The parents of 23-year-old Canadian bicyclist Iain Gerrard heard the words no parents ever want to hear: “Your son is dead.”
On July 14, 2014, the Gerrards learned their son had been killed in Mississippi on a bike tour of the Deep South. Iain’s parents were devastated by the news. Their grief quickly turned to anger over what one newspaper described as a “shoddy investigation” into Iain’s death.
The Mississippi State Trooper who filed the crash report initially said Iain was riding his bike on the wrong side of the road just before the fatal crash. That crash report was based on a statement by the truck driver. In one of the worst ever cases of blaming the victim, the truck driver later suggested Iain had intentionally ridden into the truck’s path.
The crash report was wrong, according to an investigation by Bike Law attorney Charlie Thomas of New Orleans, Louisiana. Thanks to Charlie’s investigation, the police report has since been amended.
Iain’s case is the latest instance where a bicyclist is wrongly blamed for a fatal crash. Bicycle journalist Alan Snel details a long list of similar blame-the-cyclist reports.
A Bike Trip Tracing America’s Roots Music
Iain was on a 4,000-kilometer bicycle tour from his home in Toronto to New Orleans and back. Iain was fascinated by American roots music, such as the Blues, and he dreamed of visiting the birthplaces of that art form, including Memphis and New Orleans.
Iain had toured Graceland and the famed Sun Studio in Memphis before heading south on July 14, 2014, into Mississippi on Highway 61, known as “The Blues Highway.”
About a half hour before his stopping point for the day, Iain was struck and killed by a tractor-trailer. Iain’s parents received the fateful call from the coroner that evening.
Initial Police Report Blamed Ian For Fatal Crash
Law enforcement officials, relying on a statement from the truck driver, concluded in the official accident report that Iain was bicycling in the wrong direction on the highway — something Iain’s parents said their safety conscious son would never do. The truck driver even told an insurance investigator that Iain might have attempted suicide by intentionally riding in front of his truck, according to one news report. When it comes to blaming the victim, it doesn’t get any more outrageous than that.
In fact, another motorist who witnessed the accident said Ian was riding in the same direction as traffic and had been hit from behind.
Bike Walk Tennessee, a statewide advocacy group, contacted Iain’s parents and said “it was concerned that statements made by the Mississippi Highway Patrol appeared to illustrate a misunderstanding of cycling laws,” according to a Jan. 18 article in the thestar.com. The article’s headline: “A haphazard investigation of Iain’s Gerrard’s death in America’s Deep South.”
At the suggestion of Bike Walk Tennessee, Iain’s parents hired Louisiana Bike Law attorney Charlie Thomas to handle their civil claim. Using a private investigator and an accident reconstruction expert, Thomas determined Iain had been hit from behind, contradicting the truck driver’s version of events. The bike itself was a crucial piece of evidence, retrieved from the Department of Transportation. The major damage was to the bike’s rear triangle. The front wheel and fork were largely intact.
Thomas said the officer who wrote the initial accident report tracked the bike down and examined it again.
“When he did, he finally called us and said that he was wrong in his opinion and that it indeed was a rear strike,” Thomas said in an interview with a video reporter from thestar.com.
The report from thestar.com indicates the officer declined to give the truck driver a ticket or label the fatality as anything other than an accident because he did not witness it.
Confidential Settlement Reached
The Gerrards recently reached a confidential settlement with the trucker driver’s insurer. But their grief over their son’s tragic death remains.
According to the article in thestar.com, “They are still angry with how their son’s death was handled by authorities and continue to question why the investigation was conducted so haphazardly.”
Please take a few moments to honor Iain’s memory by reading the heartbreaking article about his bike tour and by watching the video about him at the top of this post.