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.
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…
In 2011 Sue Macy wrote a book, “Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way) This book, published by National Geographic, tracks the impact of the BIKE on Women and how it changed women’s lives back in the 90s… the EIGHTEEN 90s…
The Foreword is written by Leah Missbach Day who, with her husband, founded WBR – World Bicycle Relief – after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. In the next few years WBR put over 24,000 bicycles into the hands of folks in Sri Lanka who were trying to rebuild their lives after the devastating tsunami. Since 2006 WBR has worked out of Zambia, Zimbabwe and Kenya. Ms. Day notes that while the book Wheels of Change is about the history of Bikes & Women, the bicycle TODAY continues to empower women. WBR has changed the lives of men and women simply by getting them this basic, efficient beautiful transportation. “Freedom comes in many forms… A bicycle can cultivate independence…” In 1896 Ellen Parkhurst said “A girl who rides a wheel is lifted out of herself and her surroundings” – That was true in 1896 and WBR continues to show that that is true today…
This month I’ll be dropping some History Bombs on you from the Women’s Wing of the BikeLawyer’s Big Bike Book Library this month… Fun stuff [bloomers and Love and what not] and serious stuff [Annie “Londonderry” Kopchovsky’s trip around the world – Kitty Knox’s battles for admission into the L.A.W. as an African-American woman] – LOTS to talk about in March!
The bike, or as Louise Smith called it “The Devil’s Advance Agent” changed the world for women in the 1890s –
“To Men, the bicycle in the beginning was merely a new toy, another machine added to the long list of devices they knew in their work and play… to women, it was a steed upon which they rode into a new world…” – “Woman And The Wheel” – May 1896, Munsey’s Magazine…
History Bomb Annie Kopchovsky was a Jewish immigrant living in Boston with her husband in 1894 when she heard about a bet that changed her life. Two wealthy Boston sugar merchants bet that a woman could not ride around the world on a bicycle as a man, Thomas Stevens, had done a few years earlier. Annie took that bet. The terms required her to start with no money – “only the clothes on my back” – and ride around the world- finishing with the staggering sum of $5,000 in her pockets.
She did it- rode her wheel around the world – and became probably the first female athlete in the world the earn endorsements and enter the world of sports marketing… so much so that in exchange for a sum she carried the Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company placard on her bike… and changed her name to Annie Londonderry…
She started the ride in Boston wearing typical Victorian-era garb while riding a 42 pound Columbia wheel… as she rode through Chicago she was given a Schwinn resistance exercise bike more suited to her travels. Peter Zheutlin tracked down the details of Annie’s ride… Annie was his great aunt… and wrote about it in an excellent book “Anni Londonderry’s Extraordinary Ride: Around The World on Two Wheels” – we’ll take a ride through the book this month as we follow Annie around the world!
Way back on August 29, 2020, 21 year old Jillian Parker from Holland, Michigan, was out riding her bike on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon. She was run down from behind by 40 yr old Melissa Hubley who was driving a 2017 Buick Encore.
The reason? “SMIDSY”
“SMIDSY” is a simple Australian explanation for why cars hit pedestrians & bicycle & motorcycle operators…
SMIDSY = “Sorry Mate – I Didn’t See You”
For Ms. Hubley, she told Police she was driving along on a sunny Saturday and she killed a young woman because “the sun was in her eyes…”
-> SMIDSY <-
Finally- yesterday – on 2/9/2021 – almost 6 months after the crash- Ms. Hubley was charged with Vehicular Manslaughter- a 2nd degree misdemeanor under Ohio law… the lowest level of “Oops, I killed a person with my car” crime we have.
Next event is arraignment on 3/3/21We’ll keep an eye on this case.
We have requested the FULL report – all crash data, photos, etc – but have been stymied by Trotwood police.
I guess I need to keep emphasizing this point: –> THE SUN IS NOT AN EXCUSE –> Sun Glare is NOT A DEFENSE… Driving Forward when you CAN’T SEE is illegal… it’s not a defense, it’s an ADMISSION OF GUILT –
You should NOT BE SURPRISED BY THE SUN IN YOUR EYES AS YOU DRIVE WEST CLOSE TO SUNSET –
Typical response of a driver goes something like this:
” Yes officer I drove forward when I couldn’t see… despite having my eyes blindfolded I moved a two ton vehicle forward… Sure I ran over and killed bright young college student… I negligently destroyed her family … I stupidly, carelessly changed the lives of her grieving friends… but I couldn’t see… what else was I supposed to do???… I mean I’m sorry I killed her…but I couldn’t see… ”
DON’T DRIVE FORWARD IF YOU “CAN’T SEE” – Stop the Car – Wait – Pull Over –
Unfortunately, the “Distracted” box on crash reports is rarely checked… I wonder why…
Officer: “Were you distracted?”
Officer: “Well… OK then…”
Gov. DeWine has established a new distracted driving campaign. ODPS and ODOT believe distracted driving is part of the reason for an increase in crashes in 2020 despite a DECREASE IN DRIVING…
Let’s keep our eyes open for an addition to the Ohio Transportation Budget Bill that will: A/Mandate HANDS FREE devices be used if a cell phone is used in a car and B/ Make Distracted Driving a “Primary Offense” in Ohio.
What does Primary Offense mean?
Currently an officer cannot pull you over for talking on your cell phone. If Distracted Driving via Cell Phone Use becomes primary offense then an officer who sees you with a phone in your ear can pull you over and issue a citation.