see that he had struck the parked car hard enough to shatter its rear windshield.
“It was a freak accident,” she said. “You would have no idea how it could have happened and been so severe.”
Neighbors came running to help, including a physician. A passing motorist who joined in the rescue attempt was a nurse.
But they could not save him.
They stayed with him until he breathed his last.
“We didn’t want him to die alone,” Duddy said. “I wouldn’t want that for someone I loved.”
The man on the bike had a brown fedora, no helmet, though police say a helmet likely would not have saved him. He had a wallet with his driver’s license and a business card from University of New Mexico Hospital, where he worked as a trauma nurse.
He had an iPhone.
He had a name: Javier Mario Garcia.
He was 32, a joyful man known for his love of cycling and his way of making friends feel like family.
That night, he had been with friends at Scalo, a Nob Hill restaurant not far from Morningside. He was making the 10-mile trek home to Snow Heights when he was killed.
“He did that route sometimes several times a day,” said his friend, Samuel Peifer, owner of Fixed and Free, a bike shop Garcia frequented. “He was a complete cycling lunatic, one of the fittest people I’ve met.”
On Oct. 11, Garcia’s supervisor called Garcia’s family in Pennsylvania, concerned that had missed work for two days.
Brother Joaquin Garcia called Javier’s friends in Albuquerque, including Peifer, who in turn put out the call to the cycling community.
“There wasn’t anybody who didn’t love Javier, so word spread quickly,” he said. “His friends started posting on Facebook and putting up fliers around Nob Hill.”
It took only hours for someone to see one of the fliers and connect it to the man on the bike who had died on Morningside. The cyclist had been wearing a brown fedora.
“That’s how we found out,” Joaquin Garcia said. “He had been dead for three days.”
So why had it taken so long?
For one thing, no investigative unit was called out that night because the fatal crash didn’t involve a moving vehicle and was not considered a violent or suspicious death. That left the task of identifying the man on the bike and notifying his family to the field officers.
Those officers are taught not to touch the body or any items with the body, lest they taint evidence, so they had not gone through Garcia’s wallet other than to obtain an address from his driver’s license. They had not seen the business card and had not touched the iPhone, which they had mistaken for an iPod, APD Commander Mike Geier said.
Those items were turned over to the state Office of the Medical Investigator – which, OMI operations director Amy Boule points out, is not responsible for notifying next of kin.
Officers later discovered the address they had was outdated and the landlord unavailable.
And that’s where it ended.
Geier acknowledges that an officer should have called OMI to inquire about the contents of the wallet and iPhone. He admits not everything was done to notify the family in a timely, humane manner.
He promises that will change.
“We’re trying to make something good come of this,” he said.
Which is what the Garcias want – for no other family to be left in the dark for days while their loved one lies unclaimed in a morgue.
Garcia’s family members arrived in Albuquerque last weekend. They scattered his ashes Tuesday along the Coyote Trail in the East Mountains, where he often biked.
They visited the site on Morningside where neighbors had set up a shrine of flowers and candles. They thanked the neighbors who greeted them.
“These were complete strangers who helped my brother,” Joaquin Garcia said. “He brought love into this world. And these people made sure he felt love as he left it.”
And now, they all know who the man on the bike was.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal
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