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« My Cholesterol | Main | Monday Musings »
Thursday
Jul072011

Accountability

I usually shy away from writing here about cycling fatalities; I hate to put a negative spin on a pastime that I love.

However, this one happened on Tuesday this week a little too close to home for me to let it pass without comment.

A local anesthesiologist and avid road rider, 54 year old Dr. Mitchell Hollon (Right.) was riding his bike on what is known as the James Island Connector Road. 

This is in fact a series of bridges and raised highways over two rivers and the marshland between. The City of Charleston is a peninsula so this is the only way to travel west to James and Johns Island where all the good riding is.

Mitchell was doing just that riding on the ample shoulder, when he was struck from behind and killed by an AT&T utility van.

Mitchell was thrown over the low concrete wall at the side of the overpass and fell forty feet to the marsh below. It took an hour to recover his body.

This is another senseless death; there is plenty of room for cyclists and automobile traffic to coexist on this stretch of highway. People just need to pay attention when they are driving.

The picture below shows how wide the traffic lanes are and the wide shoulder. A large dent in the front of the van and the broken windshield shows that the driver was completely on the shoulder at the moment of impact where it is proper and legal for a cyclist to be.

Lt. Chip Searson, head of Charleston's traffic division said, 

Officials are looking at a variety of contributing factors, including whether the driver's cell phone or other personal electronic devices were in operation at the time of the 8:40 a.m. collision.

Searson repeated the department's assertion that all signs point to the operator of the AT&T work van as being solely at fault in the accident.

All this of course does not bring back a good man, but please, please let some good come out of this by bringing about awareness and maybe some changes in the law.

People’s attitude need to change. It is said that distracted driving is every bit as dangerous as driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol. Until the penalties for distracted driving are brought in line with DUI and these cases carry the public stigma of drunk driving, these tragic consequences will continue.

I wonder what AT&T’s policy is for their drivers; do they encourage cell phone and GPS use as a tool for their workers to receive instructions and do their job? Large corporations like AT&T need to take a large portion of the responsibility for driver training, and the safe operation of their vehicles.

Drivers have to be held accountable, and people need to realize that this death happened to be a cyclist; it could just have easily been someone out of their vehicle for some emergency like changing a flat tire. It could have been a cop writing a ticket.

I have said this before but it bears repeating.

If a driver can’t steer their vehicle on a course within lines painted on a highway lane without running into objects at the side of the road, maybe they shouldn’t be allowed to drive a motor vehicle.

When roads like the James Island Connector become safe enough that a child could ride their bike over, the road becomes safer for everyone.

 

A tribute to Mitchell Hollon appeared in this morning's Charleston Post & Courier

                        

Reader Comments (18)

How awfully tragic.
What can one do? Is there some lobby group to take this up? Can you contact your congressman or Senator?

July 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJW

When a vehicle is that far out of the lane and hits a cyclist with that impact, I have to guess the driver was texting, or I suppose doing something way too complicated with GPS. I am appalled daily by the number of people who are driving too fast while at the same time they are looking straight down. Ironic it's an AT&T - they've unleashed a real menace, along with other companies that sell phones that you type on.with your thumbs.while driving.
I'm going to feel sick all day. RIP, Dr. Hollon.

July 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChucker

Dave, There are laws at the national level that govern cellphone use while driving. Last year, the Department of Transportation enacted penalties for such use by any DOT certified driver. The first offense carries a $1000 fine and the second offense doubles the penalty. I would suspect that the driver in question may be DOT certified.
As for your comments on the stigma of drunk driving, I do not believe it has reached the point of being a stigma. Sure, that's what we teach our children in school but the fact of the matter is we don't practice what we preach and the courts certainly do not support the notion of stiff penalties or severe consequences for those found guilty of the offense. MADD still has a long way to go in their crusade.
Self entitlement as an ideology needs to be abandoned and accountability returned to its rightful place as a societal cornerstone.

July 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJim

Dave, I came across the aftermath of this accident on my bike ride last Saturday http://www.waltonsun.com/articles/cyclist-7123-cyclists-roads.html
Came across this one on a Saturday two summers ago as the lifeflight helicopter was evacuating the wounded. http://www.wkrg.com/alabama/article/bicyclists-hit-by-suspected-drunk-driver/282964/Aug-23-2009_1-46-pm/ This driver was drunk at 8:30 am. Father is a local attorney,driver released on $1,000 bond then arrested for DUI one month later http://baldwinreport.com/2009/09/16/watch-out-bicyclists-driver-facing-dui-jailed-again/ Another incident which occurred on a low traffic road that I ride on http://www.topix.com/forum/city/spanish-fort-al/T23Q34O96SBKT9TK3 I have ridden since the very eary 70's but might be done with the road.

July 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

Terrible tragedy. It appears there could be no other explanation than the driver not paying attention for whatever reason.

Regarding AT&T's policy...
It is against company policy for any employee to use the phone or computer while driving a company vehicle. The company regularly pulls reports comparing GPS records with cell phone records to see if the phone is being used at the same time the vehicle was moving. Employees can be disciplined or terminated for not following this policy.

So sad and unbelievable... the driver must have been distracted or something....

July 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterhh

Hey Dave-

Terrible waste, but as you said, it could (and would) have been any one or thing on the side of that road!

I think someone will have to pass a law forcing phone makers to make phones that DO NOT WORK when in a car with it's engine on. That's the only way to stop selfish idiots from texting or talking while driving.

Andy

July 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndy Katz

Tragic. No other word for it. I grant that camera angles can be distorting, but, gosh, with a lane and shoulders as wide as they seem, I'd have decided this might be the safest of roads on which to ride.

How absolutely awful for the driver, as well. S/he's going to have that moment of impact burned on his/her retinas for a very long time. No one wants this. No one. That's not to argue against accountability, but rather, were this kind of horrific accident better understood as there but the grace of ... by all drivers, perhaps we'd have fewer of them.

My heart just aches for all involved and touched.

July 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbystander

THREE BLOODY FEET! This sob driver ran right into him. MURDER. MURDER this is. Hope the sob spends the rest of his life in jail OR better still is executed for the horendous crime. What a waste of human life, I HOPE this case gets more publicity than the Casey case AND OJ for that matter. ALL CYCLISTS should be outraged!

July 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjohn crump

I think a case of involuntary manslaughter should be brought against the driver of the van. I have biked over the James Island Connector a number of times and I was very nervous doing it. I have driven and cycled in many places in the U.S. and overseas but the drivers here in South Carolina have to rank up there as some of the worst on the planet. I still remember Garret Wonders, a promising athlete, who was killed on Old Highway 52, in nearby Berkeley County, during a training ride. I just have to make sure my last will and testament is up to date because I do not plan to stop riding in this backward sorry state.

July 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChris B.

There needs to be are serious consequences for irresponsible behavior but I do not expect such for a culture hooked on road incivility. Neither do the majority of road users want to STR with cyclists, no matter what their age. Attitudes need to be changed but it won't happen without numerous brutal battles over laws, enforcement and education.

Yes cyclists should be outraged (I am every day I cycle) but we are a small minority. Meanwhile auto manufacturers and communication companies are planning for more revenues via auto infotainment.

July 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJack

This doctor never got a chance to explain her side of the fatal incident.

Investigator-Trooper Francis:"The cyclist was signaling to turn just as the other vehicle was going around."

How does he know this as "fact"?
http://www.thetelegraph.com/articles/bicyclist-56200-trooper-filed.html#ixzz1Rc3TrhOh

July 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJack

Sad,Sad Sad, That Americas fasination with the automobile has led to this sorry state of affairs. Peoples whole personallitys and attitudes change when behind the STEERING? wheel of a vehicle. Power this and that,the boody things drive themselves.OR at least it appears that way. No one has any respect for others on the highway. NO wonder I refuse to ride anywhere BUT on bike paths anymore. Of course I am lucky, Not everyone lives in Colorado.

July 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjohn crump

And it turns out you aren't safe from motorized vehicles at the TDF......

July 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRalph

Looking at the video of the car that hit the riders in the TDF. Driver on the left side, didnt look in the right side mirror IF it was even adjusted, happens all the time around here, Once again driver neglect.

July 12, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjohn crump

I had the 'pleasure' of being too close to a collision locally here. I didn't witness the incident but I did get to hear the screams and thuds as the Sherrif's deputies car killer 2 riders and injured a third. He fell asleep at the wheel and crossed the double yellow. Was the first on scene. I'll remember that for a while. Quick turn around on 12 hour shifts were a contributing factor. 12 on, 8 off, 12 on. I don't think the sherriff's office has changed the policy much.

So many ways to get hurt. Don't know if a driver in a car would have survived the equivalent of a 70-80 mph head on. Be as alert as possible.

Ohio bike lawyer thinks it might be best to ride with a GPS unit. It could be the only reliable witness.

July 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRalph

What a tragic story. I hope the driver of the van is being held accountable, because there's not a chance in Hell that it was the cyclist's fault. The road is wide enough for a Boeing to land on. Drivers should become MORE aware of cyclists on the road. My regards to the family. It can't be easy.

July 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVelotex

Considering that a lot of drivers in Los Angeles drive with one hand on the steering wheel and the other holding cell phone, iPod, other mobile device, this is bound to happen. I once watched amusingly as a driver attempted a a three point turn, while his phone was held to his ear by his shoulder. Even with the hand held law, violators don't seem to have any guilt, as they pilot their 2500 lbs vehicles close to cyclists.

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWes Oishi

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