Thursday, November 20, 2008

Talk On Phone, Adjust Radio, Kill Cyclist. Get A Ticket?

" A driver who was simultaneously talking on the phone and adjusting his radio hit a cyclist he admits he never saw, and the D.A. suggests citing him for failure to wear a seat belt?"

Sound familiar? Remember how frustrated we all were two months ago when Sarah was hit? The town was in an uproar as it should have been. People rallied together and, I don't know, I guess change is underway. It takes time but at least the appropriate steps are seemingly in progress. I know a lot of us were pissed (unsatisfied, disappointed, whatever...) with the action (or lack of) taken towards Mrs. Whitt, the woman who hit her. It seemed like the system was flawed to allow such a tragedy to go unpunished. Many were quick to shout a loud "Fu#k Alabama and its backwards ass laws!" I personally subscribe to the eye-for-an-eye philosophy but there are bigger issues at stake. Well, I am following up to share with you that while Alabama may very well be backwards with many things, they are far from alone in the area of cyclist’s rights. I still think we have a chance at breaking through the stereotypes and positioning Alabama as a modern, green, healthy, and cycling friendly state. We may ferment our 'shine with antifreeze and sleep with our sisters but by God, you can at least ride a bike to her house safely! Here is a good relevant article from Velo News;

Legally Speaking with Bob Mionske - Can't we do better?
By Bob Mionske

"Two weeks ago, I wrote about the collision that hospitalized Dr. Ed Farrar (see Yet another collision). Since then, I’ve received a letter I’d like to share. First, C.S. wrote in to say:

We held Ed's rally this last Sunday. I figure 700 - 800 riders showed up. It was one of the greatest moments of my adult life. Watching this many people from all over the Pacific Northwest show and give their support to Ed. I actually got to see him. His eyes were bright and sparkly and he had the biggest grin on his face! What a moment.
That kind of support makes all the difference in the healing process—and the good news is that Dr. Farrar continues to make progress in his recovery.
Following my column on Dr. Farrar, I had hoped to move on to a lighter subject for this column. But no sooner had the last column run, than several more stories hit the news. One of those stories involved a cyclist who was killed in Kansas City in June. As some of you may no doubt recall, Sheriff’s Lt. David Dillon was out on a ride one morning when he was struck from behind by a driver who was distracted by his radio and a cell phone call. The driver admitted that he did not see Dillon until he struck him.

Last week, District Attorney Charles Branson announced that criminal charges will not be filed against the 21 year old driver, Kyle Van Meter. Noting that “it is a difficult time for the family,” Branson suggested that the Kansas Highway patrol issue citations for unsafe overtaking/passing, following too closely, and failure to wear a seat belt.

Failure to wear a seat belt? A driver who was simultaneously talking on the phone and adjusting his radio hit a cyclist he admits he never saw, and the D.A. suggests citing him for failure to wear a seat belt? Is this the best we can do? Branson did see a silver lining in the tragedy-- “If any good can come from the tragedy we can only hope people will slow down and pay attention to their driving.” While that’s good advice, how can he reasonably expect that people will slow down and pay attention when killing a cyclist results in nothing more than a few citations for minor traffic offenses?

In July, I wrote about another miscarriage of justice involving a drunk driver who blew through a flashing train crossing and killed 19 year-old Autumn Grohowski. In that case, the D.A. did file criminal charges, although he declined to charge the driver with homicide by vehicle, explaining that “there’s blame on both sides.” In response to that column, I received a letter from a prosecutor, explaining his perspective on charging decisions. It’s longer than most of the letters I run, but worth sharing:

As an assistant DA and a cyclist, it is with a heavy heart that I read your article and an equally heavy heart that I must author this comment. The facts of this case are as tragic as they come from beginning to end. I could tell from the beginning where it was going and what the reactions of your readers would be. Unfortunately, the blame for the lack of justice in this case is not falling on the shoulders of those who are to blame.

I promise you all that the assistant DA in Autumn's case delayed 6 weeks in filing the charges because he was trying to find a way to make the intoxicated manslaughter charge stick. If he is anything like the prosecutors here in Texas, telling Autumn’s family that it wasn't going to work was one of the hardest things he had ever done. Where the case fails is that you have to prove that the intoxication caused the death. In this case, the intoxication was no doubt a huge factor, but not the sole cause. When prosecutors are faced with a situation where they know they can't prove the case, they have a duty to not pursue it. Prosecutors are not like other attorneys. They do not get paid to win. They have a duty to do the right thing, even when it is hard and even when it results in a lack of justice for the victim. It is the hardest part of the job. So where should the blame fall?

The blame should fall on two places. First, the legislatures. They have made these cases so hard to prove. We have had a similar case pending here, where the victim was a cyclist from our office, that has been on going for over four years. It has gone through appeal after appeal and gone to jury trial twice. The defendant was finally convicted of the slightly lesser charge of failure to stop and render aid. The fact is, it is almost impossible to prove that intoxication was the cause when there are so many other factors when it comes to vehicular offenses and so many similar incidents where alcohol is not even involved. How many times have we heard of motorists getting hit by trains? They are stupid, no doubt, but not always intoxicated. Thus, legislatures need to amend the statutes to allow for convictions where alcohol has to be much less than the sole cause.

Secondly, the public is to blame. They do not care about cyclists on the road or their safety. They care more about the 30 seconds they save passing a cyclist unsafely than they do about the cyclist's life. We live in an incredibly selfish and unfriendly time. How do we fix this?" Read the rest of the story here at Velonews


Anonymous said...

What did happen to Mrs. Whitt? Did she even get a ticket or have to pay for the damage to her own car?

clintpatty said...

The last HPD told me the investigation was ongoing. I don't think they've announced that no charges are being pressed if it is over. The last time I rode by there, they had a black Civic, minivan, and a rather new white Chevy truck. I don't know if they traded the Jeep in after the crash or not.