Crime

Driver charged in crash that killed cyclist who was champion triathlete

Bridget Dawson smiles during a race in the Vineman Triathlon. Dawson was killed July 14 when a car hit her during a bike ride on Highway 227.
Bridget Dawson smiles during a race in the Vineman Triathlon. Dawson was killed July 14 when a car hit her during a bike ride on Highway 227.

An Oceano woman has been charged in a highway crash that killed a champion triathlete who was the wife of a Cal Poly dean, San Luis Obispo County’s district attorney said Friday.

Lisa Smith, 53, faces a misdemeanor charge of vehicular manslaughter for a July 14 crash that killed 58-year-old Bridget Dawson, District Attorney Dan Dow told The Tribune.

Dawson was riding her bicycle along Highway 227 south of Biddle Ranch Road about 6:45 p.m. when Smith’s vehicle reportedly drifted onto the right shoulder of the road and hit Dawson from behind, according to investigators.

Dawson was thrown from her bike and landed in a ditch, according to the CHP. She sustained multiple fractures and bruises and later was pronounced dead at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo.

Smith is scheduled to be arraigned Oct. 18.

In a phone interview with The Tribune in July, Bridget Dawson’s husband, Scott Dawson, said authorities told him Smith had been “praying” before the collision.

“Three witnesses said there was no explanation for why she drifted,” he said at the time. “I was told she wasn’t texting or on her phone, but clearly there was something going on. She’ll have to live with this for the rest of her life. And I lost my wife.”

CHP Officer J.W. Townsen confirmed at the time that officials were aware praying may have played a role in the crash. Townsen said he didn’t know whether Smith’s eyes were closed.

Scott Dawson had served as the the dean of Cal Poly’s Orfalea College of Business. He announced he would step down to return to Portland, Oregon, to be closer to family and friends, Cal Poly officials said.

The university named an interim dean Tuesday.

Bridget Dawson was an award-winning triathlete who bested her age group in the World Championships in Auckland, New Zealand, in 2012. She also was victorious in the U.S. Duathlon Championships (a running and cycling event) from 2013 to 2016. Her death was followed by an outpouring of heartfelt messages from friends, family, past teammates and members of the Central Coast cycling community.

Mark Powell: 805-781-7915

Tribune staff writer Nick Wilson contributed to this story.

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