Steve Magas is Ohio's Bike Lawyer. He has written about Ohio Bike Laws, bike crashes, bicycle advocacy and court cases for some 30 years. Soon we'll be adding a series of features about your favorite Ohio bike shops.
2021 was an absolutely awful year for cyclists riding on the road in Ohio and around the country. While riding in Ohio remains “safe,” especially when compared to other large states, the recent trend of increasing numbers of fatalities continued.
I see article after article in the media stating the same fact in many jurisdictions… Speeds are UP… Crashes are UP… Deaths are UP
Deaths were UP in big states and small – Ohio, Kentucky, Florida, California… You can read about it here and here and here and here and here.
In Ohio the DOT reports that 2021 was the deadliest year EVER on the roads
There were TWENTY-EIGHT cyclists killed on Ohio’s roads in 2021, making 2021 the deadliest year ever for cyclists as well.
Ohio has averaged 17-18 cycling deaths annually for many years. That started to tick up slowly around 2010, but that last few years have really been devastating.
In the 21 years from 1994 to 2015 Ohio had 366 cyclists killed – an average of 17.4 per year. In 2015 we saw a high of 26 and since 2015 we have seen a consistent rise in deaths with 22 cyclists killed in 2018, 23 in 2019 and an almost inexplicable 21 cycling deaths in 2020, when actual driving miles were down significantly!
The 28 CYCLIST deaths in 2021 represent the worst year we have seen.
Dogs- Dogs are said to be Man’s Best Friend I’ll grant you all that much It’s just hard for me to call him “Pal” While he has my calf for Lunch…
One of the very first “bike law” pieces I wrote, back in the 1980s [written by candlelight on parchment with quill pen as I recall] was about Ohio’s DOG laws. A few things have changed since then… like this funky new-fangled FAX gizmo… but Ohio’s dog laws remain STRONG, especially when applied to situations in which a cyclist encounters a loose dog on the road – the cyclist WINS… period.
Ohio’s Dog Laws Ohio law has a “strict liability” standard… that means you only have to prove the dog was out, and caused injury, and you win.
You do NOT have to prove “negligence” by the owner- to the contrary, the owner could be completely NOT negligent… using the strongest chain, the best state-of-the-art containment system…doesn’t matter… if the dog gets out and causes Mayhem, the owner is liable.
I posted an “Ad” on Facebook. It was about the new KY & OH Bike Law cards and was seen by a few hundred people… cost about $35 or so. One thing about a Facebook ad is that you are basically inviting people to come to your page and leave their thoughts…
This dude left this thought:
How do people message you if they are dead! It’s not a motorized vehicle, no drivers license or insurance needed to be on the road ways, and you don’t have registration?!? The spandex wearing pedo riders need to just stay off the roads, why would you chance riding up against a semi or 3/4 ton truck who might make an accident and just run you right tf over?!? Wait but you have your go pro and your safe zones!
Hit & Run crashes are an epidemic in the U.S. In 2016 there were 1980 fatal hit/skip crashes resulting in 2049 fatalities. This was the highest number recorded since NHTSA began tracking the data in the 1970s. Of those, 1398 crashes involved NON-VEHICLE OCCUPANTS such as pedestrians & bicyclists. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released its “Research Brief” noting that while there were more hit/run crashes in larger states, when you looked at rates relative to population you find that New Mexico, Louisiana, and Florida lead the league.
Pedestrians and bicycle operators obviously present the hit/run motorist with a slim likelihood that damage to the hit/run vehicle will be significant enough to avoid a getaway.
Last weekend in Ohio we had TWO cyclists killed by hit/run motorists.
In Richland County, the man alleged to be driving the truck that struck & killed 13 yr old Luke Newswanger has been arrested. The crash happened at 9:30 am on Sunday morning. The truck allegedly driven by Bud Thornberry was going in the same direction and struck Luke from behind before driving off.
In College Hill, near Cincinnati, however, a hit/run killer is still on the loose.
I ran across this story in my daily search for bicycle/crash stories from around the country and the world. A 5 year sentence for a driver who slammed into a cyclist with here Mercedes while driving at “three times over the drink-driving limit and 10 times over the limit for cocaine” – The woman smashed into, and killed, the cyclist and kept right on motoring along with her windshield in bits and her bumper left at the scene.
The cyclist, a 61 year old fellow, was riding his e-bike to “… start a night shift at work when Moughan hit him… Wearing hi-visibility clothing and with front and rear lights visible on his bike, it is estimated that he would have been visible to the motorist for 600 metres, or 20 seconds…“
The motorist was non-repentant…
“…Six weeks later, she was discovered passed out on the back seat of a Fiat Punto which had been damaged in a crash with another vehicle, and was found to be over the drink-drive limit on that occasion as well…”
She was charged, convicted and sentenced… the Judge gave her… ta da… Five Years and Two months in prison.
Seems a bit… I dunno… low… for such a crime?
I am reminded by these daily stories about other cases – some I have worked on… some I participated in as an advocate… some I just read about …
I did a post way back in 2010 talking about sentencing in vehicular homicide cases and about how an E/R doc got 5 years in prison for a road rage incident in which two cyclists were seriously injured. In 2016 I posted again on this topic, comparing some sentences issued in a variety of serious cases.
Today I’m looking backwards – and forwards. Back to 2006 – July 16, 2006 to be specific. And back to this man – Anthony Gerike – who’s been in prison since 2007 for causing the crash of July 16, 2006 that violently, horrifically took the lives of two local cyclists- Amy Gehring and Terry Walker – who were part of a Cincinnati Cycle Club Sunday morning ride…
Looking back at the horrific crime … and looking forward a few months to his anticipated release date…
In the most recent post I discussed how difficult it is for cyclists to recover damages for crashes that occur ON trails. This difficulty extends to cases where the cyclist is struck by a motorist while CROSSING a roadway while on a trail.
Here’s a typical crossing. As the cyclist approaches the roadway crossing there is a Stop sign. This one is 50-75 feet ahead of the crossing. It’s also buried in the shadows and difficult to see. This crossing is signed like a Road/Road intersection even though it’s not that at all. Rather, these trail crossings should be treated as CROSSWALKS because they are designated crossings for pedestrians, cyclists, skateboarders, wheelchair users, horseback riders and whoever else might be using the MUP…
What’s a MUP, you ask?
A MUP is a Multi-Use Path… it’s not a “bike road” and it’s not a “bike trail” but ALL “trails” in Ohio that I am aware of are MUP’s… they can be used by anyone, not just cyclists. They’re basically sidewalks in the woods…
What’s the impact of this MUP thing?
Well, by turning the “crossing” into a “crosswalk” we can look to the Pedestrian Laws in Ohio for guidance when someone is hit by a car while crossing the road in a crosswalk – even though the “crossing” involves a “bike trail…”
Bike Trail Crashes in Ohio are … weird…and difficult from a legal perspective.
There is case law that says “a cyclist on the bike trail is a ‘recreational user'” – the LEGAL impact of that simple sentence is HUGE… it basically ELIMINATES virtually every claim you, the cyclist, may have against someone who carelessly causes you to crash on the Bike Trail…
Our Bike Law practice involves cases throughout Ohio… I don’t know if Ohio has 4 or 5 or more corners, but we travel to ALL corners of Ohio…
I picked up this cutting board recently and I realized that I’ve been to courts in MANY of the cities listed… I have handled cases in Courts from Cincinnati to Cleveland, Bellefontaine to Marietta, Toledo to Ironton, Columbus, Marysville, Clyde, Sidney, Georgetown, Newark, Zanesville, Kenton, Bowling Green, Springfield, Jackson, Gallipolis, Portsmouth, Hillsboro, Mansfield, Canton, Brecksville, Oberlin, Lima, Findlay…
and now… Tiffin.
Today’s case invovled a 3.5 hour drive up to beautiful downtown Tiffin, Ohio, county seat of Seneca County in northwest Ohio. I had to go to Probate Court today to open up a new matter.
ARE YOU COVERED? DO YOU HAVE THE RIGHT INSURANCE? DOES YOUR UMBRELLA HAVE A HOLE IN IT?
OK… right now… I want you to get up from your computer… go over to your files… open your “INSURANCE” file… pull out your AUTO policy and your HOMEOWNER’S policy and your UMBRELLA policy.
… it’s OK… I’ll wait…
… How bout this weather….
OK… got ‘em? Check out the coverages you have.
Do you have an AUTO policy? Homeowner’s? Umbrella? Health? Disability? Life?
Check the numbers on the “dec sheets” – declarations pages – to see what your policy limits are.
Now think about the worst case bicycle scenario – you are killed or maimed by being hit by a car while riding your bike on the roadway. Does the insurance you are looking at provide sufficient coverage? I’m not going to talk about Life insurance or Disability coverage today. Rather, the focus is on the three policies most often needed & used by injured cyclists – your Homeowner’s Auto & the Umbrella.
My practice today is roughly 85+% representing CYCLISTS who are injured, or the families of those killed, while riding on the roads. As you might expect, most of my clients ride bikes – most ride NICE bikes & spend $1000s on their rides. However, whether you ride every day or every so often – and whether your bike is worth $250 or $12,500 – I tell ALL riders the same thing – PROTECT YOURSELF!
In this case, our careless stupid Driver runs over and kills a 7 yr old boy, Vincent Baran, while pulling out of a parking lot in Hudson, Ohio… Vincent was riding his bike with his family on the sidewalk… he came from Ms. Almstrom’s right…she was looking left for a break in traffic to get into the roadway…Vincent was directly in front of her car but she “didn’t see” him…
Vehicular Manslaughter Charges – 2nd degree misdemeanor – are filed, not 1st degree misdemeanor [Vehicular Homicide] –
Ahlstrom enters a Guilty plea.
Initially we thought 90 days in jail would be the sentence… however yesterday Judge Kim Hoover ordered a much lesser sentence –
“Hoover sentenced Ahlstrom to 90 days in jail but suspended 60 days if she serves 15 days in jail and 15 days under house arrest. She was ordered to complete 365 hours of community service and had her driver’s license suspended for 36 months. No privileges will be considered by the court for at least 12 months, Hoover said”
So a 15 day wrist slap for killing a little boy…
From this quote, it appears that the family was hoping for more significant charges…
“Justin Withrow, who served as a victim representative for the family and is Vincent’s uncle and godfather, said the family believed Ahlstrom should have been charged with vehicular homicide, a first-degree misdemeanor. “The facts and circumstances, as well as Ms. Ahlstrom’s …admissions at the scene of the accident support criminal negligence,” said Withrow. Withrow described what happened on a warm late fall day on Nov. 7. Lindsay and her four children were riding bicycles from a park to Hershey’s Ice Cream Shop with Vincent leading the way. They were traveling down the sidewalk on Streetsboro Street as Ahlstrom was exiting the Hershey’s parking lot. “As she seemed to admit at the scene, she was solely focused on her left side trying to find a break in traffic,” said Withrow. “To my disappointment, this morning, I read a seemingly contradictory statement where she suggests that she looked both ways. That simply cannot be.” He noted the Summit Metro Crash Response Team report said Ahlstrom had an “unobstructed view of approximately 300 feet” of the sidewalk on her right side.
“There is simply no way that she looked both ways,” Withrow said. “To read that [she said she looked both ways] … hurts and it hurts bad.” Ahlstrom turned out of the Hershey’s lot, struck Vincent, and Withrow said witnesses said Vincent was dragged under the vehicle. When she stopped, several people ran to the scene and lifted the car off Vincent. “No particular charge will provide justice… but the charges should align with the facts,” said Withrow. “…Vincent deserved better.””
Oh there were a few more details to the sentence: – $750 fine but if she paid $250 to Court and $250 to a “charity” they’d call it even… she also has to do 365 hours of Community Service and gets a 36 month license suspension…