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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Two fatal accidents, two different results

Randy Rasa, the author of the Kansas Cyclist blog, yesterday lamented a Kansas prosecutor's decision not to file felony charges against the driver of a car that struck and killed a lieutenant in the Jackson County Sheriff's Department.

Lt. David Dillon, of Eudora, a deputy for the jail operations division of the sheriff’s office, died in the June 28 accident. Dillon, 44, was off-duty and riding his bike between Lawrence and Eudora when he was struck from behind by a 2003 Oldsmobile driven by Kyle Van Meter, 21, the Kansas Highway Patrol told the Lawrence Journal-World.

Van Meter was distracted both by his car radio and a cell phone, authorities determined.

Jackson County District Attorney Charles Branson did not offer an explanation to the Journal-World about why he did not pursue felony charges, but he recommended the Kansas Highway Patrol issue citations for unsafe overtaking/passing, following too closely and failure to wear a seat belt.

Here's what Randy had to say in his blog post:
Just incredible.

As long as the District Attorney has taken to make his decision, I’d begun to fear the worst, but now that it’s come to pass, I’m simply stunned.

Negligence, readily admitted, and yet no charges. How can this be seen as anything other than a gross miscarriage of justice?
In a Twitter post today, Randy referred to a story in The Coloradoan about Daniel Price, who hit and killed Fort Collins, Colo., cyclist Rebecca Allen with his car in July and pleaded guilty Friday to vehicular homicide under a plea agreement.

On the morning of July 22, Price's car hit Allen, 32, and cycling partner Jennifer Garvey, 36, near the intersection of West Drake Road and Moore Lane. Garvey was injured in the crash.

Price likely will receive eight years in prison, five years mandatory parole and two years of supervised probation under the stipulated sentence. Blood tests showed Price’s blood-alcohol limit was above the legal level for someone old enough to drink, which Price was not at the time of the accident.

By no means am I an expert on Kansas or Colorado traffic law, but I suspect the difference in the two cases was that Price was legally drunk, which frequently leads to a felony charge in fatal accidents.

Unfortunately, the Kansas accident sounds too familiar to the 2006 accident near Urbana, Ill., that killed cyclist Matt Wilhelm. The woman driving the car that killed him had been downloading a cell-phone ring tone at the time of the accident.

The woman wound up only being charged with a traffic offense, but Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz had the guts to explain her reasons for not filing a felony charge of reckless homicide in that case. She said current Illinois state statutes and current case law would not back up a stronger charge in that particular case.

To her credit, Rietz has attmpted to change the law in Illinois. She served on a task force led by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White that recommended the creation of a charge of negligent vehiclular homicide. Under the proposal, the offense would be classified as a Class 4 felony and will subject the individual to a jail sentence of 1 to 3 years, up to a $25,000 fine and revocation of driving privileges for no less than one year.

As cyclists, pedestrians and motorists, we in Illinois need to remind our legislators and Gov. Rod Blagojevich of the task force's findings and urge them to take action on them.

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