Montreal

Organizers' silence after woman's Ironman Mont-Tremblant death made things worse, witness says

A witness to the death of Florida triathlete Jill Levy Morris at an Ironman 70.3 event in Mont-Tremblant last month says the way organizers handled the aftermath of the incident only made a tragic accident worse.

Toronto man who saw Jill Levy Morris collapse says death was 'complete fluke'

Jill Levy Morris was described as 'suffering a medical event' by race organizers. (Submitted by Kimberly Cooper)

 A witness to the death of Florida triathlete Jill Levy Morris at an Ironman 70.3 event in Mont-Tremblant last month says the way organizers handled the aftermath of the incident only made a tragic accident worse.

Stephen Hamer says that by not being transparent about how the 46-year-old woman died during the June 23 race, other athletes were left to speculate over what happened.

"By keeping it secret, the rumour mill starts," Hamer told CBC News. "'Why are they covering it up? People were being reckless' ⁠— or whatever." 

In a brief statement posted to its Facebook page a few hours after the fatal incident, Ironman Mont-Tremblant 70.3 stated only that a participant had died "after suffering a medical event" during the race.

CBC News reported Sunday that 46-year-old Levy Morris had, in fact, died of injuries suffered when she was crushed under the wheels of a support vehicle that had begun collecting road signs along Duplessis Road, as the 90-kilometre bike portion of the triathlon was ending.

The Quebec coroner told the triathlete's husband, Ken Morris, the official cause of death was thoracic compression, with several of her internal organs crushed during the impact.

It was only eight days later, reading about the story back home in Toronto, that Hamer realized he had witnessed a fatal accident.

'She was lying on the ground'

Hamer had been cycling behind Levy Morris and came upon her with 2.5 kilometres to go in the bike leg of the race. 

They were going up the last hill on the course ⁠— not as steep as some of the ascents on the challenging course, he said, but one which "really bites into your legs" at that point in the race.

He said Levy Morris was climbing extremely slowly, and it was clear she was struggling. Weaving left to right to stay upright, she began drifting across the median line on the narrow, two-way road. 

Stephen Hamer biked past Jill Levy Morris moments before she fell under the wheel of a vehicle. (Submitted by Stephen Hamer )

Two support vehicles were coming toward her from the other direction, also moving extremely slowly, he said ⁠— no more than two or three kilometres an hour.

The man driving the van in front yelled out his window for her to straighten out, Hamer said.

Hamer passed Levy Morris at that point and noticed she was very pale. 

He heard what happened next but only saw it through the corner of his eye.

Levy Morris was already past the driver's door of the first support vehicle, he said, and the vehicle was moving at "about the speed of a car coming out of a driveway."

"I didn't see her go down. I could see the bike, she hadn't unclipped or anything. Then I heard a thud and I looked over. She was lying on the ground," Hamer said. 

"The thud I heard was the van going over her." 

At the time, however, he thought the cyclist had simply fallen over, and he didn't understand what had made the noise he heard.

He said he never heard Levy Morris call out. He only heard men's voices when it happened — which leads him to believe she simply fainted and slid under the vehicle when she toppled over.

"There was no sound that came out of her when the van went over her. So I think she was out cold," he said.

He said because Levy Morris had already passed the driver's door when she fell over, he is certain she was out of the driver's line of sight.

"[He] could not have seen her fall and go under," Hamer said.

Puzzled no one reached out to him

Hamer said race officials must have known he had been in the vicinity of the accident, because timing mats at the end of the bike course logged the precise moment he crossed over them.

Counting backward, it would have been simple to place him close to the scene of the accident when it happened.

He doesn't understand why he wasn't contacted as a possible witness. 

Jill Levy Morris was a member of Fellow Flowers, a women's running community, and ran races with a flower colour-coded to 'get to the heart of why you run.' Dark pink is for clarity and purpose, but she often wore yellow, for joy. (Submitted by Kimberly Cooper and Donna Sadkin Silver)

"They could have done a much better job," he said. He had heard that an athlete had died, but thought that it was a runner who had had a heart attack on the course until he read the CBC News story on Canada Day. 

In the intervening week, with no update from race organizers on how Levy Morris had died, the rumour mill churned, much of it focused on the driver of the vehicle.

"It really wasn't his fault," Hamer said. 

"It was just a complete fluke that this person happened to fall on this particular angle at this particular point."

Hamer now plans to contact Levy Morris's husband, as well as Mont-Tremblant police, to provide his witness account of what happened.

Police spokesperson Éric Cadotte said police have concluded the driver committed no infraction, and the case has been transferred to Quebec's coroner's office.

Race organizers did not return a request for further comment Tuesday.

Mont-Tremblant's race director, Dominique Piché, told CBC News Friday that he could not say anything more while the triathlete's death is under investigation.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elysha Enos

Journalist

Elysha Enos is a journalist with CBC Montreal.

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