A SPECIAL REPORT- WHAT HAPPENED IN CLEVELAND HEIGHTS?
By Steven M. Magas
On Monday December 28, 2020, 71 year old Terrence Michael Ryan was out for a bike ride. He was riding southbound on Lee Road in Cleveland Heights. At around 8:13 am he was hit by 2015 Nissan Rogue beind driven by 39 year old Elizabeth Bober.
At the point of the crash Lee Road is two lanes – one in each direction. However, right at the point of the crash a left turn only lane initiates. The police report sketch appears to show Mr. Ryan riding along the right edge fo the roadway and then moving towards the left turn lane when he was struck by Ms. Bober’s Nissan. Ms. Bober was apparently attempting to pass Mr. Ryan.
This is a heavily residential area. The crash happened between Coleridge and E. Scarborough Roads. The Google Map aerial view is shown below. Using the scale showing 100 feet, we glean that it is about 300 feet – a football field, from Coleridge to E. Scarborough. The crash occurred about where the left turn lane starts, so a little more than 100 feet from the Coleridge Road intersection.
What happened in this crash? Why did Terry Ryan die?
The police blame the cyclist – 100%.
Ms. Bober told police that she was driving along and saw Mr. Ryan near the “curb.” She said she slowed to pass him when he “began wobbling” and “swerved into the center of the roadway” in front of her vehicle. She said she struck Mr. Ryan with the front of her SUV causing him to hit the ground. The officer states there is no identifiable damage to the car or the bike. Ms. Bober said her SUV was “practically stopped” when she ran into Mr. Ryan.
After reading a brief news report we obtained the preliminary report. There appeared to be no witness statements and minimal investigation. As we do with EVERY fatal bike crash in Ohio, we dug deeper. We requested ALL data – the crash report – witness statements – measurements – crash reconstruction – Total Station data – phone forensics – toxicology data – “black box” data – autopsy report.
It didn’t help us understand the crash any further.
No measurements were taken by police.
A very brief statement was given by the motorist. There is no mention of any attempt to get her phone or determine if anything distracting was going on. In fact, there was nothing done forensically – no Total Station data – no crash reconstruction – no autopsy – no toxicology – no black box – no measurements.
We obtained the “crash photos” – which were taken after everything was cleaned up. The scene photos reflect the snow covering everything except the lanes of travel. The “curb” is not visible at all. Mr. Ryan was clearly in the LANE.
Stepping back a little bit from the view in this photo we see the Sharrows painted on the road. “Sharrows” have no real legal meaning – but they are meant to imply that motorists should EXPECT cyclists to take up the full lane here, particularly on such a narrow road with many intersecting neighborhood roads. Passing another vehicle over a double yellow line in the short space between two intersecting roads, where there is a left turn lane starting for the second road, seems to ME to be extremely careless behavior by the motorist, Ms. Bober. She SHOULD HAVE EXPECTED to see bikes take the full lane in this area and should not have been passing the rider.
Unfortunately, there is no follow up in the police file. No one checked to see if Mr. Ryan had a phone or was utilizing any sort of mapping device. Even when you are NOT using a “map app” the modern cell may well be creating a GPS file in your phone’s memory.
If you utilize any sort of shopping app – say, the Auntie Anne’s Pretzel app – your phone will use the GPS data to DING your phone if you get close to an Auntie Anne’s location.
You may not realize that you are “using a GPS” but your phone is tracking you & creating a file in the memory that can be accessed. That file might tell someone where you had been, how fast you were going, what direction you were heading. In other words, if Mr. Ryan was carrying a cell phone, the police might learn some valuable information from that phone that could help them put together just what happened here.
Unfortunately, due to the very limited police investigation we do NOT know what happened here. Did they try to reach Mr. Ryan’s family? His home address is listed in the report as being on Queenston Road. Did they call anyone to see what he was doing? Where had he been? Where was he going? What was his regular route?
When I googled the cyclist’s home address it was 4 minutes, by bike, from the crash scene. Making a left turn onto Scarborough from Lee Road would have taken Mr. Ryan towards his home.
There is no mention in the report of any effort by Police to figure out where Mr. Ryan had been or where he was going. Why was Ms. Bober trying to pass Mr. Ryan over the Sharrow marking and in between two close intersections? What was her hurry? Was there any distraction? Was she late? Was she simply too impatient to wait a few seconds? Why did she keep going once she saw the cyclist move right to left? She said she slowed and that she was “barely moving” when she hit Mr. Ryan… why not just STOP?
Oh…wait… she’s in a car… cars don’t stop… when I was kid we had a playground game we played at recess. Kids would link arms and march across the playground shouting “WE DON’T STOP FOR NOBODY.” Some folks drive their cars around more vulnerable road users like they’re still playing that game…you see it when “sun glare” makes it “impossible to see” but people keep going… and you see it in situations like this, where SOMETHING is clearly occurring in front of the car but the motorist just keeps on going…
Police did say: “It should be noted that Mr. Ryan did not have a helmet.”
There is no helmet law in Ohio – for motorcyclists, car drivers or bicycle operators. There is no mention of whether Ms. Bober was wearing a helmet. There is no follow up on the death – no autopsy. Did he die from injuries? Did he have some sort of medical episode prior to the crash that led him to “wobble” as described by Ms. Bober. The investigating officer checked on Mr. Ryan and noted he was “breathing and moving” but was not conscious when he was transported to the E/R.
The police report does not fault Ms. Bober at all for her attempt to pass Mr. Ryan over the double yellow in the short space between the two intersections. In fact, the police assess her fault – her “contributing circumstances” – as “None” while assessing “99- Other Improper Action” for the cyclist, Mr. Ryan.
The Police IGNORE the mandate of ORC Section 4511.30, which PROHIBITS passing “when approaching within 100 feet of or traversing” any intersection.
Ms. Bober attempted to pass Mr. Ryan between two intersections that were about 300 feet apart. Both Ms. Bober & Mr. Ryan were southbound on Lee. The southbound lane went from a single lane to adding a left turn lane directly at the point of impact. The northbound lane also went from a single lane to adding a left turn lane. The entire block is compressed into 300 feet or so. The snow coverage extends right up to the white line. Any attempt to pass another vehicle in this short, tight space was not only stupid, but it was improper and in arguably violation of 4511.30
Mr. Ryan had the most valuable right you can have under Ohio’s Traffic Law – he had the RIGHT OF WAY. In order to successfully take the right of way from someone a passing motorist has to pass “lawfully” – obeying the passing rules and the other rules of the road.
Here, the three foot rule applied. Ms. Bober had to pass at least three feet away.
Here, a double yellow line limited Ms. Bober’s legal right to pass. That can be overcome by a proper showing of facts, but none was attempted by police.
Here, Ms. Bober ignored the movements of the cyclist going right to left. The law generally requires turn signals but O.R.C. Sec 4511.39 (Turn Signals) states:
“…A bicycle or electric bicycle operator is not required to make a signal if the bicycle or electric bicycle is in a designated turn lane, and a signal shall not be given when the operator’s hands are needed for the safe operation of the bicycle or electric bicycle.”
Mr. Ryan was moving towards, or was “in,” the designated turn lane when he was struck. The police drawing indicates that is where his body ended up.
From reviewing the police report, it would appear that the word “swerve” carried the day – that the police believed the cyclist did the old Suicide Death Swerve into the path of a passing vehicle and simply failed to analyze a fatal crash appropriately.
The crash occurred on December 28, 2020. Mr. Ryan passed away on December 31 as a result of his injuries. According to his obituary, Terry Ryan was a beloved by his family and friends – a retired house painter living in Cleveland Heights. There is a GoFundMe set up to help defray the burial costs. You can help the family here: https://gofund.me/0d4fac23
Perhaps Mr. Ryan was at fault here, but I do not think so. I believe Ms. Bober should have been expecting to see a cyclist and should NOT have attempted to pass the cyclist as he was moving right to left towards the left turn lane in a narrow space between two intersections. I suspect Mr. Ryan was just trying to get home on a cold winter morning…
Regardless, we should demand a complete and THOROUGH investigation into the facts from our police departments.
 Steve Magas is an Ohio trial lawyer with 38+ years of experience in courts throughout Ohio. Known as The Bike Lawyer for handling more than 450 “bike” crash cases, Steve is one of the founders of the Bicycle Crash Research Center. He has written extensively about bicycles & the law for many years.