Martin Nelis, son of former Sinn Fein MLA, killed in California ‘hit-and-run’

A photograph of Martin Nelis shared on Twitter by Martina Anderson MEP
A photograph of Martin Nelis shared on Twitter by Martina Anderson MEP

Tributes have been paid on both sides of the Atlantic to the son of a former Sinn Fein MLA after he lost his life in a collision with a lorry in California while cycling.

Martin Nelis, son of former Sinn Fein MLA and Derry City councillor Mary Nelis, died on Thursday in what police in the United States described as a “collision with a big rig truck”.

Mr Nelis’s father Billy Nelis died in January. His oldest brother, Peter, was killed in a road accident in the 1970s.

The 54-year-old father of three had been working in the Californian city of Pleasant Hill as a public information officer since 2007. The collision happened while Mr Nelis was cycling during his lunch break, media reports in California state.

The Contra Coast County sherriff’s department said the driver of the truck had failed to stop, but has since been interviewed by police.

The mayor of Pleasant Hill was amongst those to pay tribute.

“Martin’s tragic death has left a huge hole in our community fabric,” Mayor Tim Flaherty said. “This is a wonderful place to work, to play, to live, and a lot of that, most of it, is because of Martin’s hard work. He was essentially behind the scenes but involved in every public event, from community service day to parades to all the things we’ve done with the library we’re promoting.”

Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson also paid tribute to him, saying: “Martin Nelis was loved by many and will be missed deeply by all who knew him. His mother Mary and siblings are heartbroken at his death in California as are his three children.”

She added: “The republican family, especially in Derry, offer our deepest sympathy and support to you all.”

A spokesperson for the Contra Coast County sherriff’s department said: “The Lafayette Police Department is continuing the investigation into this incident. The truck has been impounded and the driver interviewed.

“On Thursday, at about 12.28pm, the Lafayette Police Department received a report of a ‘hit and run’ involving a big-rig truck and a bicyclist on the 1800 block of Reliez Valley Road between Gloria Terrace and Withers Avenue in Lafayette. Lafayette police officers responded to the scene and found Nelis on the ground. He was treated at the scene by Fire Department and ambulance personnel. Nelis was transported to John Muir Medical Center, where he was later pronounced deceased.”

A memorial service will be held at Pleasant Hill community centre in California on Thursday at 10am. Funeral details are yet to be confirmed.