Cyclist From Webster Groves Killed In Crash During Kansas City Race
Casey Saunders, 30, died Sunday during the Tour of Kansas City
June 27, 2017
The Midwest bicycling community – and many others – are mourning the loss of an elite cyclist from Webster Groves who died Sunday, June 25, after crashing during a race in Kansas City.
Casey Saunders, 30, was racing in the Pro 1-2 criterium at the annual Tour of Kansas City in Missouri when he crashed into a metal barrier on one of the course's tight, right-hand turns, said John Merli, owner of the Dogfish Racing Team that Saunders raced for.
He had been wearing a helmet as is required in all races, but died due to head trauma, according to Mike Weiss, owner of Big Shark Bicycle Company where Saunders had worked for the past six years.
Saunders had raced in the event several times before and it was a course he knew well. Merli said that although crashes and injuries are common during criterium racing, fatalities are not. Saunders, described as one of the sport's most benevolent racers, was a skilled, smart and safe competitor, according to his coach.
"This is an incredibly bizarre, freak, tragic accident," Merli said. "The race was about half over and he had been through that turn probably 10 times already ... and he's always a safe and smart racer, so that's why it's just so bizarre."
Although Saunders received immediate medical attention, first responders could not save his life. News of his death spread quickly throughout the local, regional, state and national cycling communities, with condolences shared by the national USA Cycling organization.
"The whole bicycling community is grieving," said Merli, who owns the Dogfish custom apparel company.
Saunders started racing when he was 15 years old. He worked his way up through the ranks and was competing at the top level among professional cyclists. He was working full-time as a bike mechanic at Big Shark Bicycle Company in St. Louis and racing on the weekends. Although he did a lot of road racing, Saunders also competed in cyclocross and mountain bike races, as well as track racing at the Penrose Park velodrome in St. Louis.
"He had a passion for racing," Merli said. "He raced everything, and he was revered and honored at all of those races."
Saunders' friend and Dogfish teammate Scott Ogilvie said he could win and be aggressive without putting other racers in a bad position.
"He showed us, as always, a clean set of wheels at the finish line," the St. Louis Alderman said. "He loved to compete, but he was happy for whoever won. If there's any lesson for cyclists here, and maybe there isn't, remember the person next to you is flesh and blood."
"Everybody Loved Him"
Fellow cyclists gathered Monday night at the Penrose Park velodrome to ride and remember their friend. But cycling isn't what Saunders will be remembered for most – it was his kindness and positive attitude that will be so desperately missed.
"Everybody absolutely loved him," said his friend Ron Clipp, owner of The Hub Bicycle Company where Saunders worked for a short time several years ago. "He was always upbeat. He was honest, down-to-earth, clean cut ... just as good of a guy as they come."
Weiss of Big Shark Bicycle Company echoed that sentiment.
"He was such a positive influence," said Weiss. "He was one of those people who woke up on the sunny side of the street, and that's who he was on and off the bike. He's always been six stars out of five. We lost a family member, friend, teammate and amazing soul."
Longtime teammate Ogilvie said no one disliked Saunders.
"He was kind, reliable, responsible and friendly. He took his job as a bike mechanic seriously, and in an environment that could be coarse and vulgar, Casey was very much, in a quiet way, a gentleman."
He was so nice, even his rivals liked him.
"I would cheer for him like he was one of my teammates because he was that good of a guy," Clipp said.
Coach Merli added: "There's not a person in this world that didn't love Casey. Anything good you can think of – honest, humble, always polite – that was Casey," he said. "If you're a parent, you would want him to be your son."
Saunders, who was currently living in St. Louis' Dogtown neighborhood, grew up in Webster Groves and is the son of Jill Anne and Thomas Henry Saunders. In addition to his love of cycling, Saunders was an Eagle Scout and a talented piano player. He also loved the outdoors.
"He had incredible talents and amazing things going for him, but he was so humble," Merli said.
Big Shark Bicycle Company owner Mike Weiss said: "We lost a family member, friend, teammate and amazing soul."
But it's not just those in the cycling community who are grieving Saunders' death.
"He touched a lot of people ... he was just as a good of a guy as they come," Clipp of The Hub said.
There will be a memorial gathering Thursday, June 29, beginning at 4 p.m., until the Celebration of Life Service at 7 p.m. at Bopp Chapel, 10610 Manchester Road in Kirkwood.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the National Park Foundation at www.nationalparks.org or funds can be sent in memory of Casey Saunders to Philmont Scout Rand, #17 Deer Run Road, Cimarron, NM 87714.