LOTOJA race cyclist dies after fall into Snake River

Published: Sunday, Sept. 9 2012 10:00 p.m. MDT

Support Teams wait in Afton, Wyoming for riders to come through for fresh water and food at one of four designated stop.

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JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — A cyclist competing in the popular LOTOJA bike race died Saturday night after crashing his bicycle and falling into the Snake River in Wyoming.

Robert Verhaaren, 42, a Mesa Arizona resident, was approximately 8 miles south of the town of Jackson on Highway 89 when he crossed a bridge over the Snake River and came upon a hazard in the roadway, believed to be a pothole, according to a press release by Sheriff Jim Whalen with Teton County.

"Verhaaren swerved to miss the hazard, over-corrected, lost control of the bicycle and crashed into the guardrail," Whalen said. He catapulted over the guardrail and fell approximately 35 feet into the river, in water about a foot deep, Whalen said.

Other racers stopped and rendered aid until medical personnel arrived. Verhaaren was later pronounced dead at St. John's Hospital in Jackson.  Coroner Kiley Campbell said the initial examination revealed Varharren suffered a possible cervical fracture. Deputies on scene reported minor abrasions on his face and minimal bleeding, according to Whalen. More details on the actual cause of death were not released.

Some local residents have complained about the poor roads in that stretch of the race. The guardrail is reportedly 2 feet high, Whalen said that it did not appear to be a high rail.

"We are questioning (the pot holes)," said Dave Bern, LOTOJA communications director. "There is some rough ground (there)."

Bern said that LOTOJA — named for the race that stretches from Logan to Jackson Hole, Wyo. — has been going over that bridge for 30 years.

"We've been fortunate, just blessed. People have been careful, motorists have been careful and this didn't even involve a car," Bern said. "We always thought that it would involve a car."

Representatives from the Wyoming Department of Transportation were not available for comment.

Verhaaren leaves behind a wife and three children. He was an avid cyclist and was the managing director of Universal Equity Group Funds Arizona. He received a bachelor's degree in accounting from Brigham Young University and a law degree from the New York University School of Law.

Verhaaren's brother, Michael, is married to Olympic BMX cyclist Arielle Martin, whose injuries in an Olympic practice run prevented her from competing this summer.

"Seeing life through new lenses today. Unbelievably devastated," Martin posted on her Twitter account Sunday.

LOTOJA, at 206 miles, is the longest single-day bike race in the country and annually draws approximately 1,000 cyclists from all around the United States.

Contributor: Jeff Finley

Julian Reyes

Twitter: @_JulianReyes_

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