Wednesday, November 25 , 2015, 5:22 pm | Fair 56º

UCSB, Bicyclists Remember Rider, Disability Advocate Killed in Crash

By Janene Scully, Noozhawk North County Editor | @JaneneScully |

Matthew O'Neill, who was killed Aug. 10 while riding his bicycle east of Santa Maria, was a graduate student at UCSB. (Contributed photo)

The Chula Vista man killed east of Santa Maria on Aug. 9 was an avid rider of recumbent bicycles and a UCSB graduate student who advocated for people with disabilities.

UC Santa Barbara’s Gevirtz Graduate School Education remembered 33-year-old graduate student Matthew O'Neill, who died after his bicycle was struck by a truck pulling a horse trailer near Foxen Canyon and Dominion roads. 

The California Highway Patrol listed O'Neill's hometown as Chula Vista, but he reportedly lived in Carpinteria while attending UCSB.

O’Neill had just finished his third year as a doctoral student in the special-education research area, under the direction of his advisor, Dr. George Singer, UCSB officials said. 

Friends and colleagues remembered O’Neill “as a quiet and seemingly shy individual who became strong and forceful when advocating for the legal rights of people with disabilities and their families,” according to UCSB Gevirtz School statement.

O’Neill was adding a doctorate degree to his legal training to help parents and teachers better meet the needs of their children and students.

He was an expert in special-education law, and had worked as a legal advocate in the Los Angeles area before entering the graduate program, UCSB officials said.

“As a person, Matt is remembered as witty, intelligent and kind,” says Senior Associate Dean Betsy Brenner. “He was into extreme long-distance bicycling events, having traveled from Paris to Normandy in one event, and more recently down the coast of California. I will miss Matt, as will many others here.”

The Gevirtz School of Education plans to hold a memorial event in honor of O’Neill this fall. Details will be sent out when the event is planned.

O’Neill belonged to a group called PCH Randonneurs that promoted long-distance rides. On the group’s Facebook page, fellow riders recalled how he often helped them.

At the time of the accident, he was participating in the California Central Coast Randonnee.

“He would ride with you through tough times, guide you through a tricky route, feed you peach gummy rings when you were bonking, and keep you upright on your bike when you were delirious at night,” fellow rider Stacy Kline wrote on a forum for the California Randoneurrs.

Kline said she told California Highway Patrol officers at the scene that vehicle drivers passed the bicyclists too closely during the entire ride, although the cyclists were riding legally and visibly.

“If we can teach all drivers to change the lane completely when they pass, really make a campaign out of this, Matthew will not have died in vain. We need to stop close passes and the ‘I didn't see him’ mindset. Regardless of the situation, when we motorists change lanes to pass, we cyclists are safer,” Kline wrote.

The vehicle was driven by a 16-year-old whose name wasn’t released due to his age, the California Highway Patrol said. An 18-year-old, Abel Nicolas Maldonado, was a passenger in the vehicle.

CHP Officer Craig Carrier said Friday the accident remains under investigation.

State law doesn’t prohibit teens with a driver's license from driving a vehicle towing a horse trailer, he said. 

“Depending on the circumstances, it’s not necessarily illegal,” Carrier said. “It’s all based on weight ratings.”

Those weight restrictions would determine if a driver should have a different type of license, he added.

The driver and passenger reportedly are the sons of Abel Maldonado, a former lieutenant governor who earlier this year canceled his bid for governor. He did not return a call for comment.

This is the second fatal accident involving Nicolas Maldonado, who also was a passenger in the SUV his mother was driving in 2012 near Foxen Canyon and Dominion roads.

At the time, Abel Maldonado was running for Congress.

In that incident, a 32-year-old man failed to the yield the right of way to the Maldonados’ vehicle. The driver who died, Joseph Scott Scheurn, was later found to be under the influence of methamphetamine at the time of the collision, the CHP said.

Investigators also determined his vehicle had improperly maintained brakes.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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