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Tuesday
Feb082011

Blame the victim

I am usually reluctant to post stories here about cycling deaths; there often seems little purpose on dwelling on the negativity of these tragic events.

However, this morning I read of two cases where not only have cyclists been killed, but the families of the deceased have been denied a proper investigation into the incident, and police going out of their way to blame the cyclist for their own death.

If there is any good to come out of these tragedies it has to be a push by families, friends, and cycling advocates everywhere, to bring an end to this “Oh well, it’s only a cyclist” attitude. Especially by law enforcement, who after all are there to serve and protect.

The video above shows the mother of Alice Swanson, a bicycle commuter from the Washington, DC area who was killed in July of 2008 when a garbage truck made a right turn at a light and ran over her.

Police failed to file a proper report at the time of the incident, and then later placed the blame on the dead person to cover up their own inadequacies.    

The second incident I read of has just happened this last Saturday in San Diego. Cyclist Ben Acree was riding east on Friars Road when he was hit by a large commercial vehicle that was exiting a freeway off-ramp. San Diego Police Lt. Dan Christman said:

"It appears at this time that the bicyclist traveled in front of the truck violating his right-of-way and was struck by the commercial vehicle."

All Lt. Dan Christman had to say was that a truck struck a cyclist, but instead he is already expressing an opinion that Ben Acree was somehow responsible for his own death.

Unless they have some different rules in San Diego, Friars Road is a through road, and vehicles merging onto that road from an off ramp, have to yield to traffic traveling along Friars Road, not the other way round.

The cyclist was clearly in a bike lane; the picture above shows it marked on the pavement between the truck and the bike lying in the road.

With the San Diego incident just happened, I hope that all cyclists and cycling advocates from that area will push for a swift and proper enquiry into this tragic death.

There are lessons to be learned from the Alice Swanson case; don’t let this one drag on unresolved for almost three years. 

More details of the San Diego death on Biking in LA

 

                         

Reader Comments (7)

I'm thinking that we need to have more cyclists out there riding with GPS units as advised by the Ohio Bike Lawyer. It's like the old west, dead men, and women, don't tell no tales. You are also fighting institutional bias. I say good for Alice's mother to push this outrage.

February 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRalph

I think that there are lots of cases where cyclists are treated terribly unfairly by law enforcement. Although I am going to sound like a broken record on this, I think that the Ms. Swanson collision is a relatively poor example.

While the MPD made mistakes and likely jumped the gun early in the investigation, under pressure they did put a lot of resources into the investigation including a reinactment. My comments in the Greater Greater Washington thread further explain my position. (http://tinyurl.com/4aplmmw) I believe a mother has the right to be outraged, but there is a reason why she would be disqualified from a jury deciding an issue on the case. Looking at all of the public information, I find it hard to fathom a driver conviction on any serious charge given the burden of proof.

Mionske and Magas individually point out lots of other cases where law enforcement and/or the legal system screw a cyclist. If we're going to convince non-cyclists that there is an underlying bias against cyclists, we need to hold up the strongest examples of this bias.

February 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGeof Gee

good post, Dave. I try to keep up on this advocacy stuff as much as possible. I almost got "right hooked" by an SUV the other day. The guy even saw me.

One quote I read recently was " grave markers don't care who had the right of way".

February 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Graves

Thanks for posting on these tragic accidents. I live in the Washington DC area and have posted on the Alice Swanson accident several times. The police did not do an adequate job on the investigation. Alice's mother suggested the formation of a special police unit to work on bicycle accident investigations. There have been several in the Washington DC where the police repeatedly displayed their bias against the cyclist. See my most recent post on the Alice Swanson case

February 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMike

The comment thread exchange at BikingInLA was interesting, and instructive. The commenter calling him/herself "spat" expresses a point of view I've read over and over in my local newspapers whenever a cyclist "issue" comes up.

Far too often, you clown’s wearing your matching jammies, acting like you are in the “Tour de France” feel that you own the road and everyone should bow down to you because you are all a bunch of Lance Armstrong wannabe’s.

The hostility just oozes. But, I'll give "spat" this, s/he also recognizes the downside to the driver - and, this is, for me, the crux of the whole thing:

Again, i am horrified this happened, but let’s not blame an innocent guy for a tragic accident. His [the truck driver's] life is forever changed also. yes he is still alive, but he will never forget this day i am sure.

There are two parts to this. Motorists can be as resentful of cyclists as they wish, but hit one (out of some level of mistaken judgment) and every time they close their eyes they will replay that moment over, and over, and over again. I don't hesitate to point that out in those threads where the loud mouths want to boast about their "exclusive entitlement" to the roads. The second part, however, admits that the fear of such an accident is what could sit behind the hostility, for some drivers. It's the knowing that they will relive the accident over and over that generates the hostility, me thinks.

We need a sea change in driver education. Personally, I'd like to see every driver's education course include some road time that included cyclists sharing the road with the driver who is ready for their road test, and the road test itself acknowledge the skills needed. [Yeah, I know. What cyclist in their right mind would volunteer? Personally, I vote simulators.] It's a driving head set that needs to be systematically developed. The fact is, before I hit the road on a bicycle myself, I probably didn't understand the context of keeping a cyclist (and myself) safe from these kinds of tragedies as well as I do now. Maybe not everyone will ride a bicycle on the road (peak oil could change that - I've read the Saudis have been less than forthcoming), but drivers can be systematically introduced to sharing the roads and viewing the roads from a cyclist's perspective. And, make that demonstrated awareness a condition for acquiring a license.

My $0.02.

February 10, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbystander

I hope all police officers will discover the joys of biking so that they will not commit future lapses in investigations regarding biking deaths. I also hope and pray that drivers will become more concerned about a persons life. Sometimes its so saddening to know that they just go and run over a biker just because they're on the right lane.

February 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbeachbody coaches

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May 1, 2012 | Unregistered Commentereva

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