Six AIDS/LifeCycle riders suffered from eye irritation in Lompoc on Thursday after wind caused tear gas from a training exercise at the Federal Correctional Institution to drift onto their route, an AIDS/LifeCycle spokesman said. 

Around 11 a.m., organizers for the 545-mile bike ride received initial reports about riders being afflicted with tear gas, said Eric Jost, an AIDS/LifeCycle spokesman. 

Jost said Federal Correctional Institution warden Steve Langford apologized and said the tear gas came from a training exercise conducted on the penitentiary's range after the wind shifted direction. The penitentiary is in a sparsely populated area in the northwest quadrant of Lompoc, and the riders were on Santa Lucia Canyon Road, which runs by the facility, when the irritation occurred.

"After our inquiry, Warden Langford canceled the training immediately," Jost said. "He expressed his sincerest apologies for the incident."

The six cyclists were treated by AIDS/LifeCycle's on-ride medical team, Jost said. 

Cyclist Conner Blake Burns said he was one of around 30 cyclists who were riding by the prison when the tear gas went off. 

"We heard two loud booms, followed by intense burning of the eyes, nose and mouth," Burns said. "It was very disorienting and, luckily, I was able to pull off to the side safely without issue. Luckily, no one was injured as we all became incredibly disoriented and could have crashed our bicycles."

Burns said he didn't receive treatment from the AIDS/LifeCycle medical team. 

"I sprayed water on my eyes and rode off as quickly as I could come back to my senses as I did not know when or if it would continue," he said.

"Six may have been treated, but many more were affected."

Burns added, "We ride through heat, rain, hail and now tear gas — all in hopes of one day ending AIDS."

First started in 2002, the annual ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles has raised more than $250 million to support AIDS and HIV-related causes. This year's ride started June 3 in Daly City, just south of San Francisco, and ended at Los Angeles City Hall on Saturday. On Thursday, riders made their way from Preisker Park in Santa Maria to Lompoc's Ryon Memorial Park.


Santa Maria City Government

Razi Syed covers city government for the Santa Maria Times. He is a graduate of Fresno State University and New York University.

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