Out Of Tragedy, Halting Steps Towards Protecting Vulnerable Users

Portland Bicycle Accident Attorney on Vulnerable Road User Laws

By Bob Mionske

Gerald Apple was returning home from a ride. One left turn, and he would be in his driveway. But as he began turning, a driver coming up behind him passed Gerald on the left, hit Gerald, and knocked him into a drainage ditch in front of his home. Miraculously, Gerald wasn’t killed, but he suffered a severe brain injury. He lingered for months, but in February of this year, Gerald finally passed.

In her article “Personalizing the Consequences of Bicycle Crashes- The Gerald Apple Story,” Ann Groninger of Bike Law North Carolina recently recounted the heartrending story of how Gerald’s wheelchair-bound wife battled with unsympathetic care providers and an insurance company that refused to pay for Gerald’s health care, while her husband struggled to stay alive. Would Gerald still be with us today, if he had received the care he needed, instead of the cold shoulder? One can only wonder. But one thing is certain—had Gerald’s insurance covered the care he needed, his wife wouldn’t be faced with hundreds of thousands in unpaid medical bills today.

Gerald’s story caught my attention as an Oregon bicycle accident lawyer, because the circumstances of his collision were so similar to a crash that happened here in Oregon in 2007. It was June 9th, a Saturday. Timothy O’Donnell, 66, was on a ride with four other cyclists from the Portland Velo Cycling Club. They were about to make a left turn, with O’Donnell in the lead. O’Donnell had signaled and begun his turn, when he was struck by a car that attempted to pass him on the left. O’Donnell died at the scene.

The Portland cycling community’s grief soon turned to outrage, when we learned that the driver who killed O’Donnell—Jennifer Knight, then 26—had had her Oregon Driver’s License suspended for failure to appear on a ticket for driving without insurance. With her Oregon license suspended, Knight then moved to Idaho to get an Idaho license. And then, just 6 days before she crashed into O’Donnell, she caused a collision in Idaho by failing to yield to another vehicle, and was cited by investigators for inattentiveness. The day she crashed into O’Donnell, Knight, now returned to Oregon, was driving on a still-suspended Oregon license.

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Sending a Message in San Francisco

by Rick Bernardi

In America, we like to imagine that our lives have value. That we count. That we are somebody. That, great or small, we have rights. It’s right there in our Declaration of Independence, after all: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

We also like to imagine that we are a nation of laws. And that we hold justice in deep regard. That our rights and our very lives are sacred and inviolable, and that if our rights are violated, that those responsible, great or small, will be brought to justice and held accountable for their actions. We imagine that we will have justice.

Well, that’s what they tell us, anyway. But none of that is true. Let me tell you about Amelie Le Moullac, and you will understand.

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The "Get Out Of Jail Free" Card Strikes Again

By Rick Bernardi

I’ve been car-free since 2002, when a teen driver slammed her daddy’s SUV into the back of my car, while I was stopped at a red light (The first words she said when she got out of her ute were “I’m such a bad driver, this is the second time I’ve done this.” The second words she said: “Oh my God, you’re bleeding!”). I guess she didn’t see the red light. Or me. Or the line of cars in front of me.

Or maybe she wasn't paying attention.

I didn’t plan on going car-free, but it worked out that way, and now it’s by choice. Sure, I’ve occasionally thought about getting a car, but when I add up the costs, I change my mind. But looking back, it’s hard to believe that it’s been so long since I last owned a car.

Anyway, I recently joined Zipcar. A friend needed a ride to an appointment that was two and a half hours away by bus, and while she doesn’t have a driver’s license, I still do (although I don’t own a car, I have driven occasionally over the past twelve years).

So I signed up for Zipcar, and there I was, behind the wheel again, driving my friend to her appointment. After dropping her off, I returned to Portland, and then later in the day, drove back to pick her up again. On the way, I noticed a cyclist riding in the bike lane. And it occurred to me as I was passing him, that it didn’t take any special effort at all to see him. I wasn’t intently looking for cyclists, I was just driving. And there he was, easy to see—all I had to do was pay a reasonable amount of attention to my driving, and I saw him.

I soon came to a stop light, stopped, and waited with everybody else. And while I was waiting, he must have passed me, because when I started up again, there he was ahead of me again. And once again, I hadn’t been making a special effort to “see” cyclists. I was just driving, paying a reasonable amount of attention, and there he was ahead of me, unexpected, but easy to see.

Amazing, isn’t it? Without making any special effort to look for cyclists, I nevertheless saw a cyclist ahead of me on the road. I was thinking about this on the drive to pick up my friend, because so many drivers who hit cyclists say “I didn’t see him,” or “He came out of nowhere,” or “He suddenly swerved into my path.” What they are really saying is “I wasn’t paying attention” or “I took unreasonable risks with the cyclist’s life, and he paid for it.” But they don’t want to say that, even quietly to themselves, because that would mean acknowledging that they are responsible for what happened to the cyclist. So they say the magic words “I didn’t see him,” and the rest of society, thinking “There but for the grace of God go I,” gives the driver a free pass.

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Personalizing the Consequences of Bicycle Crashes-  the Gerald Apple Story

By Ann Groninger, Bike Law North Carolina

I always wonder what it will take to get the attention of motorists. How can we drive it into people that they shouldn’t take risks when operating a two ton hunk of metal at high speed? Maybe stricter traffic laws – lower speed limits, prohibiting cell phone use – would help; or increasing punishments for those who break the laws, especially when doing so causes injury or death.

Certainly those measures should be considered. But we can also continue to share stories. All of us involved in cycling, whetherwe interact with other cyclists while riding, or on the advocacy side, or in the legal world, have lots of stories to tell. These stories personalize the consequences of taking unnecessary risks when driving.

And to anyone with a conscience, they should be a daily wake-up call.

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Getting Tough on Traffic Violence, Pennsylvania-Style

By Rick Bernardi, J.D.

Two years ago, Frank J. Aritz, Jr. was riding his bike in State College, Pennsylvania. It was after midnight when he rode past a marked police cruiser and shouted something that was unintelligible to the officer. Probably a mistake under any circumstances, but especially so considering that Aritz was riding drunk (against the law in Pennsylvania). And riding on the sidewalk (against the law in State College). And riding without a light (against the law). With all the laws he was breaking, it probably would have been better had he just quietly pedaled past the officer. But he shouted something, and when the officer ordered him to stop, he ignored the order and continued pedaling (against the law).

He did everything he could to attract police attention to his lawbreaking, and as a result, was tried and convicted on charges of DUI, riding at night without a light, and violating the no-riding-on-the-sidewalk ordinance. Aritz was sentenced to imprisonment for a period of 15 days to 6 months. He appealed his sentence, and this week a panel of the State Superior Court upheld the arrest and his sentence. Aritz will serve at least 15 days, and possibly more, up to 6 months in county prison.

The lesson for cyclists? Don’t be that guy. Pretty basic, really.

But that’s not what’s important about this case.

What’s important about this case is what happened to Autumn Grohowski, and her family.

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Words Escape Me

By Rick Bernardi

What does one say, in the middle of the night, when once again, a cyclist lays dead and our system of injustice gives us its grotesque pro forma ritual of shifting the blame to the cyclist, and exonerating the driver? What does one say, when over and over again, the justice we receive is nothing but a mockery of justice? What does one say, when all one feels is a cold fury at the lies that perpetuate our system of injustice? What does one say when there are no words? What does one say?

I will try to find the words.

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The Truth Emerges

It was a summer evening, the last night of August nearly four years ago, when two worlds violently collided on Toronto’s posh Bloor Street. In the aftermath, a cyclist lay dead, and the driver he clashed with stood accused of criminal charges in that death.

But let’s get real.

Motorists rarely face serious charges when cyclists die at their hands. After all, cyclist deaths are “just accidents,” and we don’t want to hold people accountable for “accidents.”

Except this death was no “accident.” The driver’s actions were, according to the nineteen witnesses who stepped forward, intentional.

Still, let’s get real. The cyclist, Darcy Allan Sheppard, was Métis, and had a history of substance abuse and anger control issues. In contrast, the motorist, Michael Bryant, well, he also had a history of substance abuse and a reputation for a "pugnacious streak." But unlike Sheppard, Bryant was an attorney—in fact, Ontario’s former Attorney General, educated at some of the world’s finest universities—and a rising star in Ontario politics. For all of our comforting illusions about the Rule of Law, people like Michael Bryant don’t answer for the deaths of people like Darcy Allan Sheppard.

But there’s still at least the appearance of the Rule of Law to adhere to. Michael Bryant couldn’t just be let off without even a perfunctory nod to the Rule of Law. In the immortal words of Vincent LaGuardia Gambini, there was no way this was not going to trial.

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Sending A Message

“It sends the wrong message.”

That’s how Denise Hudson described a decision by the Supreme Court of South Australia’s to slash the sentence of the careless driver who killed her husband.

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An Unprosecuted Murder in Lebanon, Pennsylvania

This blog post by Joseph Wade was re-posted here to preserve and archive this blog post.

Originally posted on July 2, 2010 - artspace629

An Unprosecuted Murder in Lebanon, Pennsylvania

Non-fiction

A Review of the Case Concerning the Murder of Autumn Grohowski by A Drunk Driver in Lebanon County

By Joseph Wade

She was a pile of blonde hair, white flashy smiles, and bright eyes, wrapped in a small body that barely amounted to one hundred pounds. She had a warm heart that loved stray kittens and dogs, and a soul that did the smallest things which said “I love humanity.” I knew her from the time she was a little girl who loved to tag along with her big brother and I to the age she turned nineteen—that tough age in a girl’s life when she is still a girl but needs to figure out how to be a woman. We made a promise when we were kids that if she was not married by thirty-five we would get married and I would become an official part of the Grohowski family. Her name was Autumn, her father’s name was Kris, and her brother’s name was Kevin and they were, are, always will be family to me.

That family is shattered now and only fragments remain. There is no putting that family back together again and the few remnants remaining are my best friend Kevin, his sons, and the many memories living in our hearts like glass splinters reflecting joy and pain, and always pain at the least.

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Executive Summary of the withdrawal of charges in the Michael Bryant case

Executive Summary

On Tuesday, May 25, Richard Peck, the special prosecutor appointed to try former Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant on charges involving the death of Toronto messenger Darcy Allan Sheppard, withdrew the charges against Bryant, noting that "there is no reasonable prospect of conviction in relation to either of the charges before the Court. Accordingly, the charges must be withdrawn.”

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