First responders and close friends of a cyclist who died Saturday said they are unsure of the exact cause of Laura Wooldridge’s death.
Wooldridge, 39, of Little Rock, died after suffering facial lacerations and head and neck trauma on a cross-country mountain bike trail at Lake Leatherwood, near Eureka Springs. Wooldridge, who friends described as an experienced mountain biker, was “pre-riding” the trail in preparation for competition Sunday as part of the Fat Tire Festival, an annual two-day mountain biking festival that began in 1999.
Tom Dransfield, assistant Fire Chief and paramedic with the Eureka Springs Fire Department, said Wooldridge initially survived the crash. He said it took three to five minutes to drive to Wooldridge, who had walked off the trail after her crash.
Dransfield said that Wooldridge was speaking when his team stabilized her. He said that Air Evac, a medical evacuation service based in O’Fallon, Mo., responded to a request to evacuate Wooldridge for further treatment.
Washington County coroner Roger Morris said Wooldridge was transported to Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville. He said she was pronounced dead a few minutes after arriving there at 11:24 a.m. An autopsy was performed at the Arkansas State Medical Examiner’s Office Monday in Little Rock. Morris said the preliminary autopsy report gave the official cause of death as esophageal intubation, which may have made breathing difficult or impossible, with complicating neck and face trauma.
David Renko, director of the Fat Tire Festival and a trail-building foreman for Progressive Trail Design, said that about 500 participants had registered to compete in festival events. The festival included approximately 500 volunteers and recreational riders, as well as approximately 500 spectators, he said.
Renko said that although mountain bikers typically wear helmets during practice and competition, additional safety gear is kept to a minimum.
“Some people choose to wear pads for protection, but the average cross-country cyclist wears a thin pair of Lycra shorts and a thin shirt,” Renko said. “As little as possible, to stay as cool as possible, in the summer.”
“This is not the first serious injury we’ve had at the Fat Tire festival,” Renko said. “We had two ‘life flights’ from our event this year, and several ambulance rides.”
Renko said there were several additional accidents in the immediate area as well.
“It was a very unfortunate weekend in Eureka Springs,” Renko said.
“We’d like to think it would be less common, but that’s not the way it is,” Renko said. “I don’t think any of us know exactly when our time will be.”