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Drunk Driver Faces Murder Charges In Cyclist Death

Canyon Country resident Marco Antonio Valencia, 20, could be facing murder charges Tuesday when he goes to court.

Valencia was arrested Saturday morning after hitting a group of cyclists from Santa Clarita Velo who were riding on Bouquet Canyon Road, killing Joseph Novotny, 43, of Stevenson Ranch.

California Highway Patrol Officer George White said that Valencia was driving a 2001 Ford F150 truck northbound on Bouquet Canyon just south of Big Oaks Lodge at approximately 10:46 a.m. when he crossed over into the oncoming lane of traffic and struck three of the cyclists.

"Two more riders were able to evade the truck, but they hit the rocky embankment," White said. "He hit Novotny head-on."

Novotny was declared dead at the scene.

Two more riders, Rigoberto Jiminez, 53, from Saugus and George Munana, 41, of Valencia, were injured in the accident and were taken to the hospital for treatment.

Valencia initially fled, but deputies in the area of Elizabeth Lake Road were able to spot his damaged truck and arrested him.

Tom Barron, who serves on the board of Santa Clarita Velo, said that the incident has really hit club members hard.

"It's put us into a big re-think about a lot of our routes and our relationship with the motor vehicles in the area," he said, noting that Bouquet Canyon wasn't any more dangerous than other roads the club rides on a regular basis.

Barron said that Novotny was originally from Minnesota and joined the club in March, when he moved into the area from Belgium.

He said that the club is awaiting word from the family about funeral plans, but that there might be some delay because of the criminal charges that will likely be filed.

"It's still a crime scene and the wheels of the authorities are turning on that one," Barron said.

According to White, Valencia has a prior driving under the influence conviction, which allows prosecutors to charge him with murder. He will also face charges of felony DUI and is in custody at Men's Central Jail in lieu of $1.07 million.

Novotny is the third club member killed while riding and the second killed by a drunk driver. In 1993, Chuck Pontius was killed on The Old Road near Rye Canyon Road and in 2006, popular teacher Tony Estrin, who was also a longtime member of Velo, was killed by a drunk driver on Sierra Highway near Sand Canyon.

Ironically, the cyclists riding Saturday morning were supposed to make their return along San Francisquito Road, but chose Bouquet because it was cooler.

"The circumstances of this accident were extraordinary," Barron said. "He (Valencia) hit five riders and sideswiped a car. Because there was vehicular traffic, everyone was on the shoulder in a line, a little spread out, but everybody was in a big heap when it was through."

The club will discuss a tribute at the board meeting coming up next week. It is possible that Novotny's passing will be commemorated during the annual national Ride of Silence.

"The outpouring of interest from club members for the guys in the hospital is profound," Barron said. "Guys are looking at themselves in the mirror at what they should and shouldn't be doing on the road. There is a strong intent to take some action to bring awareness that we cyclists are both entitled to use the road and it's good for us to use the road. It's OK to slow down and share the road.

"It's a tragic outcome, but at the same time, this could have happened to any one of us, and that sense of mortality is really weighing heavy now."