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The coworkers of a bicyclist killed Wednesday evening when he was hit by a car described him as a brilliant engineer and loyal friend.

Napa resident Donald Eric Mitchell, 48, was riding his bike on Solano Avenue near Hillview Lane north of Napa when a car hit him, killing him.

Mitchell was a research and development engineering manager since 1999 for Advanced Pressure Technology, a Napa manufacturer of gas handling components, said company President Karena Zakhour.

“We’re a small company, and he was part of our family,” she said. “He will be deeply, deeply missed by everybody here.”

He was unmarried and had no children, she said.

Zakhour described him as dedicated, wise and loyal. He was an avid outdoorsman who enjoyed cycling, she said. 

AP Tech Vice President of Sales Tom Vreeland had just returned from Japan and was coming out of customs when he received the e-mail with news of Mitchell’s death. “I’m still stunned,” he said.

Vreeland said he has known Mitchell for the past 16 years.

Mitchell, originally of Northern California, started his career as an engineer working on rocket engines in Southern California, Vreeland said.  He moved to the Sacramento area, and then to San Jose to become an engineering manager at a company that built gas delivery systems.

At the time, Mitchell was a customer of AP Tech. When his company moved to Pennsylvania, Vreeland encouraged him to move to Napa, he said.

The two worked closely in product development.

Vreeland said he was impressed by Mitchell’s intelligence and thoroughness.

“He had an attention to detail to the point of being annoying. Part of the problem was, he was always right,” he said, laughing.

Vreeland would edit a data sheet, have it sent to an assistant, then pass it to Mitchell, who would inevitably find errors, he said.

Beyond their working relationship, Vreeland considered him a good friend.

Mitchell had a kind and positive demeanor and was a great conversationalist, Vreeland said. “You could talk about the most obtuse topic, and he could add something,” he said.

He had a television, but no cable, only using it to watch DVDs. Instead, he enjoyed reading and was part of a book club.

Mitchell loved the outdoors and believed in protecting the environment — and saving money, Vreeland said. The two were on a trip together once, when Mitchell asked Vreeland about solar panels.

Vreeland asked him how much his electric bill was, to which he replied, $40. “I said, ‘Can you see your breath in the winter?’ He said. ‘Yes.’” 

The cause of the crash is still under investigation, said California Highway Patrol Sgt. Scott Lunardi, and no charges have been filed.

The area where the crash occurred is a narrow road with a shoulder that curves slightly, he said.

“Whether or not the bicyclist was in the lane or on the shoulder is unknown at this time,” he said.

Police say the driver, Napa resident Robert Kreger, 78, of Napa was driving a 1990 Toyota Camry north about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. Police say his car struck cyclist Mitchell who was also traveling north.

Mitchell, who was wearing a helmet, died at the scene.

Kreger’s age does not appear to be a factor, Lunardi said.

“He’s 78 years old, but he had a valid license, and he was coherent and physically didn’t seem to have any disabilities,” he said.

Lunardi warned drivers and bicyclists to be wary of other traffic.

“We need to share the road,” he said.

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