Joe Mello, 56, has built a 10-foot by six-foot steel cross, bedecked it with bicycle sprockets and the busted-up remains of the Calfee bicycle his big brother, John Mello, treasured, and planted it on a slope beside Highway 101 -- and he doesn't care if Caltrans doesn't like it.
John, 57, of McKinleyville, was riding the Calfee last Sunday when, just north of Trinidad, a county owned Nissan Titan drifted to the shoulder he was in and struck and killed him. The CHP reported that the driver, Brian Bresee, 26, of Eureka, a Humboldt County Parks employee, did not appear to be impaired.
Joe -- an avid bicyclist also -- said this morning by phone that he wanted to make a statement. After his brother's sudden death, he went into his shop -- Joe Mello's Auto Repair -- and built the cross. He painted it white, in the manner of the white ghost bikes that people sometimes place on the side of the road, including locally, where a cyclist has been killed in a collision.
"I'm a rebel," he said, sounding more sad than defiant.
In a news release his cycling friends sent to the media, Joe said: "There's been a lot of back and forth since Sunday; people saying a lot of things about cyclists and safety. But the truth is, John was riding legally and in a way that should have been safe. Is it too much to ask that drivers have enough skill and concern to not steer over the fog line? I want people to see exactly what happens when someone doesn't pay attention to the very serious job of driving."
He added that his brother, who leaves behind two grown children and four grandchildren, was "a quiet and sort of serious kind of guy who was happiest when he was on his bike."
The brothers, who grew up in Arcata, got into cycling in 2002. Joe took it to the competition level; John -- a small guy at 5'6" and 140 pounds -- liked the long rides and hillclimbs. He rode the Tour of the Unknown Coast every year, and the Chico Wildflower Century, and others. Last Sunday, he was returning from a ride to Prairie Creek, Joe said, and if he'd finished the ride it would have been about 90 miles.
Joe said he and John often practiced riding in a groove -- maintaining a steady course on the other side of the white line -- and that they were both safety conscious. But, Joe said, he won't be so cautious as to stop riding altogether now.
"My son -- he's in the Marines -- he just came into town, and we went to breakfast this morning and we were talking about that," Joe said. "I told him, what I do, I try to forget about the danger and just ride. Otherwise, you don't have fun. Just pay attention and don't ride over the line."
And that's what he hopes the cross reminds drivers to do -- give cyclists room.
"Just move over," he said. "It don't cost a dime to move over and save a life."
As for Caltrans, Joe said, if the agency removes the cross, that's OK. He just wanted to make a statement, and he said he now has. But if it's up long enough, he does plan to add a plaque that reads, "John Mello, Lived To Ride."
Memorial services for John Mello will be held tomorrow at Paul's Chapel in Arcata, with visitation and viewing from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. The funeral is 3 p.m. Saturday at the chapel.