Police say 21-year-old banned from driving seven months ago had been smoking marijuana

Seven cyclists (not the eight that was initially reported) were killed this morning in a horrific crash in Southern Italia after being hit head on by a Mercedes travelling on the wrong side of the road whose driver has tested positive for smoking marijuana and who was banned from driving seven months ago.

The incident happened on the state road 18 at Lamezia Terme, in the province of Catanzaro, Calabria. Six of the cyclists died at the scene and the seventh while he was being airlifted by helicopter to receive emergency treatment.

Other members of the group with which they were riding remain in hospital, some injured seriously.

The driver was named by Rome-based newspaper Il Messagero as 21-year-old Moroccan citizen Chafik Elketani, a resident of Gizzeria in the province of Catanzaro.

After hitting the group of cyclists, Elketani is believed to have lost control of the vehicle, which finished up off the road.

The collision  is said to have happened while he was attempting to overtake another vehicle at high speed, hitting the group of cyclists, who were travelling in the opposite direction and had no time to brake, head-on.

Elketani was himself slightly injured in the crash, and after receiving emergency treatment in the hospital in Lamezia Terme, the driver was taken to the medical centre in Catanzaro’s jail. According to one report there was also a child passenger in the car who was also injured in the crash.

The dead cyclists, all male, all came from Lamezia Terme and included 58-year-old Fortunato Bernardi, the owner of the gym to which their cycling club is affiliated, the uncle of Inter Milan footballer Felice Natalino.

“What we found on our arrival this morning was a terrible scene. Indescribable,” said Silvio Rocco, one of the first paramedics on the scene. “Not even a bomb could have caused something like this.”

He continued: “We were had been alerted about an incident in which, according to initial reports, only one cyclist was involved. Arriving on the scene, however, we saw that we were dealing with a massacre. They were all people whom we knew personally, so the blow was even more distressing. We alerted other emergency staff and the helicopter. It’s something that is truly disturbing.”

The mayor of Lamezia Terme, Gianni Speranza, declaring a period of official mourning said, “It’s a huge tragedy. A terrible sight.”

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.