One of the cyclists hit by a van during a charity ride around Lake Ontario last week has died of his injuries.
Jeff Vervaeke, a 44-year-old man from Waterdown, was one of 55 people who took part in a fundraising cycle for Pancreatic Cancer Canada. He got off his bike to join a group helping a fellow cyclist who had hit a pothole along Bath Road, just west of Kingston on May 27, the second day of the trip. A car tried to pass a van and hit four people on the shoulder of the road, said Gord Townley, founder of the 7 Days in May charity ride.
Vervaeke was always “the first guy at the scene to fix things,” Townley said. “The riders, it was weighing heavy on them all week long. There were a lot of tears and hugs. He will be greatly missed. He was a very nice man.”
Townley was riding in a group behind Vervaeke and arrived a few minutes after the accident. His daughter was also hit, but she is recovering after surgery for several broken bones and a punctured lung. Two others were also hurt, but only Vervaeke suffered critical injuries.
Vervaeke’s mother, Nancy Delsey, and his partner Kim Carey said that his nickname was “Wheelsman” and that he will be remembered by his large family for his infectious smile, huge heart and helping hands. His daughter Abby, who is turning 15 in August, was always Vervaeke’s top priority.
“If he sees somebody needing him, he would always attend to them first,” Delsey said.
Vervaeke, a mechanic, took an interest in charity rides five years ago after his mother, grandfather and cousin were diagnosed with cancer.
One time, he went over a bump and his seat fell off — but that didn’t stop him. He crossed the finish line with his seat in his hand.
“He had to stand up the whole time, but he got across that line,” Delsey said. “He’s determined, that’s for sure.”
After the fatal accident, Carey want wanted to help Vervaeke finish his last race.
She gave his jersey to one of the riders who visited the hospital, and he carried it for the last five days of the race.
“So he got to finish,” she said.
On his personal fundraising page, Vervaeke wrote that he was riding because he is “passionate about the cause.”
“This ride is my way of doing my part to help find a better treatment and eventually a cure for the disease,” he wrote.
The OPP has charged Robert Saunders, a 51-year-old Kingston man, with two counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm. The OPP said Monday that they will not be releasing any more information about the incident, including whether or not charges have been updated in the wake of Veraeke’s death.
“It is a relatively popular road to ride on, because it goes along the lake,” said Townley. “It is our intent to have the ride again in 2019. Obviously we will be reviewing safety.”
Townley said that the charity will host a Ride For Jeff in August. For now, they have made a small memorial on the side of the road where Vervaeke was hit, and they plan to make a ghost bike memorial.
The bumper sticker on Vervaeke’s car read “share the road” — a message that his family hopes people will take to heart.
“To both cyclists and drivers, please remember to share the road,” Carey said.
With files from Adrian Humphreys and Postmedia Network