By John Burton
FAIR HAVEN – With the tragic death of a participant last October and the filing of a multimillion dollar lawsuit, the Tour de Fair Haven bicycle race is unlikely to be held again – and that could put the future of Fair Haven Day, another annual borough event, into question.
“Going forward, will there be another Tour de Fair Haven?” Mayor Benjamin Lucarelli asked rhetorically. “I don’t think so.
“It would be very difficult on a lot of levels,” emotionally and financially, to continue holding the race, he said.
Michel Berger agrees. A borough business owner and president of the Fair Haven Business Association who was instrumental in establishing the bicycle race five years ago and was a sponsor and racer, Berger said there isn’t any interest in continuing the race because the tragic death of cyclist Cole Porter of Shrewsbury, is still so fresh for so many. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s probably the end of the Tour de Fair Haven,” said Berger, a borough resident.
The annual bicycle race had become one of the borough’s largest fundraising events. Funds were used for charitable contributions and to help finance such events as the borough’s centennial celebration in 2012. That celebration gave rise to Fair Haven Day, a large picnic, music and activities program that attracted a large number of residents. Borough officials had hoped to continue it as an annual event. Fair Haven Day costs between $30,000 and $35,000 to produce with the bulk of the funding coming from the foundation.
But the loss of the race and the funds it raised, calls into question whether the borough and its independent not-for-profit Fair Haven Foundation, will be able to come up with the money to continue the event.
Other fundraising events are expected to continue, including the yearly Octoberfest and the gala, first held in 2012 to raise money for the centennial celebration, Lucarelli said. “So, we’ll have to see how those come along.”
Cancelation of Fair Haven Day “would be a real shame because I think everybody loved Fair Haven Day,” Berger said.
During the race on Sept. 15, Porter collided with a race official who was on foot and was attempting to a throw a handheld radio into a pace vehicle. Porter was thrown from his bike, suffering a traumatic brain injury. He was hospitalized and comatose until succumbing Oct. 2 to his injuries.
Borough officials received a tort claim notice on Dec. 2, from Woodbridge attorney Raymond A. Gill Jr., who represents Megan Porter, Cole Porter’s widow, indicating they would be filing a wrongful death suit seeking $10 million in injury and damages.
The claim notice named as prospective defendants in the forthcoming suit the borough, Fair Haven Foundation, the borough fire department and first aid squad, Monmouth County and its department of public works, the state of New Jersey and “other as of yet unidentified employees of said public entities.”
Gill was not immediately available for comment, but his office said the suit was filed on Wednesday, Jan. 7, in Superior Court in Middlesex County.
In regard to the suit Lucarelli said, “I don’t have a real concern for the borough or any of the public entities that are part of this” because the borough is covered by insurance through a joint insurance fund, in which municipalities participate.
Any litigation and negotiation arising from the suit will be handled by the insurance company’s attorneys, borough attorney Salvatore Alfieri said.
“I don’t have an issue with it,” Lucarelli said of the suit. “Megan Porter is doing what she needs to do to protect the interests of her family. I don’t begrudge her that at all.”
“Obviously, nobody could have foreseen an accident like this,” Berger said. “You feel like, why did this happen? Nobody wants that to happen again.”
The race had been building momentum and was gaining popularity, attracting racers from around the country and last year was the largest in the state, according to Berger.