San Diego's cycling community is rallying around a man who is now paralyzed after pushing a fellow rider out of the path of a wrong-way driver.
“He saved his life and he got all the damage,” Emma Irarragorri said of her husband who is in critical condition and paralyzed from the chest down.
“He’s always been a hero to me,” she said tearfully. “He’s going to be a hero to his kids.”
Juan Carlos Vinolo, 49, of La Jolla, is always obsessed with safety when he rides his bicycle, his wife said as she shared images of him with NBC 7 Friday.
The father of two was with members of the San Diego Bicycle Club Tuesday when a wrong-way driver headed straight for the group of approximately 30 cyclists as they traveled on Fiesta Island earlier this week.
Irarragorri said her husband was second in the pack when he saw the car coming and instinctively pushed the leader out of harm's way.
The impact of the crash shattered the car's windshield and sent at least 10 cyclists to the hospital with injuries ranging from facial cuts to bruised ribs. Other riders suffered bike damage and scrapes and bruises.
Vinolo was the most seriously injured of the group with two punctured lungs, several broken ribs and a left clavicle, dislocated left shoulder, loss of one kidney, laceration of the spleen and six broken vertebras resulting in a spinal cord injury according to an online fundraising effort to help pay for medical costs.
"It’s like you’re sleeping and it’s a nightmare and you cannot get out of it," Irarragorri said.
Irarragorri said doctors at UCSD Hillcrest Hospital are focusing on healing the lungs so her husband can undergo spinal surgery.
“He’s devastated,” she said, adding that Vinolo wants the “opportunity to rebuild our lives, his life, with his kids, with me and get back everything we have lost.”
However, doctors have cautioned the couple that the recovery process will be long.
"It’s not a race it’s going to be a marathon for years and years to come," she said.
In Pacific Beach, Logan Bass has just returned home from two days in the hospital. Cycling is so important to him that he recently relocated to San Diego just so he could ride his bike here.
On Tuesday he was leading his cycling teammates in the front of the pack when a wrong-way driver came around the corner.
"The hood was coming right at me," he said. "Instinct just got me to turn out of the way just enough."
He immediately turned left, knocked another rider into the grass and fell to the ground. After hitting the pavement, he looked back and saw Vinolo on top of the car. Another teammate, Beatrice Dormoy was on the car's windshield. Bikes and riders were everywhere.
Dormoy suffered facial cuts and bruises and was released from the hospital Wednesday.
Bass had been clipped by the front end of the car and suffered a contusion to his ribs, road rash on his elbow and a cut on his foot.
"I looked down and noticed I didn't have a shoe on and noticed there was blood where I was walking," he said.
He was hospitalized for two days while doctors ran tests. They cleared him to return home once they established that he had not suffered a punctured lung.
Bass said he and others involved in the crash are most concerned about Vinolo.
"I just hope he makes it through. He's fighting for his life right now," he said.
"Every hour's a battle."
He has donated to Vinolo's GoFundMe page and he wants to encourage others to help.
On Friday, Bass also planned to attend the arraignment for Theresa Lynn Owens, 49, the woman arrested and charged with driving under the influence and possession of a controlled substance.
Cyclists have only a helmet and a jersey for protection, he said, and he wants drivers to consider the safety of others on the road when they get behind the wheel.
Most of the cyclists involved in the crash are members of the San Diego Bicycle Club. They meet every Tuesday to ride about 30 miles together and had been finishing their final laps when the collision occurred.
The group said the incident is especially unfortunate because Fiesta Island is supposed to be a very safe place for them to ride.