02

Blog

The Tragic Death of Gunnison Bicyclist Dale Thomas

The owner of an asphalt company told an unlicensed teen to drive a truck pulling heavy equipment, and a cyclist died as a result. Now the truck owner is fighting criminal charges -- and his insurer says the biker was at fault.

Friday, June 19, 2015, was a beautiful summer day in Gunnison, Colorado. Dale Thomas, a popular 40-year resident and local artist, decided to head out for a bike ride. He was wearing a helmet and his favorite bike jersey, the one that his wife, Ellen Petrick, had given him for Christmas.

It would be the last bike ride Dale would ever take.

Dale headed north on Highway 135, a familiar training route that took him to Taylor Canyon. Dale was probably not in a rush. He often said he simply liked the feeling he got as he pedaled through the wide open spaces of the Gunnison Valley.

Many local cyclists ride along Highway 135 because it is well maintained and has a wide shoulder. On any given ride on that highway, Dale might see other riders he knew, including the Griggs Orthopedics riders (The GO Team), students from Western State University, pro racer Brian Smith, Jefe Branham, Leadville 100 winner and West Elk Bicycle Classic Organizer Dave Weins, local rider Debby Phelps, as well as cyclists who were traveling through on bike tours or events such as Ride the Rockies.

Dale was tragically killed as he headed home to Ellen at their home on Gunnison’s Main Street.

Dale’s death was no ordinary accident.

Unlicensed Minor, Pick Up Truck, Trailer with Skid Steer

Dale’s fate was sealed by the decisions of John Michael Collins, the Manager and Owner of AZ Asphalt LLC. Collins ordered a 16-year-old unlicensed minor to drive a full size pickup truck hitched to a massive trailer loaded with a Case Skid Steer to Collins’ property on County Road 730.  It was illegal for the teen to drive Collins’ Dodge pickup truck and trailer, but the teen simply did what his boss told him.

Collins’ Dodge pickup had a cracked rear view mirror and metal bars over the rear cab window, making it difficult for the teen to see behind him. Both Collins and the teen knew that the brake lights and turn signals on the rusty old metal and wood trailer were not working properly, but that did not matter to them as it that was their “business as usual.”

Tragedy At County Road Intersection

The minor driver was blasting the radio as he headed south on Colorado Highway 135 toward Gunnison. The minor recalled seeing an old tire in the grass next to the paved shoulder as he passed Dale, who was riding his bicycle on the right shoulder.

Tragically, the teen did not appreciate the spacing between the pickup truck and trailer and Dale. He angled onto Gunnison County Road 8 and turned right in front of Dale as he also entered the intersection.

Dale was run over by the front wheel of the trailer and killed. He had no warning and had no chance to avoid either the truck or long trailer.

The teen driver gave the Colorado State Patrol a written statement that said he was turning the truck and trailer when the biker “got sucked under and the trailer ran over him.”

Coroner’s Report, Eyewitness Statement

The Coroner’s Report confirmed Dale’s death was caused by severe traumatic injuries from being run over by a heavy trailer. Dale’s chest was crushed, and sternum, ribs, arms, elbows, and vertebrae were fractured. Also, his aorta from his heart was torn as well as the pericardia sac.

The Colorado State Patrol Report listed one eyewitness to the tragic loss. The eyewitness was driving directly behind the teen driver on Colorado Highway 135 and saw the horrific fatality that has forever changed his life. The witness saw the tragedy clearly — so clearly, in fact, that the witness felt the need to write to the Colorado State Patrol at the scene on 6/19/2015 the following in all capital letters:

“THE CYCLIST WAS OBEYING ALL TRAFFIC LAWS AND COULD NOT HAVE PREVENTED THIS IN ANY WAY.”

Collins And Auto Insurer Are Not Accepting Responsibility

The truth needs to come to full light on this unacceptable fatality to a Colorado cyclist. Both Collins and Collins’ liability insurer State Auto Insurance Company have not accepted responsibility for this tragedy.

State Auto Insurance Company feigned sympathy and asked if there could be a settlement conference. As a result, a settlement conference took place in Denver, Colorado on December 15, 2015.

Dale’s grieving widow Ellen Petrick and Dale’s adult children, Leah Thomas and Jake Thomas, attended the settlement conference at the scheduled time. Unbelievably, State Auto Insurance Company failed to appear as promised. The liability insurer subsequently ordered an attorney to attend for her. Their attorney showed up two hours late — only to convey the insurer message that Dale was to blame for his own death.

State Auto Insurance Company assertion is directly contradicted by the Gunnison District Attorney’s Office.  The Gunnison County District Attorney filed criminal charges against Collins and the teen.

Faced with overwhelming evidence against him, the teen pled guilty to Careless Driving Causing Death. He is currently serving his criminal sentence.

Two Criminal Counts for Collins

Collins was charged with two criminal counts:

  • Count 1 was for employing or directing a person to drive on a highway contrary to law.
  • Count 2 was for Conspiracy to Commit, or Aiding and Abetting in the commission of No Operators License when the teen drove a motor vehicle on the highway without having a valid license or permit.

Collins is challenging the District Attorney’s Office’s two counts against him. A copy of the criminal charges against John Michael Collins is at the end of this article.

Since State Auto Insurance Company chose not to take this tragedy seriously, Ellen’s attorneys have filed a Wrongful Death lawsuit (see the PDF at the end of the article) in the United States Federal Court for the District of Colorado.  Ellen, Jake, and Leah along with Crawford Weiss, LLC, seek justice for the loss of their beloved Dale, whose death was caused by the reckless choices of Collins and the careless driving of the teen.

The law firm of Crawford Weiss, LLC, from Colorado and  the Bike Law attorneys in Colorado and across the country are united in our goal to make sure Dale’s family gets justice in criminal court and civil court.

Our thanks to Ellen Petrick for the pictures used in this post.

bicycle accident, bike crash, bicycle accident attorney, bicycle accident lawyer, Colorado bicycle accident, Colorado bicycle accident lawyer, Gunnison bicycle accident, Gunnison bicycle accident lawyer, Brian Weiss

PDFs of Criminal Cases, Wrongful Death Lawsuit

For more information, please see the supporting documents, including a PDF of the criminal charges and a copy of the wrongful death lawsuit.

Comments

Rachael Maney Nov 28, 2018

I asked my 7 year old son, Will, to draw me a picture of each of these things: life with cars; life with electric cars; life with autonomous cars; they all looked the same. But the fourth picture- life in a modern, forward thinking, and environmentally, economically, and socially responsible place- looked very different. Even […]

Read More
Matt Johnson Nov 06, 2018

We were somewhere around Denison on the edge of the corn fields when the Eurostyle Chamois Butter began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded, maybe we should stop at a watering station…” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us, and the road was full of […]

Read More
Peter Wilborn Oct 02, 2018

October is a big month in the triathlon world, with the Kona Ironman World Championships on the 13th. So it is good news that Triathlete Magazine chose its October issue to focus on bicycle safety and advocacy. Bike Law Director (and our resident triathlete) Rachael Maney was featured and interviewed in the piece. She shared […]

Read More
Peter Wilborn Sep 28, 2018

Chicago has become one of the nation’s top cycling cities, but along with more has come an increase in dooring crashes. A Chicago news channel has covered the issue and interviewed attorney Brendan Kevenides, Bike Law’s legal resource in Illinois. Brendan explained the growing risk to cyclists and how the “Dutch Reach” can help.  The […]

Read More
Amy Benner Johnson Sep 21, 2018

Drivers are coming within less than 1.5 feet of cyclists on the road in Knoxville with alarming regularity. Drivers are coming within less than two feet of cyclists on the road in Knoxville with alarming regularity. It’s not your imagination. It’s not all in your head. Your combined senses of touch, sound, and sight all […]

Read More
Rachael Maney Sep 12, 2018

You may have already seen the video below. If you haven’t, please watch. On Tuesday, August 24th just before 7PM, Jeff McCord and approximately 20 other cyclists were stopped at the intersection of Karl Daly and Grants Mill Road in Irondale, Alabama, a town outside the city of Birmingham. As McCord waited for an ambulance […]

Read More
Rachael Maney Aug 30, 2018

In 2010, Richmond, California got lucky when Brooklyn born Najari Smith planted roots in the Bay Area city, quickly claiming a very important role in his new community. Having given more than 1,100 bikes to Richmond’s youth and community members in the last 6 years, Najari’s vision and mission to promote a bike-centric lifestyle has […]

Read More
Bruce Hagen Jul 17, 2018

On July 11, 2018, a very experienced rider and friend to many in the Rockdale County area, Albert “Ab” Roesel, was killed while out on a rural road doing a ride that he no doubt had done many times before.  Ab was 75 years old.   The police investigation concluded that Ab had been headed Southbound, […]

Read More
Brendan Kevenides Jun 04, 2018

At sea a boat under power must give way to a more vulnerable craft.  The law requires that a power driven vessel give way to a sailing vessel.  A sail boat must give way to a craft engaged in fishing. These simple rules are consistent with the maxim that with greater power comes greater responsibility. […]

Read More
Commuter Bike
Bruce Hagen May 29, 2018

Recently, my wife and I moved into a new home that’s closer to my office, which has allowed me to start commuting by bike.  I rode my bike to and from my office 4 consecutive days before my schedule forced me back into the car. My hope and plan is to commute by bike at […]

Read More
Pat Brown May 10, 2018

Strength, ambition, and courage are just a few words that come to mind when we think of Anthony Lue.  Growing up, Anthony enjoyed playing competitive sports such as baseball, volleyball, basketball and mountain biking, but his true passion was discovered on his high school track.    After winning gold for 100m hurdles at the provincial championships […]

Read More
Lauri Boxer-Macomber Apr 30, 2018

Following a horrific bicycle crash in 2016, Dr. Michael Rifkin has become a new type of bicycling advocate — one who is deeply committed to ending distracted driving. Read his op-ed on Making Distracted Driving in Maine Taboo here. Dr. Rifkin’s piece reminds us that we can be distracted by our phones and other electronic devices even […]

Read More
Load More