Driver Was Reading Text Message When He Drifted Onto Shoulder and Hit Cyclist
By Bob Mionske
Sep 02, 2014
A driver who killed a cyclist near Rainier, Oregon has been arrested and booked into the Columbia County Jail on charges of First Degree Manslaughter, Felony Hit and Run, and a misdemeanor out of Washington County for Fail to Appear.
Oregon State Police report that the driver, 34-year-old Kristopher Lee Woodruff, of Vernonia, Oregon was driving westbound on Highway 30, west of Rainier, on August 30, and became distracted while looking at a text message on his phone. Woodruff was reported to have drifted onto the shoulder of Highway 30 at about 3 P.M., where he struck and killed Peter Michael Linden, 74, of St. Helens, Oregon. Linden was killed on impact with the ground.
Police report that Woodruff then fled the scene, but was arrested approximately 5 miles further down the road.
It is against the law to text while driving in Oregon. First Degree Manslaughter can be charged when a death is the result of reckless behavior “manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.” First Degree Manslaughter can also be charged when the death is the result of reckless or criminally negligent behavior “by a person operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicants” and the driver has previous convictions specified under the law. Oregon State Police reported that Woodruff did not have a valid drivers license in his possession when he was stopped by a state trooper. There is no word yet as to why Woodruff did not have a valid driver’s license in his possession. However, if Woodruff lost his driver’s license due to a previous conviction, that may be a factor in the decision to charge him with First Degree Manslaughter.
First Degree Manslaughter is a Measure 11 crime and carries a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years. The penalty for a felony hit and run which results in a death can include a 5-year license suspension, up to 5 years in prison, and a fine of up to $125,000. Although these penalties may seem harsh to some, they are intended as a message to the driving public that these are serious crimes and will not be treated lightly.
Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that cell phone distraction while driving has the same impairing effect on drivers as driving under the influence. Although Oregon law prohibits the use of cell phones for drivers under the age of 18, Oregon does not prohibit hands-free cell use for adult drivers. This is a serious flaw in Oregon law, because studies clearly show that there is no difference in driver impairment between hand-held cell phone use and hands-free cell phone use. Nevertheless, despite the fact that Oregon law permits adult drivers to use a hands-free device for cell phones, Oregon law prohibits texting while driving for ALL drivers.
In Oregon, the penalty for using a hand-held mobile device while driving carries a penalty ranging from $142 to $500. These penalties are new for 2014; before this year, the maximum penalty was $250. Legislation to increase the penalty originally specified a maximum $1000 fine for using a hand-held mobile device while driving. However, Senate President Peter Courtney found it necessary to reduce the maximum fine in his bill to $500 in order to get enough support in the legislature for the legislation to pass.
Despite these increased penalties, it is very common to see many Oregon drivers continuing to flout the law, despite studies that show that drivers know that cell phone use and texting while driving are dangerous behaviors.
Bob Mionske is a former U.S. Olympic and pro cyclist, and a nationally-known Oregon bicycle accident lawyer affiliated with the Bike Law network. A prolific advocate for the rights of cyclists, Mionske authoredBicycling & the Law in 2007, and has continued his advocacy on behalf of the rights of cyclists with his Road Rights column in Bicycling magazine.