A 50-year-old man has been charged with five counts of second-degree murder after he struck nine bicyclists – killing five of them – in Kalamazoo, MI.
The case is not unique for the fact that a driver struck a bicyclist. Unfortunately, that’s become more and more common in this country, especially in Florida. What’s different about this case is that the driver has actually been charged with a crime. In the vast majority of Florida bicycle accidents, drivers face zero consequences for maiming or even killing people on bicycles.
As BikeWalkCentralFlorida.org reported, bicycle commuting spiked 62 percent from 2000 to 2013. In that same time frame, there has also been a nearly 7 percent increase in bicyclist injuries caused by collisions with cars. Just in 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) calculated 726 bicyclist deaths nationwide in 2014, with more than 120 of those occurring in Florida. A total of 48,000 were injured.
Although cycling advocates are pushing for an increased awareness of bicyclist sharing the road, they also want tougher penalties for drivers who injure or kill them. The reality is, far too many drivers at-fault for bicycle accidents face little to no penalty at all.
Usually, prosecutors will only charge a driver who was:
- Drunk/ High;
- Caught after fleeing the scene;
- Driving recklessly;
- Displayed culpable negligence.
But if none of those scenarios applies, most drivers will walk away with a traffic ticket, if anything. That’s true even when it’s clear drivers are at-fault or have violated the state’s three-foot rule, which requires drivers to maintain a distance of three feet from cyclists. The risks of biking will continue to by high, safety advocates warn, until lawmakers get serious about penalizing those who endanger riders.
In the Michigan case, authorities say the crash happened shortly after 6:30 p.m. A group of cyclists was riding together. A short distance away, one driver contacted 911 to report a pickup truck driver operating his vehicle erratically. A pedestrian walking back to his car barely avoided being struck when he heard someone shout, “Watch out!” and he moved quickly to narrowly dodge the pickup that nearly ran over his foot. Seconds later, that same pedestrian saw the truck barreling toward the group of cyclists. The man said he didn’t have time to call out a warning before the truck plowed into the entire group.
First responders arrived within two minutes. Five were pronounced dead at the scene. The pickup truck reportedly was disabled in the crash, but the driver got out and fled on foot. Authorities arrested the driver a short distance away. In addition to the second-degree murder charges, he has been accused of reckless driving causing serious bodily harm. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.
The decedents were identified as two men and three women, ages 42 to 73.
The murder charges allege defendant acted with the intent to kill, do great bodily harm or with wanton and willful disregard for the likelihood that the action would cause death or great bodily harm. There is no allegation of premeditation.
Incidents of mass cycling accidents in Florida have been sporadic. In 1996, four cyclists were killed and two injured when they were struck by a pickup truck while riding in a group in Gainesville the day after Christmas. In that case, police opined the driver nodded off just before the crash. However, at the time, authorities never tested the driver’s blood-alcohol level. Ultimately, he was never charged or ticketed because the statute of limitations ran out. As a Gainesville Sun columnist later pointed out, an FHP investigator later told reporters that while it was not illegal for the cyclists to ride on that road, it was dangerous; as if to suggest the cyclists somehow had less of a right to be there.
Florida and Michigan are both among the Top 10 most dangerous states in America for bicyclists.
If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7777 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
Ron Cunningham: Deaths of Cyclists All Too Common, June 10, 2016, Columnist, The Gainesville Sun
More Blog Entries:
Car Accidents Across Florida, Lee County, On The Rise, June 8, 2016, Fort Lauderdale Bicycle Accident Lawyer Blog