CUPERTINO -- A man who was riding behind two cyclists who were struck and killed by a Santa Clara County sheriff's deputy on a winding road in Cupertino said in an interview today that the deputy told him in the minutes after the collision that he had fallen asleep at the wheel.
"The policeman said he dozed off. He just didn't know what happened," said Daniel Brasse, 41, of San Mateo, who came upon the accident seconds after it happened at 10:25 a.m. Sunday on Stevens Canyon Road in Cupertino.
Another man who came upon the accident shortly after it happened said he had heard the distraught deputy say, "My life is over."
The sheriff's department identified the deputy today as 27-year-old officer James Council, who was hired 18 months ago. The city of Cupertino contracts with the sheriff's department for police services.
Council was working patrol when he crossed onto the wrong side of Stevens Canyon Road and rammed three southbound bicyclists head-on, authorities said.
The crash killed bicyclists Kristy Gough, 30, of San Leandro and Matt Peterson, 29, of San Francisco. The third cyclist, 20-year-old Christopher Knapp of Germany, was hospitalized at Stanford University Medical Center, where his condition was upgraded this morning from critical to stable.
The three victims and Brasse were among about a dozen people riding with a San Mateo-based racing team called Third Pillar. The group had started its ride at Highway 92 and Cañada Road west of San Mateo and had been heading toward Stevens Creek Reservoir when the crash happened, Brasse said.
Gough, Peterson and Knapp were in a lead group of cyclists, and Brasse was riding about 10 to 20 seconds behind, he said.
"They took the right turn before me, and as I came around I heard the screams, the pain and everything," Brasse said. "I looked at Matt and I knew he was dead. When I got with Kristy I stayed with her the whole time."
Brasse said Gough's left foot had been severed and her breathing was fluctuating, but she was conscious. He urged her on, saying, "Kristy, baby, keep breathing, keep breathing."
Conditions had been perfect on the winding, two-lane road, Brasse said. "There couldn't have been a better day to ride."
He added, "There were no skid marks, not that I could see. There was just debris from our sunglasses and bike pieces all over."
Paramedics at scene told him the deputy's Ford Crown Victoria cruiser appeared to have been going about 40 mph, Brasse said. The speed limit on that section of road is 30 mph.
A second man, a chiropractor who said he drove up to the scene of the accident, also said he had heard the deputy admit he had nodded off.
"I said, 'What happened?' " said Bryce Renshaw, a San Jose chiropractor. "He said, 'I fell asleep at the wheel.' "
Renshaw said he heard the deputy say, "My life is over," and, "My career is over," and, "I need to help."
"He was kind of rambling," Renshaw said.
Soon, a sheriff's deputy arrived who, according to Renshaw, told Council to stop talking.
Council started his shift at 6 a.m. Sunday and was scheduled to work until 6:30 p.m., said sheriff's Sgt. Don Morrissey, a spokesman for the department. Council is on paid administrative leave while the California Highway Patrol investigates the crash.
The sponsor of Team Pillar, Jon Orban, said today, "If somebody is just starting their shift, why is he falling at 10:30 in the morning? In all this, that's the question to me."
CHP Officer Todd Thibodeau said he did not know whether drug and alcohol tests had been conducted on Council after the crash. He said the investigation was likely to take 30 to 60 days, after which the findings will be turned over to the Santa Clara County district attorney for possible charges.
Gough was a professional triathlete who recently took up road racing and who friends said won every race she entered this year. She and Peterson, also an amateur road racing cyclist, both won their divisions in a March 1 road racing event in downtown Merced.
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