A 36-year-old Brentwood man who began bicycle racing professionally three years ago died Tuesday from massive head injuries he suffered last Saturday night in a crash at the velodrome in Encino.
Rod Ballard, who used his bicycle racing skills to work in the recently released Columbia Pictures film, "Quicksilver," was pronounced dead at 11:20 a.m. at Northridge Hospital Medical Center, according to hospital spokeswoman Eva Grant. She said Ballard had been in critical condition since being admitted to the hospital shortly after 11 p.m. last Saturday.
Ballard was sprinting to the finish line in a match race against another rider when the crash occurred. Witnesses said that the pedals or the handlebars of the two bikes became entangled and Ballard was thrown over the handlebars, landing heavily on the track.
"There was a lot of contact between the bikes the whole race," said Mark Rayner, a witness to the accident. "It looked like their pedals hit and it launched Rod, catapulted him right over his handlebars. He kept his hands on the handlebars, flipped over and came down right on his head."
Ballard was wearing a helmet, but Rayner said the type of helmet Ballard was wearing provides minimal protection.
"It's just a little leather helmet called a hair net," Rayner said. "They call it that because that's about all it's good for--holding your hair in place. It's not nearly as safe as the hardshell (plastic or fiberglass) helmets.
"Rod used to wear a hardshell helmet. He wore one in races earlier this year. For some reason he switched to the hair net."
Paramedics stationed at the velodrome reached Ballard seconds after the crash, witnesses said. The victim was taken by ambulance from the track to the hospital about 10 minutes later. The hospital spokeswoman said no surgery was performed on Ballard, but that he had been kept alive with life-support systems for the last few days.
Ballard, who quit his job as a Los Angeles County lifeguard three years ago to pursue bike racing professionally, had won several local small-purse races in the last two years, according to friends and race officials.
He was born in Toledo, Ohio, and lived in New York until 1980 when he moved to Los Angeles, according to his sister, Stephanie. Ballard is also survived by a 10-year-old daughter, Sacheen.